So This Is What I Looked Like: It’s Hard Watching Another Heart Grieve

Watching my father grieve my mother is the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Grieving my own son, watching my husband and children grieve him too, is the hardest.

I observe Papa’s expression, hear the weariness in his voice, note the far off stare when conversation drifts to mundane and unimportant things and realize that was exactly how I looked and sounded in the first months after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

I love my mama.

And I spent a lot of time with her these past two years since the fall and heart attack that changed everything in August, 2017.

But I was not her daily caregiver. My schedule didn’t revolve around whether or not someone could stay with her so I could go somewhere else-even if it was just down the road-for more than an hour.

One of the last photos we took with Mama. She was so proud of her great-grandson.

I called each day and talked to Papa, checking on them both, but then I was free to do or not do whatever I wanted to without considering her need to be attached to oxygen and her limited endurance to do anything even then.

I tried to be supportive. I made multiple trips down to the farm and tried to give Papa some space and freedom.

That’s just not the same as 24/7 care.

His grief for the wife with whom he spent 58 years is deeper and wider than my heart can understand.

Mama and Papa in the early days.

Just as my grief for the child I had carried, birthed, raised and cared for was impossible for him to fully comprehend.

Dominic is his grandson. And as grandparents go, my parents were extremely involved in my kids’ lives-showing up to not only the important events and occasions but also to many mundane and everyday moments.

But the gap between even frequent visits and daily living is huge.

So while I cannot feel precisely what Papa is feeling about Mama-his wife-I can absolutely understand how very devastating his loss is.

Our losses are different in kind but not in quality.

When I look at him, I’m looking in a mirror.

Grief etched everywhere.

Pain across his forehead.

Heartache painted on his lips.

I am so sad that I am no more able to touch that deep wound and render healing than anyone was able to touch mine and do the same.

No one can do the work he has to do but himself-not even someone who has done the same work in her own life.

All I can offer is to walk with him, no matter how hard it gets, for as long as it takes just like he did (does!) for me. ❤

Holiday Help for Grieving Hearts: Make a Plan

When faced with the upcoming holidays and already rapid heartbeat and fading strength, the last thing a bereaved parent wants to hear is , “Make a plan”.

But the truth is, if you don’t it will be so. much. worse.  

fail to plan plan to fail

No one can tell YOU what the plan should be.  Each family is unique.  Each year brings different challenges-declining health, moves, children or grandchildren born and a dozen other variables that must be accounted for THIS year versus years past.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/11/07/holidays-and-grief-you-need-a-plan/

Hurricane Michael-One Year Ago Today

One year ago today Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida packing more wind and damaging power than any hurricane ever recorded hitting there.

What’s more, it held every bit of that strength and smashed trees, houses and power lines for miles and miles inland including the rural county where my folks live 60 miles away from landfall.

My parents and aunt were trapped and unable to leave due to downed trees across the driveway, “yard” and the road leading out to safety. No electricity, not enough fuel to run the generator to power my mom’s oxygen and no running water (well water provided by an electric pump).

They didn’t evacuate because in the 100 years family had been living on that plot of land NO hurricane had ever made it that far inland with more than heavy rain, some strong wind and temporary power outages.

Thankfully, a neighbor had a bobcat tractor and he plus others with chainsaws and tractors were able to clear the dirt road to the main road. Thankfully, my youngest son, Julian,  was able to find a way through the downed trees and power lines between our house and theirs and reach them with more fuel, more chainsaws and another set of strong arms to help them evacuate.

Thankfully, the trees that fell around the house didn’t smash it or hurt anyone.

My family had survived the frightening but escaped the truly awful.

It felt like pure grace that no one we loved was killed that day although our hearts broke for those for whom that wasn’t true.

Once power was restored and my parents were able to return home, there was so much to clean up, so much to do and so many repairs to make.

Who could have guessed that less than a year later another kind of storm would sweep across our lives, taking Mama with it?

This time there was nothing left to do.

There never is when death comes knocking and steals a person you love.

I am so grateful for the extra almost-year with Mama. I am so sad there won’t be more.

And today, when I’ve finally stopped long enough to let my heart begin to feel what that feels like, I find my longing for her is folded into my longing for Dominic.

Two deaths, one broken heart.

I’m thankful and confident that death is not the end of their story.

Mama and Dominic and all the people I’ve loved that love Jesus are together in Heaven and waiting for the rest of us to join them.

Unlike the broken trees and broken homes left behind by Hurricane Michael, there will be no tell-tale signs of repair when on that glorious Day our hearts are made whole again.

Every sad thing will come untrue-as if it never happened.

Every tear will be wiped away.

Every promise kept, every stolen thing redeemed and restored.

And Mama will be dancing while Dominic plays his drums.

Photographs And Memories

Tuesday, October 1, 2019 we said our formal good-byes to my mama. Saw her face for the last time on earth surrounded by friends and family. Sang a few songs and walked away from the cemetery back to a fellowship hall full of people.

A crowded place never felt so empty.

A noisy room never sounded so quiet to ears straining for the one voice we longed to hear.

It was like that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven five and a half years ago-I stumbled back across the grass to the waiting food and folks both relieved the public spectacle was concluded and horrified that the final act of committing his body to the ground and commending his soul to Heaven was complete.

Left with only photographs and memories.

They were not enough then and they are not enough now.

Flat, lifeless representations of the vibrant, funny, sassy mama that only recently rediscovered her appetite and snuck past the kitchen to the bowl of candy on the dining room table at every opportunity are NOT. ENOUGH.

Even though it was delightful to dig out old photo albums, scour the house for boxes tucked away in corners and open drawers searching for mementos and precious tokens of a long life, it was also a heartbreaking reminder that if she were still breathing we’d never be invading her privacy.

I remember boxing up Dominic’s things in his apartment only a few days after we buried him.

We were trespassing, pure and simple. He deserved to have whatever secrets he’d been keeping (though they were small and not at all dark or dishonorable) and here we were dragging them into the light.

I hated every minute of it. I sucked in my breath and held back the tears as I piled a life into containers of “save”, “toss” and “give away”. A lifetime reduced to lifeless objects.

We buried Mama with a white rose and a small photo of Dominic placed in between her hands. It was a tiny token representing both our heartache and our eternal hope.

I am thankful for every memory and photograph I have of Mama and Dominic.

I tuck the memories away safely in my heart and place the photos carefully in labeled albums.

But they are a paltry substitute for their earthly companionship.

Broken Circle, Unbroken Chain of Love

I started writing because of Dominic and my family. I keep writing because of Dominic and my family and all the beautiful souls I’ve met along this journey-many who have never lost a child but whose hearts grieve for someone or something else.

I thought I’d share what I read at my sweet mama’s funeral yesterday-it was made easier and richer by all those who have walked with me so far in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Your comments, your messages, your thoughts and insights helped me express the most important lesson I’m learning in grief: Love Lives Forever.

When we walk through the graveyard or read an obituary, we almost always look for those two dates that bookend a life-for Mama it is September 23, 1938 and September 27, 2019. 

Lots of sermons have been preached about that dash in between-about that what we do or don’t do, who we love or don’t love, how we use the years we are given as either a blessing or something else. 

And that is very, very true. 

We tend to think that the last date-the date when breath leaves the body and the soul escapes the trials of this world to enter the glory of Heaven-as the end. We can hardly help it because our relationship to the one we love changes so dramatically. 

I can’t hug Mama anymore, I can’t hear her laugh, I can’t call her up and tell her, “I love you” or greet her in the morning with a “Hi Girlie!”. 

That’s hard. 

It creates a giant void for me and an unfathomably huge void for Papa.  We are going to have to find a way to live with that empty space in our hearts and in our lives. 

It takes lots and lots of work, lots and lots of tears and lots and lots of time.  There’s no shortcut through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

My Mama lost HER mother suddenly, to a stroke, when she was just ten years old.  So she lived with that giant hole in her heart for over 71 years.  She could have allowed the pain to make her cold and bitter, closed off and unavailable.  It certainly would have been an understandable response to a traumatic loss. 

But she didn’t. 

Without exception, every person who has called, written or come by to pay respects to Patty Hart describes her as gracious, lovely, kind, generous, welcoming, cheerful and bright. 

Mama chose love.

Mam and all my children, 1994

In just the past few weeks, before this last hospitalization, I got to see Mama begin to pour that love into a new generation.  She had two visits from her great-grandson.  One due to Hurricane Dorian (they had to evacuate) and one that was scheduled to give her the chance to meet him. 

I won’t fib and say that having overnight visitors in the house was easy for her or Papa with all her medical conditions, but you’d never know it by the grin on her face when I put that chubby little stinker in her lap. 

For a few minutes, she was Nanny again-singing, cooing, laughing and making eyes at him.  She even got to be the first one to see him turn over.  That tickled her! 

All the Grandmas and Captain Ryker

Truth is, that last date isn’t the end.  There’s no period after Patricia Ann Landrum Hart’s life.  Of course she lives on in Heaven with Jesus, her mama and my Dominic. 

But even here, on earth, love lives forever. 

It lives in the lives she touched and will continue to touch through her friends and family as they honor her legacy of love. 

Our circle is broken today.  Death is awful and it’s hard.  It’s a reminder the world is not as God intended it to be and we walk a broken road toward the promises of redemption and restoration. 

But the chains of love forged in our hearts are never severed.

I love you, Mama. 

Say “hi” to Dom for me.

Words For a Wounded Heart

I cling fast to words that speak aloud what I’ve only thought.

I collect sentences that eloquently express what I can only feel.

I pull them out on days when my head and heart are doing battle and I can’t find any middle ground.

Reading reminds me I’m not the first soul to travel this way.

Others have been here before and left breadcrumbs.

A friend said, “Remember, he’s in good hands.” I was deeply moved. But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now. That’s my grief. For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

The promise that I will one day see Dominic again makes the pain bearable. But it does nothing to treat the essential wound. He is not here and I will miss him, miss him, miss him until I draw my last breath.

The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see–the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it. A section withered and became a scar on the part of your soul that survived. For people like me and Echo, our souls contained more scar tissue than life.”
― Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

I never knew a person could cry every day for months. Not just a tiny overflow that falls sweetly down a cheek but gigantic gut-wrenching, ear-shattering sobs. That was what I hid from everyone-the pillow-over-my-mouth-to-muffle it-crying in my room in the dark.

Maybe we all do.

Maybe that’s why those untouched by child loss don’t really know how much it hurts and for how long.

grief is a house
where the chairs
have forgotten how to hold us
the mirrors how to reflect us
the walls how to contain us

grief is a house that disappears
each time someone knocks at the door
or rings the bell
a house that blows into the air
at the slightest gust
that buries itself deep in the ground
while everyone is sleeping

grief is a house where no one can protect you
where the younger sister
will grow older than the older one
where the doors
no longer let you in
or out

Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere

When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, he was living on his own. He’d been out of the house for a couple of years.

So I was utterly unprepared to find his earthly absence echoed in the house from which he had already been absent. Everything changed, everything was slightly askew.

And it is “a house where the younger [brother] will grow older than the older one”.

For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I remember being surprised the first time I circled back around in my grief and revisited places in my heart I thought I had subdued and conquered.

But that’s how it is.

Grief has so many layers that I honestly don’t believe we could survive it at all if forced to peel them back all at once. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact I will come back to many of the same sore spots over and over.

I do feel like I’m spiraling upward. Each time I circle around, I’m better equipped to face the fear or guilt or sorrow or despair.

The phases recur, but I’ve grown in the meantime.

I’m stronger.

I’m wiser.

I’m more resilient.

And I’m still here.

Repost: Love The Broken


I definitely don’t have a solo quality voice.

I can carry a tune but it’s best carried mixed in with others in a choir so the occasional missed note is barely noticeable. 

But if I was granted the ability to belt out a single song and have it broadcast far and wide, this would be it:  “Love the Broken”.

Not, “Love the Lovely” or “Love the Sexy” or even “Love the One Who Loves You Back”.

Nope. 

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/09/08/if-i-could-sing-one-song-this-would-be-it-love-the-broken/