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.
For a long, long time I couldn’t bear to see a monthly calendar.
I didn’t want to be reminded that time refused to stand still for my broken heart and I hated there were no more “Dominic” events to scribble in on the blank squares.
Around the third year I was able to once again mark major events like birthdays, holidays and short family trips. But it was even longer before I was able to truly look forward with excitement to those things.
Seven plus years, multiple family changes, a pandemic, retirement and a grandchild have reshaped my heart so that I’m genuinely thrilled to prepare and participate in most things from family meals to “Granny Camp” (which I get to host next week!).
I’m not forgetting nor minimizing Dominic by diving into these events with gusto. In fact, I’m sure he would approve.
So I’m entering a new season of grief-one which makes room for current joys and celebrations while still holding space for Dominic.
I can be present and participate without reserve.
I am making memories with those who are still here.
When Jesus claimed me as His child, I was liberated from darkness and made a prisoner of hope.
No matter how black the night, there is a pinhole of light. No matter how crushing the despair, there is a sliver of strength. When I want to stay under the covers, He beckons me to come out and I cannot resist.
I am a slave to the promise of Heaven.
I am bound by hope to the One who makes the rain, the One who spoke the mountains, the One who breathed the stars, the One who gives and takes.
And in that hope I find perfect freedom.
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I will stand and sing
I am a child of God
No Longer Slaves by Joel Case / Jonathan David Helser / Brian Mark Johnson
The music reminds me of the Glory to come, and I know Dominic would approve.
Music was his passion.
I like to think of him surrounded by songs and sounds of unimaginable beauty. So I count the days, and I count it joy that I will see him again.
I can hear him saying, “Do you really believe, Mom?”
In case you’re wondering if joy will ever return, I want to assure you that it most certainly can.
It will take a lot longer than you wish it might, but it is there, waiting for you to welcome it.
At first it just felt WRONG to have a moment of happiness because if the pain of missing Dominic somehow didn’t fill my heart I was afraid it meant my love for him was fading. If the broken pieces were knitted back together then maybe one day they’d mend so well I couldn’t find the spot where he fit in.
But I’ve learned no amount of present joy will squeeze out that space where Dominic lives.
I can love him, miss him, sorrow over his absence and still revel in the beautiful blessings the Lord brings into my life.
Just this week I had the privilege of watching my grandson while his mother and father had a little time away. It was so much fun (and hard work!). I had forgotten how exciting it is to view the world through a young child’s eyes. Everything is new, everything is wonderful, everything is worthy of exploration and comment.
The little fellow walked down the hall my great-grandmother walked, my grandmother walked and my mother walked pointing a finger and asking, “This?” as he passed photos and paintings, doo dads and doorways.
The sixth generation to hear the creaking hardwood and learn about life.
We showed him family photos and talked about Uncle Dominic. It raised a lump in my throat each time but it also helped me place Dom in his story-helped me learn how to talk about the uncle he will never know except for what we share.
I’m not going to lie.
More than a few times tears threatened to make their way down my cheek as I held his little hand and remembered holding another one just like it decades ago. Nostalgia can be hard to swallow when it’s all you have left of someone you love.
But I reminded my heart that it is big enough for both.
I can miss what I once had ANDdelight in what I have now.
A year ago I was in the same city under very different circumstances.
My first grandson had been born at just over 28 weeks because his mama developed HELLP syndrome and was in mortal danger. Both he and she were in the hospital while we held our collective breath, begging for them to be OK.
We were filled with quiet but uneasy joy knowing as we do how death can come to steal it away.
This Sunday, family and friends gathered to watch this little guy grab his first birthday cake with gusto and smear his mama and daddy with blue icing.
You’d never know he got such a tentative start in life just by looking at him.
Grateful is too small a word for how we feel.
Last week was a roller coaster.
My first grandchild-a boy-was born prematurely on Saturday after several days of heart stopping, breath robbing drama as his mama went back and forth to the hospital three times in as many days.
My son, his father, is deployed overseas and paddling as fast as he can to get home.