Child Loss: Adding Up The Missed Milestones

So we went to my niece’s high school graduation this week.  

It was another in a recent long line of events Dominic was not here to celebrate with us.  

Another set of pictures missing his grin, his shoulders, his goofy antics, his presence.

It’s really beginning to add up. 

And it hurts.  

We were plunged headlong into some important celebrations in the first two months after Dominic left us-two graduations and a wedding.  But there was a kind of lingering aura that made it a little more bearable.  Everyone involved KNEW Dominic.  So while he was not there bodily, he was present nonetheless because so many people carried a piece of him in their hearts, had stories to tell and made comments about how he would have done this or that.

My niece obviously knew Dominic.  And that’s a comfort.  But the last time he saw her she was just entering her teen years.  Now she’s leaving high school headed toward adulthood.

Fiona’s new husband never met Dom.  His friends are a world set apart from our pre-loss life.  His family knows Fiona lost a brother and me a son but they have no idea how that fact changes everything.  They can’t.  They don’t have anything to compare it to.

My sweet little grandson will grow up hearing stories but never seeing the man behind them.  He will perceive Uncle Dominic as a tale told sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter but never be the target of Dominic’s sometimes wicked humor nor feel the comfort of his strong arms.

IMG_1816

In some ways five years might as well be a lifetime.  

So much has changed.  

So much I want to talk over with Dominic.

So much I wish he was here to see.

I know he is perfectly content in Heaven with Jesus.  He’s not missing out on a thing!  But I can’t stop my heart from selfishly wanting him here with me as well.

It’s like playing a piano with a sticky key-somehow the melody is always just a little off. 

Never quite right. 

missing them from your side

Blink of An Eye

It’s just not comforting for my heart to think my son is looking down on me from Heaven.

I can’t reconcile the idea that he might be watching my sorrow with what the Bible says about Heaven being a place of joy and peace.  

But I do love the idea that he’s outside time and so isn’t “waiting” on reunion the same way I am. 

No matter how many years it may be, it will be only a “blink of an eye” for him.  ❤

Blink of an eye heaven

For You, a Moment; For Me, a Lifetime

I used to look at tombstones in cemeteries and do the math between the dates. 

I was most focused on how long this person or that person walked the earth. 

I still do that sometimes.  But now I do something else as well. 

I look to the left and the right to see if the person who ran ahead left parents behind.  My eye is drawn to the solitary stones with the same last name next to a double monument clearly honoring a married pair.

grieving mother at grave

And then I do a different kind of math. 

I count the years between the last breath of the child and the last breath of his or her mama.

Because while that first date marked an end for everyone else, for the mama, it marked the beginning of the rest of her life- a life she never imagined nor would have chosen.  

I wonder how many lives have been cut short by the effects of grief.  I know some folks have tried to research it, but it’s so hard.  Because grief ends up doing things to bodies that look like aging or like other disease processes and it’s really difficult to tease it out.

But those of us who live this life know. 

We know.  

What’s a moment for everyone else, is a lifetime for us.  What is a date on the calendar, a trip to a funeral home, a casserole delivered to a door in hopes of lifting spirits for everyone else, is so much more for us.

grief as timeless as love

I don’t begrudge your ignorance. 

I celebrate it! 

My heart breaks every single time another name is added to the roles of “bereaved parent”.

I think a lot about the generations gone before.  Before vaccinations, before penicillin, before so many modern blessings that lengthen life and give hope where there used to be none.

I think about the families involved in WWI and WWII.  I understand the need to call the first war “The Great War” and assume such atrocities would stop mankind from falling headlong into them again.

But it didn’t.  

So, so many families that made the highest sacrifice. 

So, so many parents that hung that photo of their son or daughter on the wall and never moved it-because they were as frozen in time as their child.  

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

I have a friend who does home-based physical therapy.  She often goes to the homes of elderly patients and lovingly and gracefully listens to their stories.  If it is part of their history, they almost always point out the child who never grew older and tell the tale of how much they miss him or her.

It’s so, so hard for others to understand how very different child loss and out-of-order death is from any other loss in this life.  

But it is not a moment.  

It is not even a week or month or years.  

It’s a lifetime. 

We miss them and mourn them for a lifetime.  

grief is a pain that cant be spoken goes on and on

 

Grief Lasts As Long As Love Does

I know that before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I didn’t really think a lot about grief.  

I had lost grandparents and other relatives, but no one so close to me that the thought of how I was supposed to relate to them after death made a daily difference.  

I realized when Dominic left, that all the love I ever felt for him I still felt. 

All the parts of me that belonged to him still belonged to him and the parts of him that belonged to me still belonged to me.  

grief is the last act of love angel and candle

Love doesn’t die.  Love lives as long as the person doing the loving has breath.  

Grief doesn’t replace love. 

It IS love.  

all acts of grief are normal

Just. Say. It.

I’m not sure when I began practicing this but I make a habit of telling people I love them even if it makes them uncomfortable.promise me something tell them you love themI remember saying it to my granddaddy who never told anyone-as far as I know-that he loved them.

I spoke it over each child as soon as she or he was laid in my arms.

Growing up, I closed every telephone conversation with, “I love you” and taught my husband to do the same.

tell the people you love that hou love them

I also try hard to tell people other important things right when I think of them, instead of “later”-whenever THAT may be.

when you see something beautiful speak it

I’m so, so glad I do and I did.

I have many regrets about Dominic’s too-soon departure from this life.

But I don’t have this one:  Unspoken words of love and affirmation.

The last time he was home, it was nearing final exams and I felt like I needed him to know how very proud I was of him and how very much I admired the man he had become.  So I stopped him as he was leaving, turned his strong shoulders to face me square, and looked him in the eye to give him words of blessing.

I didn’t get to hold his hand as he left this life. 

But I’m confident as he breathed his last, he knew he was loved.

 

 

heart hands and sunset

Don’t wait to tell the people that are important to you that they ARE important to you.

Don’t save words for “next time”, “later” or “when we get together again”.

Just say it.

Now.

Right now.

greatest weakness of humans optimus prime

Sunrise, Sunset

It’s my habit to watch the sunrise and the sunset every day.

I usually greet the morning in my rocking chair, looking out my east-facing picture window.  It never gets old to watch darkness chased away by relentless light rising over the tops of trees.

sunrise trees

Beautiful.

Every. Time.

Sunset is a little trickier.

I don’t have a clear view of the west from inside my house and the western edge of my property is peppered with tall trees so I usually only see the beginning of the end of every day.  But one of my favorite things to do is watch the golden glow of lingering light touch the tops of the highest pines and then slip away as the sun sinks below the horizon.

Another day has come and gone.

time-travelAnd the days become weeks that become months that become years.

Sometimes the days are long. 

But the years are short.

Some days bring news I don’t want to hear.  Some bring shouts of rejoicing. Either way I’m not the keeper of my days.  The sun neither rises nor sets at my bidding.

But I have choices in the daylight hours.  I can work while the sun is shining or I can worry that it might set soon.

I can take advantage of the light or I can wring my hands anticipating the darkness.

I am not naive. 

I wish I were. 

I wish I didn’t know by experience how much a heart can long for days gone by, days wasted, days that could have held more love and laughter but were overshadowed by worry or hurry or just indifference.

think-you-have-time

So I watch the sunrise to remind me that TODAY is a gift.  And I watch the sunset to remind me that the gift of today is gone forever.

What have I done with it?  Who have I loved?  Where have I placed my energy and purpose and hope?  

Every day is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  

I never want to forget that.  

 

Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

~Sheldon Harnick