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 first shared this post three years ago when I was approaching the four year milestone of Dominic’s leaving for Heaven.
By that time most folks who knew me when he died had relegated that part of my story to some ancient past that surely I was over by now. I’d met others who had no clue my heart skipped a beat on a regular basis because one of my children was buried in the churchyard down the road.
And even the closest ones-the ones I thought would understand forever-were sometimes impatient with my ongoing refusal to leave Dominic behind and be “healed” of my grief.
What I long for more than anything as the seventh anniversary of his departure draws near is simply this: Let me be me, whatever that looks like.
Don’t try to fit my journey into your mold.
Even in the very first hours after the news, my brain began instructing my heart, “Now, try to be brave. Try not to disappoint people. Try to say the right thing, do the right thing and be the example you should be.”
It’s so easy to focus on the miles left to travel and forget how far I’ve come.
Life has a habit of reminding me that there are hills yet to climb, emotional hurdles still to come and (the ever looming threat) gray hair, wrinkles and an aging body with which to tackle them.
But every now and then I remember to take stock of just how many miles I’ve already traveled.
I pause, sometimes with pad and paper, and recount the bends, twists, devastating events and challenging circumstances I’ve already navigated (some by the skin of my teeth and ALL by the grace of God!).
Doing that helps my heart hold on to hope.
It helps me take one more step, one more breath, last one more sunrise to sunset. It’s a way of speaking courage to myself when I’m afraid I won’t be able to endure and might give up before I complete my course.
So if you are, like me on some days, feeling undone by long years stretching ahead or a particularly hard season already upon you, may I ask you to think back, to take stock, to answer a few basic questions?
Are you getting up each morning and caring for yourself and/or others?
Are you fulfilling job obligations (if you’re employed outside your home)?
Have you lost a job, changed jobs, found a job, retired or relocated?
Are you sending birthday greetings to friends, family and children or grandchildren (even if they are belated!)?
Have you celebrated important milestones with those you love (even if you cried before, during or after)?
Have you planned a wedding, baby shower, birthday party or other public event?
Do you pay your bills?
Have you resisted the urge to turn to food, alcohol, drugs or any other destructive habit or behavior in an attempt to numb your pain?
Do you take the garbage out?
Have you taken a shower recently?
Are you connected to a faith community/bereaved parent group/small group of some kind?
Are you still married or with a long term partner even though grief may have strained the relationship?
Have you or are you caring for an ailing family member?
Are you buying groceries/preparing meals/or otherwise feeding yourself and others in your household?
Do you practice self-care (exercise, journaling, prayer/meditation, rest and proper nutrition)?
Has your home life shifted significantly (empty nest, boomerang kids, elderly parents moving in)?
Do you/have you addressed health concerns and are you following recommended and prescribed treatments?
Do you maintain contact with those you care about (even with coronavirus limitations)?
Is there at least one thing you pursue that feels like a break from responsibility (reading, a hobby, pets, watching old movies…)?
Then you’ve covered miles, my friend.
You are making progress.
No matter how much is left to travel, you have it in you to make it! ❤
So I collect quotes, copying them down in my journal and sometimes hanging them where I can see them throughout the day.
Here are a few that speak to my heart. I hope they speak to yours. ❤
I wish there WERE a secret to surviving this journey. But there isn’t. There is just one moment, one breath, one step at a time. I do the best I can each day.
Over time I’ve grown stronger and better able to carry the load. Over time I’ve learned how to shift my focus from my son’s death to his life.
Death ends so many things.
But it does not end the influence of my son’s life on my heart and it can’t steal the moments I shared with him.
As long as I hum the tune of his unique song I can still hear him.
Before I was the one in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I didn’t realize it’s a lifelong journey. I acknowledged that loss changed a person but I didn’t know that it keeps changing you. Grief influences how I experience the present not just how I view the past.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven it instantly changed the landscape of my life. The future I thought I’d have was shattered and I was thrust into unfamiliar and often frightening territory with no road map. It has taken a long time to learn how to walk in this uncertain world and I still stumble.
There are no set standards for how or how long a heart grieves. Everyone brings his or her own personality and experience to the process.
It’s tempting to look for a structured guide to measure my progress.
Others can share how they are walking this road but ultimately I have to forge my own trail through the wilderness.
This is one of my very favorite quotes. Great love, great grief. How could it be any different?
When a child is born into a family, no one finds it strange that the addition changes everything. When that child leaves too soon they shouldn’t find it strange that it changes everything once again.
I didn’t just lose my son, I lost the family I used to have.
The place he should be but isn’t looms large every time we sit at the table, gather for celebrations or just line up for a group photo.
Part of the work grief requires is learning to hold onto the love and influence my son poured into my own life. I have had to redefine my relationship with Dominic-figuring out how I to mother a child I can no longer see or hold.
There’s a lot of pressure on grieving hearts to “get better” based on the medical model of illness, treatment, recovery. But grief is not a disease. It truly is the price you pay for love. I have experienced healing in the six years since Dominic left for Heaven but I won’t be fully healed until I join him in eternity.
Every single child is a unique gift to the world.
When death steals their presence, the light and love they shared with others lives on.
As long as we remember, as long as we speak their names, they continue to be a gift to those who love them . ❤
When Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I felt like I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually knocked to the floor. I had no idea how I was going to make a life after this great blow. I could barely get dressed, much less do anything that took more thought or energy than that.
I was overwhelmed. I had to learn to walk all over again.
And I did it with baby steps, in a judgement free-zone I created for myself where I refused to gauge my progress against anyone else’s.