Digging Up Memories, Laying Down Dreams

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 have to lay them down.

And that hurts.

God Knows Your Name

Have you ever wondered why there are lists of names in the Bible?  Do you, like me, sometimes rush through them or pass over them to get to the “main part” of a story?

But look again, the names ARE the story. 

The God of the Bible isn’t the God of the masses.  He is the God of the individual. 

Read the rest here: He Knows My Name

Hope Is Not Anesthesia

It is unhealthy to ignore pain.

heal and acknowledge

But when it comes to emotional pain, we sometimes shut people out or shut them down.

I submit that we diminish the power of the cross when we deny or minimize the presence of pain.

Believing that God is in control and Jesus lives does not undo grief’s storm-it is a lifeline that keeps my desperate and hurting heart from sinking under the waves.

Read the rest here: Heartache and Hope

Baking Hope

I’m a “dash of this” and a “bit of that” kind of cook.

Nearly forty years of prepping meals for a large family and literally hundreds of guests has provided confidence when making a roast or stew or casserole.

But baking is another matter entirely.

Baking is science (as my high school chemistry teacher pointed out) so the proportions need to be precise and measurements matter.

It’s much the same when it comes to feeding my heart and mind in the “after” of child loss.

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven it wasn’t as critical if I paid attention to how much negative information or opinions I consumed. I could brush them off and focus instead on all the blessings I enjoyed.

But after-well the equation changed.

I was already so weighted toward sorrow and despair, adding even a dash of additional negativity could push me right over the edge.

I learned to limit my exposure to generally unhelpful sources (like social media from some folks, clickbait websites, negative Nellies who only rant and rave). I learned to shut down my own tendency to rehearse slights, sad memories and internal dialogue that said I was a failure because one of my children died.

I work hard to find something for which to be thankful each day. I try to get outside and breathe in the fresh air and soak up the sunshine.

And when I have a rainy day-whether it is literally dripping water from the sky or simply dripping tears from my eyes-I try to do something that will help my heart hold on.

Often I turn to baking.

There is hardly a more satisfying moment than when I pull a perfectly formed loaf of bread or cake or muffins from the oven.

I never get tired of the magic that occurs when you mix the right amount of flour, eggs, sugar and leavening to produce a beautiful edible gift of love.

If you want to find me after a stress-filled day or week, join me in the kitchen.

It’s where I do my best work.

It’s where my heart heals as my hands knead dough or I scrape the mixer bowl.

Baking hope is what I do.

In case you want to join me:

*MAMA D’S POUND CAKE*

  • 2 cups quality flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 sticks butter (not margarine) OR 1 stick butter and 4 oz. cream cheese (softened)
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla
  • 5 eggs

Cream butter and sugar until fully blended and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Add vanilla. Finally, add flour a bit at a time and beat until blended. Then continue to beat for 2-3 minutes until batter reaches a shiny smooth consistency.

Pour batter into a prepared (greased and floured OR use quality baking spray) Bundt pan or tube pan.

Bake 10 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and cook for an additional 45-60 minutes (pans and ovens vary).

Remove from oven and cool for about 10 minutes. Invert onto a cooling rack.

Serve with fresh berries, ice cream or toast for a yummy breakfast treat.

Can I Trust My Child Is With Jesus?

There are many burdens bereaved parents bear in addition to the heaviness of living with child loss.

Some had unfinished business,

some were estranged,

some had harsh words

or no words at all before their child left them.

And some are oh, so afraid that the child who made a sincere profession of faith in Christ might not be in heaven because he or she was living outside the will of God when they died.

Read the rest here: How Can I Trust My Child Is With Jesus?

Not The Last OR First To Ask, “Why Me?”

If you are new to this journey and still in the throes of asking, “Why ME?” I don’t want my words to feel like a rebuke.

I STILL have moments when I look around and bemoan the fact that it seems (from the outside looking in) other families are sailing through life with little more than tiny bumps in the road while mine is being asked to navigate around (and through!) giant craters with a barely functional vehicle.

But the Lord woke me up one day about eighteen months into this journey with some insight: I’m not the first nor the last mama to bury a child.

Truth is, few of us escape some sort of hardship in life and many of us face tragedy.

It’s hard. It’s exhausting. But you are not alone.

I cannot bring Dominic back-I cannot have my child once again in my arms.  I cannot undo the damage death has wrought and the great gash loss has made in my heart.  

And so I am left with my pain and my questions.

“Why?” is not a particularly fruitful question (although I ask it still).

 “Why not?” is probably more helpful.

Read the rest here: Why Not?

Challenge Accepted: Why Am I Still Here?

Recently I was challenged by someone close to me to examine the impact on my heart of spending so much time in community with those whose loss was fresher and more raw than my own.

They were being neither judgmental nor argumentative.

They were coming from a genuine place of concern, grace and love.

So I took the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate whether or not I need to continue writing in this space, spend time reading and responding to posts in bereaved parents’ groups and ruminating on how grief has changed over time (now seven plus years!).

It was an excellent exercise.

I looked back over social media posts and blog posts from the half-decade and more since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. I could trace progress from breath-robbing, body-wracking, all-consuming sorrow to a gentler, muted and tender missing that made room for joy and beauty alongside the ever-present tangible absence of one of my children.

I also noted a transition from “spilling my guts” to “trail guide”.

I’m no longer primarily using this space to release feelings and thoughts I’m not comfortable tossing out in day-to-day conversation. Instead, I’m mostly thinking about and sharing what I’ve learned along the way-pointing out the pitfalls and (hopefully!) encouraging hearts to keep on keeping on.

I’ve given myself permission to repost earlier entries (please note dates when you click through) that represent more raw emotions without making apology for either the lack of time or energy to write something new or the angst I once felt.

I’m also choosing to limit my online interaction to an hour in the morning and maybe an hour in the evening.

I absolutely desire to speak encouragement, grace and hope to hearts that are struggling but still need to guard my own from overload.

And as for friends, family or strangers who think, “Goodness, gracious! She needs to MOVE ON!”.

I say, “How can I hide or hoard this hard-won wisdom and experience?”

This is my ministry.

I didn’t ask for it, but it’s mine.

I won’t run away.

So until the Lord tells me definitively He has another path for my life I’ll be here.

Every morning.

Fragile Vessel, Mighty God

I was asked by a precious fellow bereaved mama to write a guest post for a new and exciting ministry her family is launching in honor of their son, Rhett.

It was an interesting and challenging assignment to create a single entry that might give enough background to make my voice an authentic source of hope based on shared experience.

I spent over a week working it out but settled on what you have below: The essence of my story is I am a broken, fragile vessel whom God chooses to use to share His light, life and hope in a world full of searching hearts.

Child loss is MY cross. Yours may be something else.

But our great and faithful Lord can and will use us, if we let Him.

“But this beautiful treasure is contained in us—cracked pots made of earth and clay—so that the transcendent character of this power will be clearly seen as coming from God and not from us. We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides, but we are not crushed by them. We are bewildered at times, but we do not give in to despair. We are persecuted, but we have not been abandoned. We have been knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our bodies the reality of the brutal death and suffering of Jesus. As a result, His resurrection life rises and reveals its wondrous power in our bodies as well. “

~2 Corinthians 4:7-10 VOICE

As a young mother of four stairstep children I copied out these verses and taped them to my bathroom mirror for encouragement.

I knew Paul was talking about his own hard times and troubles as he carried the Gospel to those who hadn’t heard but I felt certain God would allow them to minister hope and life to my fragile, worn out heart even if the pressure was coming from another place.

And He did.

Paul’s words became a touchstone I returned to many times over the decades between those early years and one very, very awful day.

When a deputy rang my doorbell in the wee hours of April 12, 2014 I was startled from sleep, unsure of why he was there and generally confused until the words that shattered my heart fell from his lips.

My third child would never be coming home again.

I can’t claim that my mind went immediately to a holy place. I didn’t rush into the arms of Jesus or feel overwhelmed by supernatural peace.

I simply felt overwhelmed.

Undone.

Broken.

In a little while-maybe ten minutes or so-I remember taking the hands of the two children who were with me and saying, “We will survive this. This will not break us. This will not end us.”

Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was reminding my heart of the truth I’d been clinging to for all those years: We might be cracked and chipped but we would not be crushed. We might be confused but we were not abandoned. We were definitely knocked down but we would not be destroyed.

That night was only a beginning. I didn’t have the tiniest clue how much more challenging, painful, desperate and frightening things would become and how often I’d have to return to these verses.

Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I clung tightly to the promise of preservation in those verses. Now, I am drawn just as much to the promise of pain redeemed.

Paul never pretended that all those trials didn’t scar a heart. He never shied away from giving details about the suffering he endured. He never suggested that death wasn’t real or awful or hard.

I am not the woman I once was. Child loss has chipped away at my edges, poked holes in my self-sufficiency and revealed oh, so many fragile places.

Pain has definitely left its mark.

It’s tempting to try to cover up the tattered edges of my worn out soul but I’m convinced I’m a more authentic herald of the Good News precisely because of the loose threads and broken bits.

This journey is a hard one. There are no shortcuts, no detours, no easy paths through the tangled briers and over rocky steppes.

But my Shepherd King never leaves me.

I think sometimes our desire to demonstrate the power of Christ in our lives makes us long to tie things up into a perfect package.

I know I do-I want desperately to be able to say that I can see the good that can come from Dominic’s death. I long to be able to point to a finished monument of redeemed pain and restored joy.

But I’m compelled to tell it like it is.

And it is just plain HARD.

But God uses the broken things of this life to display His glory.

Because then there is NO DOUBT as to the Source of strength.  He leaves no room for boasting.

He declares His power and faithful love by taking those of us who are weak and stumbling and leading us home, redeemed and victorious.

“For look at your own calling as Christians, my brothers. You don’t see among you many of the wise (according to this world’s judgment) nor many of the ruling class, nor many from the noblest families. But God has chosen what the world calls foolish to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world calls weak to shame the strong. He has chosen things of little strength and small repute, yes and even things which have no real existence to explode the pretensions of the things that are—that no man may boast in the presence of God. Yet from this same God you have received your standing in Jesus Christ, and he has become for us the true wisdom, a matter, in practice, of being made righteous and holy, in fact, of being redeemed. And this makes us see the truth of scripture: ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

I Corinthians 1:26-31 PHILLIPS

Here’s the link to this new ministry: https://www.archwayofhope.org/

Check them out. ❤



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

Is It ALWAYS Going To Feel Like This?

I belong to several bereaved parents online communities and this question comes up again and again-it was the first thing I asked a bereaved mom just after Dominic ran ahead to heaven:

“Will this suffocating pain remain sitting on my chest, smothering the breath and life right out of me?  Will I ever be able to stop crying? Will it ALWAYS feel like this?”

The short answer is, “No, it won’t.”

Read the rest here: Will It ALWAYS Feel Like This?