Bereaved Parents Month 2020: Courage Is a Heart Word

You know what breaks my heart all over again?  

The fact that so many bereaved parents tell me they don’t feel they can share their experience on their own FaceBook or other social media pages.  

That’s just WRONG!

They have been shushed to silent suffering because when they break open the vault of emotions and let others see what’s inside, most people turn away-or worse, they condemn that wounded heart for sharing. 

Read the rest here: Bereaved Parents Month: Courage is a Heart Word

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.

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Child Loss

I’ve had awhile to think about this. Six years is a long time to live with loss, to live without the child I carried, raised and sent off in the world.

So I’ve considered carefully what my “top ten” might be.

Here’s MY list (yours might be very different):

There is absolutely no way to prepare your heart for the death of a child. I have always been an avid reader. Over the years I’ve read dozens of accounts both real and imagined centered around child loss. I’ve seen well-scripted movies and television shows depicting it as well. And, like many parents, I had my moments when I imagined what it might be like for one of my children to leave the house and not return. But nothing-NOTHINGI read, saw or imagined was remotely as devastating as the experience of child loss. In the space of a few words, a few seconds, a single awful door knock, my world was utterly and completely shattered. It’s really no wonder that it takes a lifetime to even begin to put the pieces together.

Most people are doing the best they can to respond to our pain. When Dominic first left us, I was a walking nerve. Anything someone said or didn’t say, a look, a social media post or dozens of other things provoked a reaction: “How could they!?” But eventually, when I was able to think more clearly I recognized they were wrapped in the same protective bubble of “hasn’t experienced child loss” I once enjoyed. How could I expect them to know what to say or do when truth is, I still (to this day) stumble over my tongue when confronted with a parent who joins our ranks. Now I try to receive even the most bumbling efforts as grace gifts offered in hope of encouraging my heart.

Grief lasts longer than sympathy. I’ve written before about the cost of compassion. It’s so much easier to send a card, send a meal, show up at the house or funeral than to walk beside someone for a month or year as they try to pick up and reassemble the fragments of a shattered heart and life. Grief is not the same as mourning. Mourning is a shorter period with lots of outward symbols and rituals that warn others of our broken hearts. Grief is the burden of loss, sorrow, missing and pain that is left behind after everyone else goes home. Grief is lonely.

The circle that will walk with you for the long haul is going to be smaller than you expect and will be comprised of some folks you’d never have imagined. We all have an image of which people will run toward us instead of running away should disaster strike. I did. And some of those folks were there. But others weren’t. After decades of pouring our time, energy, effort, love and lives into more than one church family, I was surprised at who showed up, who stayed away and who was willing to go the extra mile. Of course at the beginning there were hordes of folks and we were very appreciative. But one by one or in groups they quit calling, coming or even texting. The tiny band that has stuck it out is precious. I am so, so thankful for them.

Life goes on without our permission. At first, I just wanted the world to STOP. I wanted every single soul on this planet to realize-at least for a second-that my son was no longer among the living. But of course it didn’t. Not only did the world not stop, it seemed to race ahead. I’ve written before about our family’s busy, busy two months (Graduations and Weddings and Trips, Oh My!) after Dom ran ahead to Heaven. That was just the beginning. In the six years since he’s been gone, there have been all kinds of large and small crises that have rocked our world. I don’t have a pass to slip through my remaining years without trouble or trial.

Loss keeps happening and comes in many forms. Life is risky. If you dare to love, you risk loss. I made a decision early on that I would not cut myself off from those I love in hopes of saving my heart more sorrow. Friendships melt away under the burden of grief. Life circumstances change in unpleasant and unexpected ways. Health deteriorates. Loved ones die. I’ve experienced all these things in the last six years and will experience them until I join Dominic in Heaven. I won’t rail against every one as an injustice or act surprised.

Laughter and joy return if you make space for them. I remember the first time a small chuckle escaped my lips after Dominic left us. It felt like betrayal. How could I laugh when my heart was utterly shattered? Where did that come from? But I learned, over time, that laughing was not dishonoring my son. Laughter is a gift. It’s a way of knitting together some of those broken pieces. It’s a means of allowing light back into a darkened soul. I also learned that joy and sorrow are not opposing feelings. You don’t have to shove one aside to feel the other. You simply have to expand your heart to make room for both. But it IS a choice. I can refuse laughter, joy and light and hunker down with my sadness, sorrow and despair. I have to decide.

The missing never ends. You never reach a moment (as shared by many bereaved parents further along this path than me!) when you won’t miss your child. A parent’s heart carries his or her child as long as it’s still beating. It takes time to learn to live with the ache. It was several years before I could see past Dominic’s absence. When the family gathered the gaping hole where he SHOULD be but WASN’T filled my vision and made it hard to focus on who and what I still possessed. Over time the missing has grown softer. Now, missing Dominic is the background music to everything.  A quiet tune I hum in my head that keeps me company all day and invades my dreams at night. .

You will survive if you keep taking the next breath and making the next step. That first day when the house filled with people coming to support our family after the awful news, I kept asking the women sitting with me, “Am I breathing?”. It felt as if the breath had left my body when the life-shattering words fell on my ears and I couldn’t get it back. But I soon learned that broken hearts still beat. The first anniversary of his death I was horrified to realize I had survived 365 days when I was certain I wouldn’t survive the first 24 hours. Grief  is work. But if you choose to face the feelings, spend time dealing with them and allow your heart space and grace to begin putting the pieces back together you will make progress. I have. It has often been slower and more painstaking than I like, but it’s happened.

I’m still learning.

Almost every day I find another place grief is changing my life, my family’s life and my heart ever so slightly. In a few more years this list may be different.

For now, it’s my top ten.

I hope it helps another parent who might be wondering what to expect in this Life [We] Didn’t Choose.

Why Bereaved Parents Month?

There are so many competing causes it’s a wonder anyone can keep up with them.

But when one or more of them become near and dear to your heart, it’s easy.

July is Bereaved Parents Month. A designation I knew nothing about until several years into my own journey as a bereaved parent.

And while I’m unsure about the necessity for declarations like National Trivia Day or National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day I am absolutely convinced of the need for Bereaved Parents Month.

This is why: Child loss is unlike any other loss a person may experience. It is out-of-order death, unnatural, unexpected and unfathomable.

Every day, bereaved parents are walking in the world, going to work , doing all that life requires and often caring for their other children while carrying a very heavy burden that mostly goes unnoticed.

Many parents desperately want to speak about their missing child but feel constrained by fear others will think they are vying for sympathy or attention. Sometimes they don’t say anything because they’ve been shamed or shushed by negative comments on their social media posts. Still others are longing to find a community where their uniquely painful experience is understood.

Bereaved Parents Month is an opportunity for these parents to share their child with the world without fear or condemnation.

It’s a chance to post articles, information and personal experience that can help those outside the circle of child loss understand the ongoing struggle of walking this path.

Hopefully it is also a season where newly bereaved parents can find resources so their own hearts feel heard, understood and encouraged.

So if you ARE a bereaved parent, please take advantage of this month set aside to raise awareness of our journey.

If you LOVE a bereaved parent, please acknowledge and affirm your friend or family member who may choose to share in person or online a little more freely this month.

Hearts hold on best when they are free to tell their story.

Bereaved Parents Month is set aside for us to tell ours.

Rescuing Memories

I spent this past week down at our family farm and for a day my dad, my son and I dug through decades of dust and memories in an attempt to rescue items that are of little monetary value but are priceless to us.

My son found my granddaddy’s forge-something we thought might have gone the way of so many old things, hauled off for scrap or sold to the highest bidder. It still had coal in it from the last time he fired it up.

I don’t think any Christmas morning can hold a candle to the excitement and surprise and absolute delight we all felt when the door to an old bedroom was shoved open to reveal this treasure.

Julian is a blacksmith. Skilled with his hands. Patient in drawing out the useful in materials. Just like Granddaddy. I can’t wait for him to fire that forge back up and make something beautiful.

No photo description available.
A necklace Julian made for me.

I found remnants of my distant childhood.

Bits of years gone by that had been sent “down home” when the decor or the space in a new house dictated things be passed on to someone who might still be able to use them.

Jars. Oh my! Dozens of jars documenting decades of women putting up summer bounty to provide for lean times in winter.

antique vintage glass canning jars w/ 1908 patent dates, bail lid ...

Old blue Ball jars with rubber gaskets and a metal latch to hold them down along with generations of more modern variations on the same theme brought back memories of shelling peas, snapping beans and scraping every single bit of sweet goodness off cobs of corn.

Even though most visits to the farm included what folks today would call child labor, I never left my grandparents’ home thinking I’d been abused or overworked.

Shelled many a peas with my grandma on front porch | Art, Vintage ...

I learned so much from the hardworking, God fearing, frugal, community and family oriented people that lived on those dirt roads!

We have several boxes of beautiful things we found stashed inside that falling down clapboard house.

Old Farm House (With images) | Old farm houses, Abandoned farm ...
Not our actual old farm house. Very similar though.

But my very favorite-the piece that is already in my china cabinet-is my great-grandmother’s whetstone.

I imagine most folks don’t even know what a whetstone is.

But where I come from it’s a time-honored method for sharpening hand-me-down knives that pass from generation to generation.

I have no way of knowing if she got it from someone else or if her hands were the first to draw the knife across its surface. In any event it is worn smooth from decades of use. Honestly, I’m not sure how useful it might still be in providing the necessary friction to sharpen another generation of knives.

It reminded me we all start out a bit rough around the edges.

Youthful pride and exuberance convinces our hearts that we’re invincible and infallible.

But time and experience expose that lie.

I hold the stone my great-grandmother held-the woman who buried more than one child-and I feel the connection with the women of my family. I feel the strength it took to work long hours in the summer sun knowing that if they didn’t their family wouldn’t eat that winter.

I feel the courage required to carry and bear another child when the last few breathed only a few days or a couple of years or were born straight to Heaven.

And the weight of it in my hand reminds me that life can be more than a little heavy sometimes.

It helps my heart hold on to know I come from a long line of survivors.

Most folks want antiques that can fetch a high price or at least an envious look from those who wish they were so fortunate to have them.

Not me.

I want the things that have passed through the hands and speak to the work of those I’ve loved-the worn down, worn out relics of lives well lived and hearts poured into the next generation.

Someone else might mistake this fist-sized stone for something found on the side of the road but I know its story.

And because I know the story, I know its worth.

My family has lived on these dirt roads for a hundred years.

A Bereaved Dad’s Perspective


I belong to a number of closed online bereaved parent groups.  

I’m not sure if it is a function of gender or not, but the moms seem to be a bit more willing to share their feelings and to respond to the feelings of others.  

Every now and then, a dad speaks up. When he does, I usually pay close attention to this male perspective.

Read the rest here: What I’ve Learned About Grief: A Bereaved Dad’s Perspective

These Are My People

In the South I called lots of people “Aunt” and “Uncle” who weren’t related to our family by blood.

It is a beautiful custom that designates what some today call “framily”-those with whom one shares life and love and intimacy but not DNA.

Life: Friends + Family = Framily | Family love quotes, Family ...

It’s a wonderful gift.

Children are surrounded by adults that speak wisdom and show support and cheer them on. I was blessed to have many of these special people growing up.

Early Sunday morning one of my uncles-Uncle Ed- left this world and stepped into Heaven.

And while I know he is in a better place, healed and whole, it hurts my heart to know that another person who helped shape me is now out of reach.

George Ewing

I hope that after he was welcomed by Jesus he found Mama and Dominic and hugged their necks.

It brings me great pleasure to think of all the people I love that are waiting on me just as I am waiting to be with them again.

I don’t go to many funerals. It’s just too hard since looking at my own son’s body lying motionless in a casket.

But I will be at his tomorrow morning. So will my daddy and my brother.

Because these are my people.

The Good Stuff

I am not sticking my head in the sand.

My family has regular discussions about current events and while I don’t watch televised news, I read widely each day about what’s going on in the world.

Even still, a steady diet of nothing but dire reports is anything but good for a heart.

So each day I try to focus on some happy moments as well.

Let me share a few with you.

This past week I’ve gotten a good bit of outdoor work done, sweated tons and walked farther and longer than usual.

Our weather turned from rainy and excessively humid to sunny and actually pretty dry (for Alabama!).

My chickens are laying well and our little local produce man had watermelons and peaches.

This afternoon I’ll hop in my not-very-big above ground pool and cool off between chores while Frodo the goat watches me.

Frodo the goat who loves to be where he shouldn’t be and my pool.

Black-eyed Susans are blooming by my mailbox.

I had lunch with a friend.

Easy Grilled Burger Recipe | Kingsford®
Burgers with fresh tomatoes, lettuce and peaches for dessert.

And I had a video chat with four other amazing bereaved mamas.

Finding at least one thing each day for which to be thankful helps my heart hold onto hope.

I make a conscious effort to breathe in beauty and enjoy those moments.

When I was fresh on this journey it was hard to receive anything as “good”. Everything was filtered through the lens of loss. So I understand if you think this is a futile exercise.

But eventually I was able to see more than my son’s absence and feel more than pain and sorrow.

What we have enjoyed, we can never lose... all that we 
love deeply becomes a part of us. - Helen Keller

Life is still life and there are still beautiful moments. Sunlight through the trees, a baby’s laugh, friends and family around the table, flowers, furry friends, a favorite meal, or the perfect cup of coffee are all things I enjoy. They don’t take away the sorrow of missing my son but they are worth celebrating.

I’m learning to hang onto them with both hands and to cherish them as a gift.

Think about it.

What made you smile this week?

Wanna share?

If It Happened Once, It Could Happen Again

I was reminded today how close fear sits to the door of my heart and to the door of the hearts of many bereaved parents.

Once again a mom shared an experience of not being able to get in touch with a surviving child and how that quickly spiraled downward to a frenzy of fear.

To some it may seem like an overreaction. But to those of us for whom the one thing you think won’t happen, HAS happened, it made perfect sense.

Before Dominic was killed on his motorcycle I had the normal parental misgivings about my kids driving here, there and everywhere. I always prayed for them and tossed a, “Be safe!” as they walked out the door with keys in hand.

I shook my head sadly, teared up and felt awful when I saw an accident report on the news.

But I lived in the protective bubble of never having actually experienced sudden, tragic loss and I was blissfully unaware of how quickly and how completely life could change.

Now I know.

And fear creeps up my back and takes hold of my heart in an instant if anything unusual prevents a loved one from answering his or her phone when I think they should.

In the first couple of years I could not stop it. I was at the mercy of my feelings and my mind was quickly overwhelmed with all the “what ifs” and would imagine every possible awful outcome.

Knowing Fear. | Still Standing Magazine

So our family put some simple protocols in place to help everyone’s heart.

We text or call when we arrive safely somewhere; we offer alternative phone numbers if traveling with others so there’s a second means of contact; we know that if one of us calls another repeatedly it’s important and regardless of where we are or what we are doing, we need to pick up; and if we are on a longer trip with multiple stops we provide an itinerary.

Now I’ve learned a bit better how to push irrational thoughts away, to focus on the probable and to allow a little time and space for someone to get back in touch with me.

It’s hard and requires great effort.

But I was reminded just the other day that no matter how hard you try or how much you work to push those feelings away, they can threaten to overtake you regardless.

My dad and I talk every morning. He texts me when he’s up and I call him when I’m done with morning chores. On his end, two texts, one hour apart, had gone through to my phone with no response. He finally called me because he was afraid something was wrong.

The same day, I began a conversation with my daughter by saying, “Your brother called…” at which point she immediately asked what happened. I realized my mistake for starting with those words and quickly assured her everything was just fine.

You never forget making or receiving that phone call delivering the unchangeable and unbelievable awful news.

I am still prone to jump to conclusions.

If it happened once, it can happen again.

But I’m trying hard to learn to live in a less friendly, less safe world than I once depended upon. So I aim my heart and mind in the direction of the most likely instead of the most awful.

On the best days, it works.

Child Loss: Mourning The Family I Thought I Would 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.  

Read the rest here: Child Loss: Missing The Family I Thought I’d Have