How To Survive Grief Anniversaries


I know I’m not the only one who carries a calendar in my head that threatens to explode like a ticking timebomb.
  Days that mean nothing to anyone else loom large as they approach.

IMG_2410

The date of his death.

The date of his funeral.

His birthday.

My birthday.

The day he should have graduated from law school

On and on and on.

How can I survive these oppressive reminders of what I thought my life would look like? How can I grab hold of somethinganything that will keep my heart and mind from falling down the rabbit hole of grief into a topsy-turvy land where nothing makes sense and it’s full of unfriendly creatures that threaten to gobble me whole?

Read the rest here: Surviving Grief Anniversaries

What I’d Like You To Know About Grief

There are some things I’d like you to know about grief.

Things I didn’t know until I was the one walking the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Things that can help you companion me and others compassionately, wisely and graciously.

My grief is here-get used to it (please and thank you). Grief has entered my life and while it may be an unwelcome guest, it’s here to stay. I won’t be getting over it or moving on. Grief is the price you pay for love. I will love and miss my child as long as I live, so I will grieve him until my last breath.

The goal of grief isn’t to forget. In fact, the goal of grief work (facing and working through my feelings, my fears and finding a way forward) is to remember and remain connected. I no longer have a physical relationship with my child. I’m trying to figure out how to have one with him in his absence.

I have to do grief my own way. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint. Who I am, who my child is, what my family looks like, circumstances surrounding my loss, previous life experience all inform how I face this challenge. There is no “right way” to grieve. As long as I am not harming myself or others, there’s only “my way” to grieve.

I am the same person, but I’ve also changed. I know you are trying to figure me out post-child loss. I’m trying to figure me out too. I didn’t get a how-to manual when I buried my son. Even six years into this journey I’m still finding ways in which I am profoundly changed. But I’m also still the same person that needs your friendship and longs for compassionate connection. It’s work for both of us but I don’t want to be alone in my grief.

Even when I’m OK, I’m still grieving. It’s normal for friends and family to look for signs I’m “better”. The early days of sobbing and unceasing pain do (usually) morph into a more gentle, quiet and manageable burden. But even when I’m laughing, participating and gathering new, joy-filled memories I’m grieving. My son’s absence is background music to every moment. I’m never free from the feeling he should be here but isn’t.

I may stay connected to my loved one in ways you don’t understand, but trust me, they’re normal. There are SO many ways hearts work hard to stay connected to their missing child! Dominic’s jacket is hung on a peg in our mudroom right where he left it the last time he was home. I see it every day and touch it often. There are other little mementos here and there that keep his presence part of daily life. I have tokens I carry in a pocket that help me take him with me. Other parents sleep with a favorite stuffed toy or their child’s pillow. Some make blankets of old t-shirts or clothing. It’s all normal.

Grief will visit every heart eventually.

If it hasn’t come to rest in yours yet, consider yourself blessed.

I’m sure you have at least one friend carrying this burden.

When you take time to try to understand even a little how they feel, you help them bear the load.

Doctor Appointments And Anxiety: When My Body Insists On Its Own Way

I continue to be surprised by how my body betrays me in this post-child loss world.

A simple, relatively painless procedure brought me to my knees and there was nothing I could do about it.

I had a last minute appointment with a new specialist the other day because my rheumatologist wanted a dermatology consult.

So I hauled myself downtown (first time since all this pandemic stuff started!), parked, temperature checked and entered the brave new world of mostly empty waiting rooms populated by masked people looking at their phones.

New Britain Herald - Bristol Hospital deploys social distancing ...

Once I was called back into the room, the medical assistant took my vitals and I waited for the doctor. As I waited, I realized that this would be the first time I was seen by a health professional who didn’t know I had buried a child. But at six years into this journey, I dismissed it as inconsequential to the day’s business.

The exam went well and confirmed some suspicions. Just when I thought things were over the room suddenly morphed from “exam” to prepping for a “procedure”. They needed to take a small biopsy to rule out or rule in the diagnosis.

Now, I’ve had all kinds of uncomfortable and downright painful things done to me. I’m no whiner (although I do not like anyone to give me a play-by-play). I sit still, grit my teeth and put up with whatever comes my way.

But as I watched the nurses prep the tray I realized I was getting anxious. I applied all my little tricks-the 5-4-3-2-1 sensory tool, deep breathing, touching each finger to my thumb-and thought I was victorious.

When the doctor injected the lidocaine it really did feel just like tiny bee stings.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly and uncontrollably my world began to spin, my breath became ragged and I knew for certain I was headed toward passing out.

It was so embarrassing.

I apologized over and over and over.

But they were great.

The doctor said it was a vagal nerve response and I had no control over it. My body was reacting to stimuli and no amount of willpower could make it stop.

Overview of the Vasovagal Reflex

She finished up, the nurse brought me some cold water and I sat in the room for fifteen or twenty minutes to recover. I tried at one point to get up and realized I wasn’t quite ready.

I drove home but felt drained for the rest of the afternoon.

I don’t know why doctor’s offices seem to provoke my grief. Dominic didn’t enter Heaven from a hospital room.

But for some reason, they do.

And while I am so much more in control of when and how I let the grief roll down my cheeks NOW than I was even a year ago, there are times when my body acts against my will.

When that happens, I need to remember it isn’t a choice.

Every day I am holding in so very much. Choosing to spare the world from my inner turmoil and moments of weakness.

Sometimes willpower just isn’t enough.

Can I Feel Joy Again?

In case you’re wondering if joy will ever return, I want to assure you that it most certainly can.

It will take a lot longer than you wish it might, but it is there, waiting for you to welcome it.

At first it just felt WRONG to have a moment of happiness because if the pain of missing Dominic somehow didn’t fill my heart I was afraid it meant my love for him was fading. If the broken pieces were knitted back together then maybe one day they’d mend so well I couldn’t find the spot where he fit in.

But I’ve learned no amount of present joy will squeeze out that space where Dominic lives.

I can love him, miss him, sorrow over his absence and still revel in the beautiful blessings the Lord brings into my life.

Just this week I had the privilege of watching my grandson while his mother and father had a little time away. It was so much fun (and hard work!). I had forgotten how exciting it is to view the world through a young child’s eyes. Everything is new, everything is wonderful, everything is worthy of exploration and comment.

The little fellow walked down the hall my great-grandmother walked, my grandmother walked and my mother walked pointing a finger and asking, “This?” as he passed photos and paintings, doo dads and doorways.

The sixth generation to hear the creaking hardwood and learn about life.

What joy!

We showed him family photos and talked about Uncle Dominic. It raised a lump in my throat each time but it also helped me place Dom in his story-helped me learn how to talk about the uncle he will never know except for what we share.

I’m not going to lie.

More than a few times tears threatened to make their way down my cheek as I held his little hand and remembered holding another one just like it decades ago. Nostalgia can be hard to swallow when it’s all you have left of someone you love.

But I reminded my heart that it is big enough for both.

I can miss what I once had AND delight in what I have now.

Both are gifts I cherish and hold dear.

joy and sorrow | Poetry Joy

Mountains And Mole Hills: Sometimes Doing My Best Has To Be Good Enough


There’s a saying in the South, “You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill”.

It’s supposed knock sense into someone who is overreacting to a small and easily resolved problem.  Most of the time it works-stepping back and gaining perspective is a good thing.

But I find that this side of Dominic’s leaving, many, many things that were mole hills before are MOUNTAINS now.  Because my faith in my own ability to handle things has become so very small, nearly any challenge feels like a never-ending ascent up the mountain.

Read the rest here: Mountains and Mole Hills

Seriously. Why Can’t I Keep My House Clean?

I freely admit I was never a housecleaning fanatic.

With a busy family, a small farm and mountains of paper, pencils and books scattered around I was content if the most obvious dirt was swept up and the sink free of dishes.

But, I DID have a routine.  I DID clean my bathrooms and wash clothes and make beds and vacuum the rugs on a regular basis.

Not anymore.

Even all this time after Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I have not reestablished any kind of rhythm.

Read the rest here: Why Can’t I Keep My House Clean? Grief and Everyday Responsiblities

Bereaved Parents Month 2020: “I Lost My Child Today” by Netta Wilson

My son’s death is a moment in time, a date on the calendar, a thing of the past for other people.

I understand that.

But for me, it’s an ongoing event.

Every time Dominic SHOULD be here but isn’t I lose him again.

Every milestone he should be marking but doesn’t I lose him again. 

Read the rest here: “I Lost My Child Today” by Netta Wilson

Winds Across My Heart

I’m pretty far past what I call my “season of sorrow” so I don’t really know what came over me the other day.

But somehow the stars aligned or the slant of the sunshine or the smell in the air overwhelmed my heart.

Maybe it’s because Facebook faithfully reminds me of what happened on this date years ago. I know I can adjust the settings but I don’t because it’s both bitter AND sweet to be reminded.

Our family used these napkin rings for years and years. Facebook reminded me there are a thousand ways to miss Dominic.

Maybe it’s because summers in Alabama involve fervent activity before nine in the morning with a long, hot lull until more fervent activity after five in the evening.

I really don’t know.

But that’s one of the conundrums of child loss.

I hit a wall and I had a cry and took a short nap (something I only do about five times a year) and I was better.

I try to manage my days to avoid these things but sometimes a little bit of this and a little bit of that blow winds of nostalgia and regret and longing and missing across my soul.

And all I can do is weather the storm.

Bereaved Parents Month 2020: The Missing Never Ends

I’ve learned that there are new things to miss even six years down this road of child loss.  

I’ve learned that any odd moment, random smell, taste,touch, or occasion can pierce that place in my heart that screams, “Dominic should be here!”.  

I’m also learning additional ways his absence continues to shape the family we have NOW.   Dom’s absence continues to impact decisions, expectations, hopes and dreams TODAY.

Read the rest here: Bereaved Parents Month Post: The Missing Never Ends

Bereaved Parents Month 2020: They’re Not Just “Things”

I was surprised at myself.

When we cleaned out Dominic’s apartment two weeks after he left us, I couldn’t throw away a thing.

Just as Dominic left things when he went out that evening.

Even though it meant boxing it up, carting it down the stairs and loading and unloading it onto our trailer, I DIDN’T CARE.

If it was his, if his hands had touched it, his body worn it or he had placed it in the cabinet or fridge, it was coming with me.

The only thing I left in that space was the empty echo of his fading presence.

I brought all the rest home.

Because these things aren’t just things. They represent some portion of my son-his personality, his preferences, his history and his hopes.

Many are the minutiae that make up a life:

  • scraps of paper tucked inside his briefcase as reminders
  • a dry cleaning ticket in his wallet
  • a legal pad on the table where he was taking notes to study for an exam
  • receipts from recent purchases strewn on the kitchen counter
  • shaving cream, hair products, favorite soap
  • clothes and ties and shoes
  • a fridge full of food he’d chosen for himself
  • the good coffee
  • containers saved from food I’d sent home with him

Of course there were the larger items most folks would think of bringing home if not keeping-furniture, computers, his car, television and stereo.

We put the delicate and temperature sensitive things inside the house.

The rest was placed in a storage building on our property. Every time I opened the door to the building for several years it smelled of Dominic.

I loved it and hated it in one breath.

I’m using his furniture in our living room. His television set is downstairs in the family room. Some of his other things live in his siblings’ homes.

We’ve all found ways to touch what he touched last.

I am slowly getting better at getting rid of some of Dominic’s things.

Just yesterday my husband replaced faucets in the bathroom my boys used growing up. In the process we pulled out stuff from under the deep cabinets.

Tucked in the back were some old bottles of hair gel and other half-used, dried up products that once belonged to my fashion conscious son who was always trying to tame his curly hair.

I grabbed them and tossed them into a plastic trash bag as we prepared to put replace things underneath. I almost pulled them back out.

Sighing, I tied up the bag and took it straight to the big curbside garbage can before I could change my mind.

These things aren’t *just* things.

Every time I get rid of something that was Dominic’s I feel like I’m erasing a little bit more of HIM. I feel like I’m losing one more touchstone to help my mind hold onto memories that might slip away without it.

They are a tangible connection that I can see, smell and touch to a child with whom I can no longer do any of those things.

I suspect I will always keep at least a tiny stash to pull out on heavy days or birthdays or just days when my heart needs reminding.

And I’m OK with that.