I shared this post for the first time five years ago.
Before I was part of the community of loss parents, I had no idea how quickly we are expected to “move past”, “get over” or “deal” with the death of a child.
I was horrified to find out that even though most parents would say something like, “I just don’t know how I would survive if my child died” they were the very ones who thought I should sail past this life-shattering event after what they deemed an “appropriate” amount of grief and/or time.
So I’m sharing again in honor of Bereaved Parents Month. If these words speak to you or for you, please share them. It’s our opportunity to help others understand a little more about child loss.
It was just over a year after Dominic’s accident and a friend forwarded an article about odd behaviors of those who were “stuck’ in grief. Along with the forward was a little tag, “Reminds me of you.”
It took me a little while to realize that if I was going to survive this lifelong journey I had to make some changes in how and when I responded to requests to do something, be somewhere or participate in outside events.
Because no matter how worthy the request, there was only so much of me to go around and I was forced to spend nearly all my energy and time and effort on figuring out how this great wound was impacting me and my family.
I cannot overemphasize how much strength and energy is needed to do the work grief requires.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only bereaved parent who has boxed up things post loss and left them untouched for years.
Life kept moving at a fast pace after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve had the time to even consider going through his stuff.
Time alone was not enough to push me toward doing the hard work of deciding what to keep, what to give away and (most painfully!) what to throw away. But various circumstances forced my hand and I’ve spent much of the last year digging through stuff and digging up memories.
To be sure, not everything has a direct connection to Dominic. I have a giant pile of craft materials that needed sorting and organizing.
Even then, as I put like items together I remembered pushing two littles in a buggy with two older children on either side through the craft store or Walmart. I knew where this tidbit was purchased and what school or church project prompted buying dozens of a certain sticker or wooden cut out.
This past week I’ve been working on “my” side of our two-car garage.
It’s never been used as a garage but instead as a catch-all for a house that has no basement. My side is where I store pantry overflow and all kinds of supplies from toilet paper to party goods.
It’s also where I put some things from Dominic’s kitchen when we had to hurriedly empty his apartment over seven years ago.
Seven years. How can it be seven years?
I finally had to do the hard work of deciding what I should REALLY keep and what it was time to let go of. I don’t like it.I don’t like it one little bit. But it is necessary.
I’m taking it in small doses-two or three hours a day-and trying to give myself grace when even that amount of time doesn’t seem to make a dent.
It’s grueling labor to dig up memories and lay down dreams.
Unrelenting emotional work.
Every bit tossed in the trash is a declaration that he isn’t coming back to claim it. I can’t ask him if he deems it worthy of saving because I can’t ask him anything.
That in itself is a kind of concession to defeat.
Where he is he doesn’t need or miss this stuff but it represents hopes and dreams to me.
I first shared this some years ago as I was beginning to work through the theological implications of a God who did not intervene to save my son.
I thought I understood who God was and how He worked in the world because nothing that had happened to me challenged those assumptions. Things were neat and tidy with clear edges that demarcated “those who love God” and “those who refuse Him”.
But God is not confined to a box I or any other human can construct. He is GOD.
That’s a hard, hard truth to digest but it is truth.
It’s possible that you haven’t thought of it this way, but if you are a believer in Christ and have yet to walk through faith-shattering trials, you may have placed God in a box.
I know I had.
I thought that after decades of walking with Jesus, reading and studying Scripture and wading through some fairly significant trials I had God pretty well figured out.
I could quote verses for every occasion, open my Bible to any book without looking in the Table of Contents, and had something sprirtual to say about everything.
When days become months and months become years it’s hard to explain to others how grief is both always present but not always in focus.
I’ve struggled to help those outside the loss community understand that the absolute weight of the burden is precisely the same as when it fell on me without warning that dark morning.
Dominic’s absence, if anything, has seeped into more places, changed more relationships and influences more choices than it did seven years ago when I was only just beginning to comprehend what a world without him would look like.
But I, and my family, have continued to live.
We’ve added family members through marriage and birth. We’ve gone places, made memories and made career moves. We’ve gotten older. My husband retired. Children moved away.
All these things and more mean that life is simply bigger than it was when Dom left us.
It’s a slow, gradual process.And for some hearts who are forced to endure multiple losses in a short time the jar may never get very large because the grief is so great.
I remember when I realized that sorrow was not ALL I felt nor Dominic’s absenceALLI saw.It was a bit frightening to be honest.
Did that mean my love for him was waning or that his importance in our family was forgotten? Was I a bad mother because I no longer cried every day for the child not here? Had my heart grown cold?
But then I realized none of those things were true. What allowed me to feel joy again, to participate fully in family outings or gatherings, to plan holidays and birthdays once more was instead that my heart had found a way to hold both sorrow and gladness at the same time.
There are still days when grief looms large and my world seems too small to contain it. But those don’t come as often as they once did.
Life will march on, regardless of how hard we might wishit wouldn’t.
And, in large measure, life after loss is what we choose to make of it.
If you’ve joined me here for more than a minute you know I am a fierce advocate for bereaved parents in particular and all grievers in general.
But you’ve probably also noticed that, at least in my own life, I recognize how traumatic and/or difficult circumstances can make it hard to see past the hurt and the shattered world a broken heart inhabits. I can judge others harshly without meaning to.
A couple of recent incidents have reminded me how easy it is to interpret every offhand comment or heartfelt opinion as targeted at ME when, in fact, they are simply a reflection of that person’s experience in the world.
I can’t insist that others see the world through MY eyes if I’m not equally prepared to try to see it through THEIRS.
Look, I know how painful it is to scroll through social media posts and feel the darts land square in the center of my heart. Parents bemoaning their children leaving home (all the while I’m thinking, “yeah-but you can call, visit and still hug your child”); folks complaining about how hard it is to manage schedules and meals or trying to figure out family vacations with teens or young adults (“gee, I wish I had the privilege of including ALL my kids for holidays“); and then there are the “miraculous deliverance from a wreck” posts (I’m wondering why Dom wasn’t delivered).
ButNONEof those folks are posting or commenting with me in mind. They are simply sharing their thoughts and feelings just like I share my own.
I’ve learned to just scroll on past.
It’s neither healthy nor helpful for me to type some long (or short!) snarky comment trying to “correct” them. I’m not entirely sure they need correcting.
Before it was ME that sent a child to Heaven I had No. Idea.
They don’t either.
So save your energy for the work grief requires. Save it for the family you’ve got left. Save it for a rainy day when tears fall as fast as drops from the sky.