Three years ago today I sat in a back bedroom with my laptop trying to summarize a whole life into a few paragraphs.
It wasn’t any easier doing that for my mama who lived a long life than it was for my son who (by most standards) lived a short one.
Ain’t nothing easy about death.
Ain’t nothing easy about walking away from a hospital room or a morgue or an accident site knowing that whatever wasn’t said will never be said. Nothing easy about facing final arrangements, making phone calls, writing obituaries, finding photos for a slide show, wrapping up a life into a few words and a few songs and a few pictures.
My heart is used to the dull thumping pain of sorrow.
It’s grown accustomed to setting aside despair and doing what has to be done.
I know how to forge ahead and keep living and plan as if my world hasn’t imploded, making calendars and clocks and seasons and holidays irrelevant.
Ninety miles an hour-that’s how fast my mind can go from here to there.
From what’s in front of me to what’s behind me.
From laughter to swallowing sobs.
We sit in a living room surrounded by toys and playing with children, talking about life and love and plans and people. The little brown face that turns his eyes to mine looks so much like Dominic I have to suck in my breath.
It’s my mama’s birthday-the third one we will celebrate without her here to blow out the candles.
It’s also the third anniversary (do you call it that?) of the day Papa had to call an ambulance to rush her to the hospital.
She never came home.
These past two years have been hard. Mama’s death plunged me back into deep grief for her and for Dominic. It tapped the wound that had begun to scar over a bit and the feelings I’d learned to push down bubbled back to the surface.
I’ve just now begun to sleep through the night again most nights. For much of the past two years I’ve been waking two or three times in the dark to vividly awful dreams-my family in peril and no way to help them is the theme over and over and over.
I know other motherless daughters.
Somehow knowing Mama isn’t available on the other end of the phone or sitting in her chair, waiting for me to come through the door at the farm, makes me supremely vulnerable.
One less generation between me and whatever the world might throw at me.
I know she is healthy and whole, happy and full of joy in Heaven. I know she’s reunited with her own mama, her siblings and Dominic.
On good days, that’s enough to make the missing bearable.
But on days like today, when we should be celebrating another year together but can’t, it doesn’t help all that much.
I miss her.
I miss Dominic.
I miss the me that used to be ignorant of what death steals from the living.
Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mama. We’ll be there soon. ❤
There are all kinds of ways child loss plays with your head.
One of the most common and often repeated questions among bereaved parents (especially those who have lost their only child , all their children or a child before or at birth) is this: Am I still a mama (or daddy)?
Short answer: YES. Absolutely!
The fact that your child has taken up residence in Heaven and is no longer here to hold and love and parent on earth changes NOTHING about your status.
This will be the eighth Mother’s Day since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
Every year has been different because families continue to grow and change and the world turns and life marches on.
Every year presents unique challenges and particular paths that must be navigated anew. It’s always an emotional roller coaster.
Two years ago our family welcomed a first grandchild. His frightening entrance into the world made his life all the more precious and Mother’s Day gave us a chance to celebrate him, his mama and the fact that his story has a happy ending.
This year I’ll be a motherless child when the sun rises tomorrow. For the second time in my life, I won’t be able to see or telephone my own mother. Another light and life lost from sight.
Dominic and Mama in Heaven together.
Every year my living children work hard to celebrate me even when they are unable to make it home.
I always feel loved.
So what’s a mama to do when her heart is torn between the very great and beautiful blessings of her living children and grandchildren and the very great and devastating sorrow of missing her child in Heaven?
Since discovering there is an International Bereaved Mother’s Day my heart has taken advantage of having a day to think about and honor Dominic and then another day to think about and honor my living children.
I also rise early enough on Mother’s Day to have time alone with my thoughts and feelings.
I walk my heart through the upcoming hours and “pre-grieve” moments where I’ll be looking for Dom among the faces at the table or around the room. I remember the gift of his life and place it in context of the gift of each of my children.
I thank God for my family.
And then I get up, get dressed and open my heart to the love I have in front of me.
I never, ever want my living children to think that their brother’s ABSENCE is more important or more precious to me than their PRESENCE.
My mama’s heart has room for all of them as it always has.
For one reason or another, the tiny life budding in a belly never gets to see the light of day. Never takes a first breath. Never cries. Never opens his or her eyes to the mama waiting to meet her precious one.
So many mamas have experienced the excitement of watching the pregnancy test show positive only to endure days, weeks or months later, the sadness of saying good-bye to a little one they never got to meet.
Statistics tell us that one in four women will become part of this group during their lifetime.
But what statistics can never tell you about anything is why so, so many of the women who survive pregnancy and infant loss don’t talk about it.
Many think they can’t talk about it or shouldn’t talk about it because often the experience is so very personal.
It may be the pregnancy was never announced. It could be that the culture in which a mama lives doesn’t recognize life at conception so, really, what was lost? Perhaps many women in her family have had similar experiences and THEY didn’t “make a big deal” out of it, so why should she?
Then there’s guilt.
So, so much information is shoved into mothers’ faces about what they should and shouldn’t do to promote a healthy pregnancy and birth. Eat this, don’t eat that. Take this, don’t take that. Exercise-but not too strenuously. Drink water. Don’t drink alcohol or too much caffeine.
It’s easy to blame yourself when a baby stops growing.
Some brave mamas carry a baby for months and to the point of birth-see that precious bundle on an ultrasound, hear the heartbeat, watch and feel those legs kick-yet never hear a cry or hold a warm infant in their arms.
That’s a kind of awful no heart should have to bear.
And yet, that loss too is often unacknowledged.
How do you celebrate a life that was lived only inside the comfort and safety of the womb? How do you share a photo of your precious baby when the only one you have (if you have any) is of him wrapped in a blanket, eyes closed, your eyes crying?
If a second pregnancy follows any kind of pregnancy or infant loss, friends and family almost always pounce on the opportunity to push a mama’s heart forward fast and furious to the future of her “rainbow child” making it even less likely her missing baby is acknowledged or remembered.
But she never forgets.
A mama’s heart never lets go of the life that lived inside her.
That tiny baby-one week, one month, full term-is her son or daughter.
Counted among the others.
Just as precious.
I’m remembering with you, my sweet friends. Tonight I will light a candle along with millions who also remember, to honor the baby I never held. May the multiplied voices and hearts joined together help others hear the message that our child matters.
Tuesday, October 1, 2019 we said our formal good-byes to my mama. Saw her face for the last time on earth surrounded by friends and family. Sang a few songs and walked away from the cemetery back to a fellowship hall full of people.
A crowded place never felt so empty.
A noisy room never sounded so quiet to ears straining for the one voice we longed to hear.
It was like that when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven five and a half years ago-I stumbled back across the grass to the waiting food and folks both relieved the public spectacle was concluded and horrified that the final act of committing his body to the ground and commending his soul to Heaven was complete.
Left with only photographs and memories.
They were not enough then and they are not enough now.
Flat, lifeless representations of the vibrant, funny, sassy mama that only recently rediscovered her appetite and snuck past the kitchen to the bowl of candy on the dining room table at every opportunity are NOT. ENOUGH.
Even though it was delightful to dig out old photo albums, scour the house for boxes tucked away in corners and open drawers searching for mementos and precious tokens of a long life, it was also a heartbreaking reminder that if she were still breathing we’d never be invading her privacy.
I remember boxing up Dominic’s things in his apartment only a few days after we buried him.
We were trespassing, pure and simple. He deserved to have whatever secrets he’d been keeping (though they were small and not at all dark or dishonorable) and here we were dragging them into the light.
I hated every minute of it. I sucked in my breath and held back the tears as I piled a life into containers of “save”, “toss” and “give away”. A lifetime reduced to lifeless objects.
We buried Mama with a white rose and a small photo of Dominic placed in between her hands. It was a tiny token representing both our heartache and our eternal hope.
I am thankful for every memory and photograph I have of Mama and Dominic.
I tuck the memories away safely in my heart and place the photos carefully in labeled albums.
But they are a paltry substitute for their earthly companionship.
I started writing because of Dominic and my family. I keep writing because of Dominic and my family and all the beautiful souls I’ve met along this journey-many who have never lost a child but whose hearts grieve for someone or something else.
I thought I’d share what I read at my sweet mama’s funeral yesterday-it was made easier and richer by all those who have walked with me so far in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Your comments, your messages, your thoughts and insights helped me express the most important lesson I’m learning in grief: Love Lives Forever.
When we walk through the graveyard or read an obituary, we almost always look for those two dates that bookend a life-for Mama it is September 23, 1938 and September 27, 2019.
Lots of sermons have been preached about that dash in between-about that what we do or don’t do, who we love or don’t love, how we use the years we are given as either a blessing or something else.
And that is very, very true.
We tend to think that the last date-the date when breath leaves the body and the soul escapes the trials of this world to enter the glory of Heaven-as the end. We can hardly help it because our relationship to the one we love changes so dramatically.
I can’t hug Mama anymore, I can’t hear her laugh, I can’t call her up and tell her, “I love you” or greet her in the morning with a “Hi Girlie!”.
It creates a giant void for me and an unfathomably huge void for Papa. We are going to have to find a way to live with that empty space in our hearts and in our lives.
It takes lots and lots of work, lots and lots of tears and lots and lots of time. There’s no shortcut through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
My Mama lost HER mother suddenly, to a stroke, when she was just ten years old. So she lived with that giant hole in her heart for over 71 years. She could have allowed the pain to make her cold and bitter, closed off and unavailable. It certainly would have been an understandable response to a traumatic loss.
But she didn’t.
Without exception, every person who has called, written or come by to pay respects to Patty Hart describes her as gracious, lovely, kind, generous, welcoming, cheerful and bright.
Mama chose love.
In just the past few weeks, before this last hospitalization, I got to see Mama begin to pour that love into a new generation. She had two visits from her great-grandson. One due to Hurricane Dorian (they had to evacuate) and one that was scheduled to give her the chance to meet him.
I won’t fib and say that having overnight visitors in the house was easy for her or Papa with all her medical conditions, but you’d never know it by the grin on her face when I put that chubby little stinker in her lap.
For a few minutes, she was Nanny again-singing, cooing, laughing and making eyes at him. She even got to be the first one to see him turn over. That tickled her!
Truth is, that last date isn’t the end. There’s no period after Patricia Ann Landrum Hart’s life. Of course she lives on in Heaven with Jesus, her mama and my Dominic.
But even here, on earth, love lives forever.
It lives in the lives she touched and will continue to touch through her friends and family as they honor her legacy of love.
Our circle is broken today. Death is awful and it’s hard. It’s a reminder the world is not as God intended it to be and we walk a broken road toward the promises of redemption and restoration.
But the chains of love forged in our hearts are never severed.