I’ve learned that there are new things to miss even five years down this road of child loss.
I’ve learned that any odd moment, random smell, taste,touch, or occasion can pierce that place in my heart that screams, “Dominic should be here!”.
I’m also learning additional ways his absence continues to shape the family we have NOW. Dom’s absence continues to impact decisions, expectations, hopes and dreams TODAY.
I miss family photos when I don’t count heads and note unfilled spaces. It’s not just Dom I’m yearning for. I long for us to all be together-no one missing. It’s a little easier (sometimes) when one or more of us aren’t able to make a particular trip or event because then it’s not ONLY Dominic gone from the frame.
But truth be told, I can’t stop my heart from looking and hoping that this time, it’ll be different.
This time, we’ll be whole.
I miss the ease with which I used to toss together family meals, social occasions and holiday gatherings. I’ve always LOVED making things special and never minded cooking buckets of food. I used to plan weeks in advance-gathering recipes, ideas, decorative items and sometimes little gifts or favors for those who attended. I checked with folks for dietary preferences or allergies. It was a joy even when it exhausted me because I loved shaping spaces and experiences to strengthen family ties.
I miss waking up and facing a new day without reservation or trepidation. I’m a sunrise kind of gal. I used to turn my face toward the big picture window in our living room waiting for first light to dawn and the day to get going. Fresh start. New opportunities.
It took awhile but some days I can do that.
Still there are many days I watch the trees come into focus knowing daylight can’t always lift the darkness in my heart.
I miss turning corners in my house or walking on my land encountering only good memories, happy reverie and hope that tomorrow would bring more of the same. When we moved here over twenty years ago, it felt like home. Plenty of space for children to run, exciting adventures discovering woods, water and animal life abounded. There are so, so many memories everywhere I turn. Memories used to spark hope for more. Now they are silent witness to the line that demarcates our lives into BEFORE and AFTER.
I miss the certain assurance when someone doesn’t pick up the phone or answer a text that “all is well”. We have always been a family on the move. It sounds ridiculous today, but a driver’s license was the ticket to a personal cell phone when my kids were growing up. As each one gained the privilege of driving away alone, we made sure they had a way to call and let us know they arrived safely. If I called them and there was no answer, it was a good hour or two before my heart went into overdrive and my mind imagined all the horrible possibilities.
Now I make that trip in seconds or minutes despite any logic that can easily explain it away.
I miss having energy to spare. I know part of my energy drain is simply age. I’m not so cocky as to assume the years don’t play a role in slowing me down. But I know that’s only half (or less!) of it. The constant effort to edit, direct, control and contain my words, thoughts and emotions sucks the life right out of me. What used to easily be a one hour job takes two. And projects I could whip together in a day require a week or more. Discouragement makes me sad and tired. So the cycle continues.
I miss sound sleep and good dreams. Right after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I could barely sleep at all. There was no escaping awful scenes playing across my closed eyelids. Eventually I was able to lull my mind into a kind of calm and sleep a little. Five years later I rarely sleep more than two hours at a stretch without waking. While I usually roll over and doze off again, I never get the kind of restorative rest I really need.
Dreams are another matter altogether.
They are often full of jumbled bits that leave me unsettled and full of dread.
I miss making plans for next month or next year without the silent caveat that we just can’t be sure they will come to pass. A large calendar hanging prominently in our kitchen was my go-to for keeping track of crazy family schedules and commitments for decades. I took it down a day after Dominic died and didn’t hang another for over two years. I couldn’t bear to turn page after page knowing Dominic’s name would never show up again except in reference to him being gone. I have one now. But while I still write things in different colored pen (easier to see and track) my mind knows every single plan is really just penciled in.
Until the day comes or the moment arrives, my heart holds it lightly.
I miss saying innocent good-byes. I was never the crying mom waving a handkerchief as my kids made their way down the long driveway to the larger world. I always missed them, of course. But the goal was to raise independent persons capable of doing things, going places and living their own lives. So a good strong hug, a kiss on the cheek, “I love you” and they were off leaving a smiling mama behind. It never occurred to me that THIS time could be the LAST time I touched or talked to them.
Now, every good-bye is sacred. Every hug a prayer.
I miss hearing Dominic’s name in casual conversation. Oh, we still talk about him. But it’s not the same. Sometimes it’s awkward and leads to odd pauses. Most times it’s more natural. Always it’s with sad recognition that instead of memories we should be sharing fresh stories of adventure.
I appreciate each new day I’m given.
I take nothing for granted because I know how quickly and easily it can be snatched away.
But my heart can’t help but long for the way things used to be and yearn for the way things would be if Dominic were still here.
It happens most often when things are very quiet or I’m trying to drift off to sleep.
My mind will rehearse the moment the doorbell rang, or the phone calls I had to make, or-worse yet-imagining what, exactly, Dominic experienced when he left the road and plowed through bushes until he was thrown from his motorcycle and died.
Once my thoughts begin to follow that track, it’s so hard to derail them.
It used to be absolutely impossible.
But now (at five years into this journey) I have some default visualizations that help me break unfruitful mental cycles.
I might imagine details from my childhood-recreating a room or an experience-or recite Scripture, hymns or poems. Sometimes I force myself to delineate my next day’s tasks precisely and in order.
I am always very careful what I watch, read or meditate on before bedtime because if I plant a seed of fear or dystopia it flowers in my dreams.
And then there are the days when responsibilities lead me down memory lane-going through photos for my daughter’s wedding, consolidating boxes to make room for my husband’s retirement, hunting a particular item for the holidays or another family celebration-and I have a hard time not sinking into despair because Dom’s just not here.
But at five years those are no longer utterly uncontrollable feelings.
I’ve learned ways of diffusing, distracting and redirecting my thoughts to help me deal with them in the moment:
If possible, I stop the activity that triggered the feelings or thoughts and switch to something else. Sometimes just turning my back makes all the difference.
I focus on a non-triggering detail. Shifting my eyes often shifts my thoughts.
If in a group of people, I force myself to listen to the conversations around me and ignore my own thoughts.
If alone, I speak the feeling/thought aloud. Breaking the silence can break the cycle.
Then, (often) I’ll have a meltdown later, but at a time when I can afford it better.
I’ve said over and over that the absolute weight of this burden has not changed but my ability to carry it has grown through practice and doing the work grief requires.
Sorrow is no longer all I feel and my son’s absence is no longer all I see.
Every time I overcome my fear, I redirect my thoughts, I face my feelings and refuse to let them paralyze me, I’m stronger.
I have never been a crystal and china kind of gal.
I got a few special pieces when my husband and I married, but most of the things in my home are durable and useful.
So I don’t have many things tucked away for special occasions.
I’m glad that when my kids were young we made even ordinary days special by setting the table, using candles, cloth napkins, real plates and mugs for meals.
We foolish mortals sometimes live through years not realizing how short life is, and that TODAY is your life.
― Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking
I’m especially thankful this side of child loss that our memories include making many regular days wonderful by choosing to celebrate the smallest moments.
I have an inexpensive set of Chinese plates, soup bowls and porcelain spoons I bought from a mail order catalog way before the Internet, much less Amazon. It gave my homemade sweet and sour chicken an air of authenticity (and it was fun!).
When December rolled around, we ditched our everyday plates for Christmas ones we used for meals and festive coffee mugs that held everything from morning coffee to the evening’s soft drinks, tea and hot cocoa.
Birthdays, holidays and regular days were all reasons to make merry and make memories.
I’m so glad we didn’t set things aside because they were too dear for everyday use.
Whether surrounded by friends or strangers, I sift through the words threatening to fly out of my mouth very carefully.
Like most of us, there’s a script in my head that doesn’t always bear sharing.
But unlike many, part of my script involves a child that lives in Heaven.
And I’m constantly weighing whether or not I should mention him even though the conversation leads my heart to a memory I very much want to speak aloud. It often makes others uncomfortable, awkward and upset when I do. So sometimes I just don’t.
I hate that I edit myself like that.
I hate that another person’s response or lack of response makes me cautious.
If Dominic were still walking among us, I’d be sharing away. His life, his work, his challenges, his accomplishments would all be fair game as I sat with fellow mothers and grandmothers talking about our families. No one would bat an eye if I mentioned his name, said I missed him since he moved away for that job, admitted that I counted the days until the next family get-together or holiday and I could host a full table.
But because he moved to Heaven, I’m supposed to be “over him”. I’m supposed to bow to convention and quietly stop talking about the son that’s missing from all the photos we’ve taken since 2014. I should shush my heart and silence my lips because it makes other people uncomfortable.
I’m not doing it.
Our family just welcomed the first grandchild.
Little Ryker will never see Uncle Dominic, hear his amazing drum skills or be the brunt of his snarky jokes. But Ryker will know about Dom. I will tell him stories and show him pictures and let him know that the chair at the end of the table is where Uncle Dom used to sit.
I’ll help Ryker learn something everyone needs to know: It’s perfectly natural to include and talk about ALL our family-the ones that are here AND the ones in Heaven.
Even when we no longer enjoy their earthly companionship, we love them and they are still very much part of our lives.
So when I’m reciting all the exciting news, be prepared.