Holidays Can Be Hard-What To Do About Mother’s Day

This will be the ninth Mother’s Day since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Every year has been different because families continue to grow and change and the world turns and life marches on.

Every year presents unique challenges and particular paths that must be navigated anew. It’s always an emotional roller coaster.

The Captain, March 2019

Three years ago our family welcomed a first grandchild. His frightening entrance into the world made his life all the more precious and Mother’s Day gave us a chance to celebrate him, his mama and the fact that his story has a happy ending.

The Captain, April 2020.

In March we welcomed his brother-also a bit early but not nearly as perilous! Once again we give thanks that things have turned out well.

Coming home!! Big brother is so excited.

This year I’ll be a motherless child when the sun rises tomorrow. For the third time in my life, I won’t be able to see or telephone my own mother. Another light and life lost from sight.

Dominic and Mama in Heaven together.

Julian, Dominic, Mama, James Michael & Fiona

Every year my living children work hard to celebrate me even when they are unable to make it home.

I always feel loved.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fiona-and-brandon-wedding-boys-and-fiona.jpg

So what’s a mama to do when her heart is torn between the very great and beautiful blessings of her living children and grandchildren and the very great and devastating sorrow of missing her child in Heaven?

Since discovering there is an International Bereaved Mother’s Day my heart has taken advantage of having a day to think about and honor Dominic and then another day to think about and honor my living children.

I also rise early enough on Mother’s Day to have time alone with my thoughts and feelings.

I walk my heart through the upcoming hours and “pre-grieve” moments where I’ll be looking for Dom among the faces at the table or around the room. I remember the gift of his life and place it in context of the gift of each of my children.

I thank God for my family.

Thanksgiving years ago, when we were all younger and all here on earth. One of my favorites. 

And then I get up, get dressed and open my heart to the love I have in front of me.

I never, ever want my living children to think that their brother’s ABSENCE is more important or more precious to me than their PRESENCE.

My mama’s heart has room for all of them as it always has.

And as it always will.

The Gift of Celebration

If you’ve just joined this awful “club” the thought of celebrating anything may make your heart shrink and your eyes fill with tears.

I understand!

That’s precisely the way I felt for a very long time. Not because I didn’t think there were still oh, so many things and people worth celebrating, but because I couldn’t remember what joy felt like much less experience it.

My heart was filled to the brim with pain, sorrow, longing and fear-there just wasn’t room for anything else.

Still, I kept up the discipline of celebration even when I wasn’t feeling like celebrating.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, as I picked my way through memories and feelings and did the  work grief required, I made space in that broken heart for other things.

And now I can testify that celebration is once again a gift!

I not only mark the big things-like birthdays and holidays-but also the little things-like making muffins with my grandson.

Any and every excuse for a photo or a cupcake!

Today is my oldest son’s birthday and his dad and I are here to celebrate it with him for the first time in I don’t honestly know how many years. I am happy to make him a yummy meal (or take him to a favorite restaurant) and buy a special treat to mark the day he said “hello” to the world.

And I’m more than happy to spend time with him and watch as he pours into his own son some of the love and life we’ve poured into him.

So if you aren’t “feeling it” try faking it or at least showing up.

Eventually there will be a moment when your heart once again embraces joy.

Then hold on with both hands! ❤

Holidays: Every Year is Different

I admire those families that have holiday plans pinned down for next year by the time they box up this year’s Christmas decorations.

Somehow we’ve never perfected the art of predictable patterns and unchanging life circumstances that make such a thing even possible.

So while we try to observe some of the same traditions from year to year, they tend to be expressed a little differently each time.

Of course, the year Dominic left us EVERYTHING changed.

“Changed” isn’t even really the right word. It was more like everything just stopped. Holidays were out of place in a world where all the color had faded to gray. What heart can make merry when all it feels is sorrow and despair?

Even still, the calendar beckoned and we muddled through the first Thanksgiving and Christmas as best we could.

This will be the eighth (!) holiday season since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

My children are all adults with established careers living away from home. We’ve added to the family circle through marriage and childbirth and we’ve had to say “see you later” to my mama who joined Dom with Jesus in 2019. Of course, like so many others, Covid interrupted last year’s celebration.

The past two years have been filled with travel (some planned, some unexpected) including a trip this week out to Texas to spend time with my son’s family.

So I find myself only days away from Thanksgiving without a concrete plan for when we will actually get together around the table and what, exactly, might be on it when we do.

(Please don’t ask me about Christmas yet!)

It’s more than a little uncomfortable for this gal who loves lists and planning and decorating to choose flexibility and flying by the seat of my pants. And it’s very uncomfortable to be the point of contact for various family members who are used to me having answers instead of more questions when they call to find out when they should show up and what they should bring.

But if there’s one thing I’m learning in this life after loss it’s this: Control is an illusion. All the planning in the world can’t account for random and unexpected.

I’m going to make some phone calls today to try to figure it out.

I’m pretty sure we will have plenty to eat, plenty to say and plenty of room for whoever shows up.

Hugs all around!

And pie for dessert.

Grief Doesn’t Stay The Same

The first time I shared this post was two years ago-before my mother’s death.

It had been five long years since Dominic left us and I was beginning to notice reliable, positive changes in the heaviness and quality of grief.

Our grandson was born very premature but his story has a happy, happy ending! He’s growing even more and is such a delight.

There have been other changes too-Covid19, social isolation and my husband’s retirement-all impacted daily life and how I experience Dom’s absence.

I want to offer this bit of hope for those who are just beginning the awful journey of child loss-the pain softens, I’ve grown stronger and better able to carry it, and life, in all its varied forms keeps going.

There ARE some beautiful things ahead.

Hold on.

❤ Melanie

This life is not all sadness and sorrow, death and darkness.  

It was.  For a very, very long time all I could see was distant flickers of light.  

They were just enough to keep me going but not enough to lift the utter blackness that surrounded me.  

Read the rest here: Grief Changes

Crazy Busy

Life has been crazy busy lately. Mostly in a good way.

But any way that shakes up my routine is hard for me to take.

Some folks live for the next adventure, the next exciting social opportunity or the next chance to get out of the house and do something different.

Not me.

I’m a rut lover. Like cows walking to water I’ll follow that same trail morning til night and never feel like I’m deprived of a single thing.

Life is changing on my little piece of ground. And some of the changes are here to stay. My husband is retired now and home all day.

Quiet space I used to command from morning until night is no longer mine alone. I rarely turn on the TV or listen to music. He loves background noise. I take phone calls the old-fashioned way. He always uses the speaker phone.

It’s an adjustment I haven’t yet figured out how to deal with. But I will.

And there are some good things too!

We don’t have to schedule visits with our children around his work schedule.

We can come and go when we want and stay as long as they will tolerate us.

I have help with heavy lifting.

When I want or need to talk, he’s available and willing to listen.

But writing requires a certain amount of solitude and a huge amount of free headspace to allow ideas to float around, merge, solidify and ultimately flow out onto the page.

All the busy-ness of the past weeks and months have robbed me of the daily rituals of quiet hours to read, to walk and simply think.

And as my faithful readers have noticed, I’ve been sharing old posts more frequently these past weeks. I could simply stop posting each day but I don’t want to do that. As long as I maintain the habit (even by the seat of my pants!) of queuing up something I am fighting to keep my creative juices flowing.

I’m sure that eventually all these new ways of being will work themselves into a routine that allows me time for writing again.

Until then, I appreciate your patience my friends.

Thanks for showing up.

❤ Melanie

Bouquet of Blessing

I have the privilege of being trusted with my grandson for over a week while his parents work on getting ready to move.

I recognize not all moms and dads are comfortable leaving their not-yet-two-year-old with grandparents several hundred miles away so I am very thankful my son and his wife are OK with it.

I won’t sugarcoat it and say it’s all rainbows and butterflies. But I will say every minute is a blessing-even the ones that stretch my nerves or my muscles.

I understand NOW what my friends with grandchildren have told me for years-it’s wonderful to be freer from everyday responsibilities and to focus exclusively on relationship and experiences.

When I was a mama to four children six years old and under by age twenty-eight I didn’t have the luxury of spending morning hours exclusively on interactive play.

But now I do.

And it is a lot of fun.

Even when my hand and wrist don’t work as well as they should and screwing on sippy cup lids hurts like all get out. Changing a soaking wet nighttime diaper is a real trick for these arthritic fingers. But my little man is learning to help his ol’ grandmama by lying extra still while I get it done.

I know not every parent on this road of child loss has grandchildren. I didn’t have one until almost five years after Dom ran ahead to Heaven. And I’ll never have one that carries HIS genes, HIS personality, HIS unique quirks.

So it might not be a grandbaby that feels like a blessing in your day.

It might be a pet or a friend or an opportunity to pursue a passion or hobby or pour your life into your community or family.

Whatever it is, take the opportunity to pick those blessings like blossoms, gather them into a bouquet and take a deep sniff.

You’ll be surprised how even a tiny budvase of blessing can spread the fragrance of hope in your life.

And hope helps a heart hold on.

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

Like It Or Not, I’m Teaching My Children How To Grieve

In spite of my best efforts, I have made and continue to make less-than-healthy or ideal choices in grief.

I’m sure some of those patterns are being passed down to my children and I hate that. Grief is hard enough on its own without adding layers of dysfunction that make it harder.

So I try to be mindful of what I model because like it or not, I’m teaching my children how to grieve.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/10/02/why-its-so-important-to-model-grief-for-our-children-grandchildren/

Thirty-Five Years and Counting

Some people say they’d love to know what life has around the corner.

Not me.

At least not much past tomorrow morning.

If my husband and I had known thirty-five years ago what our lives would be like along the way, we may very well have turned tail and run in the other direction!

hector and me 29 anniversary

There have been many, many good things in those years.

We have four beautiful children whom we love so much.  Two are married and their spouses are a blessing to our family.

And this year our first grandchild made his dramatic appearance at only twenty-eight weeks!  We are oh, so thankful he’s doing well.

It’s a brand new feeling to watch your son with his.

ryker and jm june 19

There have been a fair number of not-so-good things too. 

Job layoffs, illness, the death of Hector’s parents one right after the other and the stress and strain of life’s details when it seemed we couldn’t get a break.

But nothing compares to burying Dominic.  

How does a heart learn to live with a giant piece missing?

IMG_1813 (1)

We have, though. 

We’ve muddled through.

The commitment we made all those years ago has stood firm.

It’s battered, crumpled, muddied and torn, but it remains the guiding promise of our lives together.

traditional wedding vows

Child Loss: Missing The Family I Thought I’d Have

I miss a lot of things since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  

I miss HIM-his deep voice, his perspective and his thump-thump-thumping down the stairs and the rhythm of who he is.

And I miss how his absence has reshaped the family I thought I’d have.  

Raising four children, investing my time, heart and energy into who they were turning out to be, I naturally projected into the years ahead.  All that love poured into them would create a legacy we’d all enjoy.  Marriages, careers, grandchildren and experience would blend together into a (if not perfectly harmonious) at least a shared future.

desimones uab family

I never imagined turning a calendar page without one of my children to turn it with me.  

Dominic’s death has touched each one of us.  His missing is as powerful a force as his presence.  We are absolutely NOT THE SAME as we would have been if he were still here nor as we were when he was still here.

When Dom first left us, I was primarily mourning HIM.  I still miss him like crazy.  

But a lot of my mourning during the past twelve months has been for the family I thought I would have.  I see each of my surviving children are processing Dominic’s absence in ways that influence their decisions.

In some ways it’s beautiful-I see twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings making choices with wisdom way beyond their years.  In some ways it’s brutal-they set up safeguards because they know by experience that leaving the house doesn’t always mean you return. 

They have back up plans for everything.

Which wasn’t something I even thought about when I was their age.  

My husband and I expected to drift into retirement years full of energy and vigor.  Much of that has been stolen from us by child loss too.  Oh, how we long to be the fun grandparents, the traveling duo, the footloose crazy pair but it’s much more effort than we anticipated.

Sometimes we can’t muster that energy at all.  

I know some changes were inevitable. 

Dominic’s death coincided with a natural progression toward an empty nest.  I’m not a helicopter mama and I’ve always said my goal was to raise children who could function well without me so I think that as much as possible, I prepared my heart for them to grow up and grow apart.

But in addition to normal changes, there’s an utterly unnatural and unwelcome transformation from nuclear family to brokenhearted family.

I am so, so thankful that we have chosen the hard path of running toward one another instead of running away.  

I’m grateful that we have grown from five left behind to a table for seven-a new spouse and a precious grandchild. 

I do not take a single second for granted because I know that seconds are not guaranteed.  

But I sure wish Dominic were here to share it with us.  

dominic at olive garden
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