Wedding Day!

Today is the day!

All the preparation and anticipation meet under a covered outdoor chapel as my daughter and her fiance exchange vows and become one.

By the end of the evening, we will have laughed (and cried!), danced and toasted our way through this very important event.

And they will leave changed in ways they can’t imagine nor fully understand.  It takes time to grow into lifelong commitment.

It takes years for singleness to be sanded down to a perfect fit one for the other.

Weddings are fun.  

Marriage is work.  

My parents have been married for 58 years.  My husband and I for nearly 35.  None of us has a magic formula for marital longevity.  Mostly it’s been leaning into the commitment we made at the altar so many years ago even when it seemed easier to give up and give in.

We’ve all faced so many challenges in our decades together.  Some we saw coming and some landed suddenly on top of us without warning.  Life, death, moving house, illness, accident, floods, hurricanes, and dozens of smaller crises have forced us to change course, adjust our sails and adapt to new and often unwelcome directions.   But we haven’t abandoned ship.

Sometimes it’s been pure grit and determination that see us through.  Other times it’s holding on to the good things we’ve shared together.  

I’m thankful we are celebrating today.  

I’ll be tucking this memory in a safe place where I can pull it out on days that aren’t so beautiful.  

It’s my prayer that Fiona and Brandon do the same.  

fiona and brandon at farm

When life gets hard (and it will!) may they remember the promises they made to one another and weather the storms together.

Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 VOICE

 

 

Child Loss by Addiction

We talk about a lot of things as if they didn’t reflect a real person and a real life.  

Addiction is one of them.  And let me just tell you, every single number is a life and behind every single life is a family.  

Statistics are easy to toss around until one of those numbers represents YOUR child.

My son was killed in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident.  One of the 76 individuals who died on a motorcycle in Alabama in 2014.  If you look it up, you’ll find tables printed with clean edges and comparative data one year to the next.

But if you look at me-and hold up a photo from BEFORE-you’ll see grief etched into a mama’s face that can’t be measured, sifted or weighed.  

My son was not an addict.  He was a health nut.  But he liked his motorcycle and never saw the contradiction between spending hours at the gym then putting that beautiful body on a fast moving, unprotected engine-on-wheels.  A helmet was not enough to protect him that night.  

Addicts don’t start out wanting the life so many of them end up living.  They take a puff or a pill or a drink and think it’s all in fun.  They have no way to know that the one moment of weakness or even purposeful exploration may result in a lifetime of struggle.

Once caught in the cycle of craving and crawling out and caving again they may or may not eventually find the light.  They may or may not become sober for the rest of their days.  They may or may not have the inner strength, the outside support, the medical intervention and inpatient treatment they need to conquer this demon.

And it is a demon.  

Addiction is never a choice even when the first indulgence into drugs or alcohol is.  

no idea of the battle addiction quote

Parents living with addicted children do everything they can to guide them to help.  They try tough love, abundant grace, boundaries, threats and rewards.  Some even move their families to try to escape habitual influences on their child-hoping against hope that a new place and new friends will create a safe space where addiction can’t flourish.

It rarely works.  In the end, addiction takes too many of our children.  Addiction kills.

And the wreckage left the other side of those deaths is enormous.  It’s messy and ugly and hard to sort through.  

The one thing NO parent of an addicted child needs is someone else’s misguided advice on how they could have “saved” his or her child.  They don’t need quips about “seeing it coming”.  They don’t need anyone to heap shame on them because of the choices their child made and the disease that robbed them of choice in the end.

So when we talk about addiction and numbers and treatment and responsibility and especially death, we need to remember that every single statistic is a person. 

Every single person has a family.

And that family is devastated.  

Speak gently.  Extend grace.  Offer love.  

They already know shame.  

shame for being human

I Know Why My Story Scares You

At first all I could feel was pain.

Pain of abandonment, of being misunderstood, of being pushed to the outside edges of groups that used to welcome me with open arms.

But as time passed, I began to understand.

My story scares you.  You are utterly afraid that if child loss can happen to ME, it can happen to YOU.

You’re right.

It CAN happen to you.

And no one wants to be reminded that the one thing every parent fears is not nearly as impossible nor as predictable as we would hope it is.

From the minute we take that baby home from the hospital, safely tucked in the approved and properly installed car seat, we assume we can control the future.  We think that if we eat right, get regular check ups, cover outlets and sharp corners, remove choking hazards and stuff that little mouth full of organic and healthful treats, it’s all good.

Except no one can account for random.  No one can see undetected and unsuspected genetic defects.  No one can predict or protect against every way a child might leave this life before his or her parents.

But we absolutely, positively do not want to think about that.

I don’t blame you.

I didn’t either.

So I understand why you distance yourself from me.  I get why even my presence in a room is sometimes uncomfortable.  I am not upset that you don’t add my name to the invitation list when the occasion is happy and you are afraid I might cast a shadow over the celebration.

I’m a walking advertisement for your worst nightmare.

You can afford to ignore it-and me.

I don’t have that luxury.

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

 

Bitterness Is A Terrible Legacy

Oh, how easy it would be to become bitter!  

If I’m honest, part of me just wants to tell the world to “Get lost!”. 

But the wiser part of me knows that’s neither a helpful nor healthy response to even this most awful burden of child loss.  

Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament, we won’t know how to process pain. Silence, bitterness, and even anger can dominate our spiritual lives instead.

~Mark Vroegop – Dark Clouds Deep Mercy

Because my bitter spirit wouldn’t stop with me.  It would spread like kudzu on an Alabama roadside.  

kudzu field huff post

The writer of Hebrews warns against this very thing:  

Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives, for if he does there can very easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself but can also poison the lives of many others.

Hebrews 12:15 PHILLIPS

There is sufficient grace for even this. 

But I can refuse it.  

It’s a choice every single day. 

Do I embrace the grace God freely offers or do I turn my back and embrace bitterness?  Do I lean in to every promise of God in Christ or do I listen to the enemy of my soul who whispers, “Did God REALLY say….?” 

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

 

Bitterness never ends with one person.  It spreads.  It grows. 

It ruins lives and relationships and generations.  

We all know families where it has taken root.  We all know old folks whose faces have frozen in frowns and who rarely speak except to pass along their spiteful comments.

I may not get many things right.  I’m pretty sure I get quite a few things wrong.  

But I don’t want to mess this one up.  

Bitterness is a terrible legacy.  

I refuse to pass it on.  

lifetime of unexplored resentments brene brown

How Can It Be Five Years??!!

We all experience it from time to time-that moment when your head comprehends that life has kept going but your heart refuses to keep pace.  

So today, I’m looking at a calendar that assures me it has been five years since that deputy knocked on my door. 

It’s a fact.  

My heart says, “It cannot be true.  It cannot be that long since I saw my living, breathing son cross the threshold of our family home.  It cannot be that long since I made the phone calls that still echo in my ears.  It can. not. possibly. be. that. long.”

And yet it is.  

If folks ask me how I’m doing, how my family is doing, I usually say we are OK.

Because, all things considered, we ARE. 

beach-and-family-better

None of us find daily life unmanageable.  None of us have fallen prey to addiction or unhealthy coping mechanisms.  None of us sit inside all day, moping and mourning the loss of a life we couldn’t hold onto even if we had seen it slipping away in time to take a firmer grip.

But we are absolutely, utterly, profoundly CHANGED.  

I often think back to old Star Trek episodes that showed crew members transporting to the surface of an unknown planet.  Their bodies were broken down into the tiniest component molecules and reassembled somewhere else.

I think that’s what this life is like. 

We’ve all been disassembled and reassembled. 

But instead of everything falling back into place, there are missing bits here and there, gaps too small for others to see but very, very real to us.  Connections lost.  Memories without proper context.

dont recognize myself without one of my sons

Feelings floating free of any anchor, bubbling up at the most inconvenient moments.  

And we all just plain MISS HIM.

We miss Hector Dominic DeSimone and who he is, what he brought to the table and car rides and family gatherings.

We miss who we were before we knew loss that burrows deep in your bones.  We miss the unmitigated joy and celebration we could toss around like confetti at the slightest provocation.

So today, unlike most days, we will give in to the sorrow.  We will remember that morning.  We won’t brush away the tears or the sad memories.  

He is worth every second and every heartache.

He is never forgotten.  

He is always, always on our minds.  

IMG_1790

 

 

Life is a Gift-Celebrate! Every. Single. Day.

I have never been a crystal and china kind of gal.

I got a few special pieces when my husband and I married, but most of the things in my home are durable and useful.

So I don’t have many things tucked away for special occasions.

I’m glad that when my kids were young we made even ordinary days special by setting the table, using candles, cloth napkins, real plates and mugs for meals.

We foolish mortals sometimes live through years not realizing how short life is, and that TODAY is your life.
― Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

I’m especially thankful this side of child loss that our memories include making many regular days wonderful by choosing to celebrate the smallest moments. 

I have an inexpensive set of Chinese plates, soup bowls and porcelain spoons I bought from a mail order catalog way before the Internet, much less Amazon.  It gave my homemade sweet and sour chicken an air of authenticity (and it was fun!).

When December rolled around, we ditched our everyday plates for Christmas ones we used for meals and festive coffee mugs that held everything from morning coffee to the evening’s soft drinks, tea and hot cocoa.

Birthdays, holidays and regular days were all reasons to make merry and make memories. 

I’m so glad we didn’t set things aside because they were too dear for everyday use.  

Life IS a gift. 

Celebrate it.

dont save for special occassion

Child Loss and SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Most people are familiar with SAD-Seasonal Affective Disorder-a cluster of symptoms mimicking depression that develop in otherwise healthy folks when the shorter days and longer nights of winter limit sunshine exposure. 

Fewer folks know that nearly every bereaved parent has his or her own version of SAD which has nothing to do with daylight/darkness cycles and everything to do with the calendar. 

For me, it starts in February and runs through May. 

The last time all my children were together was mid-February 2014 as we celebrated the youngest’s birthday.  I remember sitting outside on the unusually warm day and chatting about random things.  There were two upcoming graduations and my oldest son’s wedding.

Someone said, “Hey, we should get a picture.”  Someone else said, “Nah-we’ll be making lots of pictures this spring.”  

So we didn’t take one.  

Every year that’s the day my heart marks the beginning of the end.  

The beginning of a march toward the most awful thing that has ever happened to our family.  

family never gets over the death of a loved one

Then there’s the day Dominic came out to the farm to fix a friend’s car.  They needed the tools and shed to do the job.  We joked and talked and shared a meal.

Then I hugged him and he went on his way.

That grease-stained jacket is still hanging on a peg in the downstairs bathroom.

Spring Break.  I thought I’d see him again before classes resumed but a trip that lasted a day longer than it was going to meant he drove directly to his apartment.  So a couple of weeks passed before he was able to plan another weekend trek out to the house.

I had just exchanged a series of messages with him, sharing photos of the heavy rains that ran our creek out of the banks and almost into the elevated roadway.

julian and creek in 2014

We ended our texts with “I love you.  See you Saturday!”

My heart still accuses me for neglecting the days between the last time I saw Dominic and the last time he drew breath.  If I had known then what I know now…

But we don’t, do we?

So on my season goes. 

From February and all the “lasts” to April twelfth and the devastating news that my son would never come home again.

Then my heart marks the funeral, cleaning out his apartment and the first family celebration of which one of my children was not a part.

A few weeks later is Dominic’s birthday on May twenty-eighth when he doesn’t get any older but I get further away from the last time I hugged his neck.

A long sad season indeed.  

Every parent who is missing a child has their own.  A time when he or she wishes the world would both stop to take notice and spin faster to make the days pass.

My heart and body respond even if my mind tries to pretend these weeks are really no different than the rest of the year.

My son is still missing.  

My heart is still yearning.  

This is still the life I didn’t choose.  

dominic at olive garden