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.
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.
The calendar is relentless. There’s no respect for seasons of mourning or grief anniversaries or weeks of sickness or unexpected early births of grandchildren.
The sun rises, the sun sets and another day is crossed off into history.
So somehow-without my permission-I find I’ve woken to mark the ninth anniversary (do you call such a horrible thing an anniversary?) of Dominic’s death.
It’s humbling to realize I (and my family!) are not only still standing but flourishing. It’s horrifying to comprehend I’ve continued to live and breathe for 3285 days since Dominic left us.
Most days are pretty good.
Today is hard.
When the numbness wore off (maybe around six months) I remember vaguely wondering what years down the road would feel like.
I tried to project the “me” of that moment into the future and imagine how I might deal with life changes, new circumstances, an empty nest, grandchildren (if there were any) and growing older alongside the heartache of burying a child.
But just as it’s impossible to comprehend how the addition of a child utterly transforms a family, it’s impossible to understand how the subtraction of one changes everything just as much.
We are all so very different than we would have been if Dominic were still here.
Life most likely wouldn’t be any more perfect because we would each grow and change, find common ground and find points of conflict, make new memories and drag up old hurts.
Still, none of us would carry the deep wound and traumatic injury of sudden and out-of-order death.
THATis impossible to ignore. Even nine years later it’s a red flag, a sticky note, an addendum to every family gathering and holiday.
So we carry on.
Like generations before us who have walked this world dragging loss behind them, we keep going. It shapes us but doesn’t limit us. It informs our views but isn’t the only thing that molds our opinions and frames our choices.
My faith in God’s larger and perfect plan helps me hold onto hope even as I continue to miss my son.
But today is a hard day and I don’t think that’s going to change as long as I live.
I’m getting better at remembering Dominic’s birthday in ways that honor who he is and the man he might have become. I can’t say I’ve figured out any good way to walk through the yearly unavoidable and unwelcome reminder of the day he left us.
I’m learning to allow the grief waves to simply wash over me without resisting them.
Eventually the hours tick away, the day is over and I find I’ve survived yet again.
I first shared this post in 2016 when I deeply resented anyone trying to tell me there would eventually be a “new normal” to this long road of sorrow and missing.
Since then I would say that I can concede there is a kind of “normal” that eventually takes over a life-even a life shattered by loss.
No matter how tempting it might be to climb under the covers and hide away in my room, biding time until it’s MY time, I can’t.
And little by little, the ordinary (and extraordinary) habits, pressures and circumstances of walking in the world require more and more of my attention forcing me to sequester Dominic’s absence to a part (instead of the whole) of my waking existence.
But I will tell you today-over eight years later-that there is STILL absolutely, positively NOTHING “normal” about my beautiful boy being here one moment and gone the next.
Something you hear early on in this grief journey is that one day you will find a “new normal”.
I hate that phrase.
Because while I have certainly developed new routines,new ways of dealing with life, new methods for quelling the tears and the longing and the sorrow and the pain-it is NOT normal.