We like to think we are invincible, full of infinite energy and able to handle anything life may throw at us. It’s understandable considering Western society places a premium on heroic endurance in the face of adversity or challenge.
Truth is, though, our emotional, physical and mental energy are not infinite. We ALL have an absolute rock bottom where we simply cannot do one. more. thing.
And living with child loss means I exhaust my resources sooner than many.
I love this concrete representation of my limitations. It has helped me understand that it’s OK to say, “no” and it’s human to have to.
I hope it gives you courage to do the same.
The basic idea is that everyone starts with a finite number of “spoons” representing the energy, attention and stamina that can be accessed for any given day. When you do something, you remove a spoon(or two or three) based on the effort required. When you have used up all your spoons, you are operating at a deficit.
Like a budget, you can only do that so long before you are in big trouble.
I try to limit the time I spend perusing old photos and old social media posts of my missing son.
I’ve learned that while they remind me of sweet memories and happy times they also prick my heart in ways nothing else can.
I was looking for something specific the other day and had to scroll through Dominic’s Facebook page to find it. As I did, I began reading some of the back and forth comments under the posts and pictures.
This time it wasn’t what was said or where the photos were taken that hurt my heart.
Instead it was the tiny little time stamp underneath the words that took my breath away.
Nothing more recent than seven years ago was recorded.
I’d like to encourage my fellow travelers in this Valley today.
Often I write about and share the hardest parts of this journey. Because there are so, so many hard parts!
And they are rarely spoken about above a whisper (if at all!) in greater society. I am determined to be as honest as possible lest I know of a hidden danger along the way and fail to warn you.
But there are also precious joys tucked away along the difficult path.
The trick is to train your eye to see them and your heart to receive them.
I’ll be the first to admit that for months (probably two years) despair and sorrow and loss were all I could truly feel.
Bereft is the word I’d choose if forced to choose only one.
I became so adept at finding the sad in every situation I fell out of practice in finding anything else.
To be honest, it didn’t take much to find the sad. Holidays were duller, celebrations were always missing one, even a sunrise didn’t shine as brightly knowing Dominic was never going to set eyes on that day’s bright glow.
At some point, unbidden, a tiny spark of gratitude-like a wildflower among weeds-drew my heart to joy. Even if I tried, I couldn’t help responding to the fact that not every moment of every day was clad in mourning clothes.
Little by little color seeped back into my life.
I found that if I grabbed those bits, held them close and meditated upon them, they soon came closer and closer together. They grew to fill not just moments but sometimes hours.
Do not be distant, O Lord, lest I become so mired in yesterday’s hurts, that I miss entirely the living gifts this day might hold.
“Liturgy for Embracing Both Joy & Sorrow” from Every Moment Holy Vol. II: Death, Grief & Hope
I can’t weigh all my blessings on a giant cosmic scale against the bruising of child loss and make it balance. But I have also realized that I don’t have to live in a constant state of bitter sadness just to prove I love my son.
It brings good things, hard things, beautiful blessings and awful bruising. I have-in the years since Dom left us-had challenges and triumphs.
I’m learning that if I pluck the flowers of joy when I see them, I’m better able to survive the moments of despair when they overtake me.
I was asked a few months ago to record a short video sharing about how my son’s death impacted my faith.
It was the first time in the more than seven years since he ran ahead to Heaven I’d tried to tell the story in so few words.
And while I’ve shared much of this same material (plus even more details, thoughts and feelings!) here on the blog, I thought a few of you may want to watch this short video to gain some background you might have missed.
I DID misspeak in one instance-my eldest son was not yet in the Air Force at that time. He was out of town though when I got the news of his brother’s accident.
When my mother suffered a stroke, brief hospital stay and then joined Dominic in Heaven just over two years ago it brought it all back.
The crowded house, telephone calls-repeating, repeating, repeating the necessary details to friends and family-decisions and bone-tired weariness that never leads to sleep. This time, though, I had the sad advantage of experience.
I didn’t think I’d write at all that week but then this list of truly helpful things came to mind so I jotted it down. I believe if we share more openly with the nonbereaved, they will be better equipped to come alongside.
I have learned so much since that day when Dominic left us suddenly for Heaven.
Some of the things I know now are things I wish I didn’t know at all.
Many serve me well-not only in how I respond to my own pain and loss-but also how I respond to the pain and loss in the lives of those I love.
I will confess: I’m no better at this than the first set of holidays after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
Every. Single. Year. has brought changes and challenges on top of the empty chair round the family table.
Since Dominic left us we’ve had additions (a grandchild and various significant others) and sadly, more subtractions (my mother joined Dom in 2019). We’ve dealt with distance, deployment, healthcare and retail work schedules, a pandemic and lots of other, less easily defined tensions and difficulties.
When I ran across this quote awhile back my heart screamed, “YES!!!”
Gathering an entire family (which may include teens and young adults) for any extended length of time is a feat of scheduling, negotiation, and preference management. International treaties have been worked out in fewer steps. The sheer number of details that have to line up is mind-boggling.
There are the absolute parameters forced upon any family by distance and availability. NegotiatingTHOSEis truly a feat.
But when your family story includes profound loss, a mama often has additional hoops to jump through. Surviving siblings bring their own grief to the table and what that looks like can change over time. So something that worked one year might be rejected this season.
I wish I had some magical insight that could guide every wounded heart through these next, treacherous months.
What I can tell you is that it’s better to start earlier rather than later. Nothing falls into place without some planning. Old habits are hard to break and traditions are well-worn habits so don’t expect anyone to give them up easily.
No one can read your mind (are YOU telepathic?). Tell your friends and family what you need (even if it is that you have NOidea what you need!).
And then make space in your celebrations for times when you can grieve the absence of your child. It may be a shared moment or it may be you remember in solitude.
If you have surviving children, remember they are grieving too. They have lost a sibling, their innocence regarding death’s ability to steal even the young and the family they once knew.
Extend grace to others when you can.
Extend grace to yourself when you must.
Be honest and do the best you can.
Then remember that even these days are only twenty-four hours long. They will pass.
The sun will rise and you will, undoubtedly find out you survived. ❤