When we cleaned out Dominic’s apartment two weeks after he left us, I couldn’t throw away a thing.
Even though it meant boxing it up, carting it down the stairs and loading and unloading it onto our trailer, I DIDN’T CARE.
If it was his, if his hands had touched it, his body worn it or he had placed it in the cabinet or fridge, it was coming with me.
The only thing I left in that space was the empty echo of his fading presence.
I brought all the rest home.
Because these things aren’t just things.They represent some portion of my son-his personality, his preferences, his history and his hopes.
Many are the minutiae that make up a life:
scraps of paper tucked inside his briefcase as reminders
a dry cleaning ticket in his wallet
a legal pad on the table where he was taking notes to study for an exam
receipts from recent purchases strewn on the kitchen counter
shaving cream, hair products, favorite soap
clothes and ties and shoes
a fridge full of food he’d chosen for himself
the good coffee
containers saved from food I’d sent home with him
Of course there were the larger items most folks would think of bringing home if not keeping-furniture, computers, his car, television and stereo.
We put the delicate and temperature sensitive things inside the house.
The rest was placed in a storage building on our property. Every time I opened the door to the building for several years it smelled of Dominic.
I loved it and hated it in one breath.
I’m using his furniture in our living room. His television set is downstairs in the family room. Some of his other things live in his siblings’ homes.
We’ve all found ways to touch what he touched last.
I am slowly getting better at getting rid of some of Dominic’s things.
Just yesterday my husband replaced faucets in the bathroom my boys used growing up. In the process we pulled out stuff from under the deep cabinets.
Tucked in the back were some old bottles of hair gel and other half-used, dried up products that once belonged to my fashion conscious son who was always trying to tame his curly hair.
I grabbed them and tossed them into a plastic trash bag as we prepared to put replace things underneath. I almost pulled them back out.
Sighing, I tied up the bag and took it straight to the big curbside garbage can before I could change my mind.
These things aren’t *just* things.
Every time I get rid of something that was Dominic’s I feel like I’m erasing a little bit more ofHIM. I feel like I’m losing one more touchstone to help my mind hold onto memories that might slip away without it.
They are a tangible connection that I can see, smell and touch to a child with whom I can no longer do any of those things.
I suspect I will always keep at least a tiny stash to pull out on heavy days or birthdays or just days when my heart needs reminding.
I’ve written before about how I choose to leave some things just as Dominic left them-even over five years later.
It’s my way of maintaining physical space in our home that represents the space in my heart where only he can fit.
It’s also more than that.
As time progresses, nearly every other tangible evidence that Dominic existed is being worn away.
Sure there are photographs-but even they are growing old while he is not. No fresh adventures captured on phone or film. No new Facebook or Twitter posts. No new anything.
And as he becomes less relevant to other people’s lives, the gap between my experience and their’s grows ever larger.
Because he is just as relevant to my life as he ever was.
I have four children. Dominic is third of four, second of three boys. He is Uncle Dominic to my new grandson although Ryker won’t meet him in this life. He is my encouragement to keep doing hard things because he never allowed difficulty or pain to stop him from doing them.
His absence looms large. Every. single. day.
And sometimes, when it seems the world has forgotten him, when all the bits and pieces of who he was in life and how he touched others are floating away in the ocean of human activity, it looms larger.
So on those days I’m a little weepy.
On those days I may talk of him more.
On those days I might have to pull out the old photos and post them online.
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.
As happens often, multiple conversations, experiences and random social media posts rattle around in my brain and then sort themselves out into a brand new thought.
I realized (maybe for the first time with genuine feeling!) that I want people to know how my son lived and not only how or even that he died.
It was probably almost three years before I could mention Dominic’s name without also adding, “he was killed in a motorcycle accident” to anyone who didn’t already know that.
It wasn’t because I wanted sympathy or special consideration but because I honestly could not think about Dominic without placing every thought in the context of his death. I was so aware of his absence that it pushed everything else about him into the background.
I was also horribly jealous of what I had lost.
I needed to express how desperately I longed to have him back so tended to share details about his personality, accomplishments and pet peeves from my own perspective.
I was mainly looking at him through my eyes instead of seeing him as a whole person distinct from myself.
I wanted to curate his image in the eyes of others.
But Dominic had been his own man for a long time when he left this earth for Heaven. He made his own choices, had friends I never knew, read things and saw places beyond my experience.
When I insist on introducing him first as Dominic the missing member of the family instead of Dominic the man he had become, I make him smaller than he was (than he is!).
I don’t want to do that.
Even though I rarely insist on mentioning his death anymore in casual conversation unless asked directly, I realize that I want to do more than just NOT mention his death.
I want to comment on his life.
I want to tell folks that Dominic was one of the most talented drummers I’ve ever heard. I want them to know about his quirky sense of humor, his insistence on super soft clothing and irritation with people who took two parking spaces in crowded lots. I want to share how even though you’d swear he was never afraid, he often felt like maybe he wouldn’t measure up somehow.
I want you to know that he was adventurous, athletic, addicted to coffee and adrenaline and a fierce lover of justice and his family.
Yes, Dominic died.
But he lived, too.
And that’s really what I want people to know. ❤
If you are a fellow bereaved parent, please share something about what makes your child(ren) unique. What do you want others to know about him or her?
I want him to watch me grow old, to watch him get married and have children and to hear his voice mingled with his siblings at my table.
I’ve tried dozens of times to write a post that describes the abyss that divides the life I thought I would live and what it’s turned out to be.
I can’t do it.
A twenty-three year old isn’t planning his legacy. A mom of a twenty-three year old isn’t carefully preserving daily moments in the event he suddenly disappears.
Whatever legacy Dominic has left behind is a function of his huge personality rather than careful planning. And all I have left of his life are bits and pieces I’m trying to string together so he’s not forgotten.
I was not prepared to wake up one morning and learn that his earthly story ended.
I didn’t get to say good-bye, didn’t get to look him in the eye and tell him how very much I love him, didn’t even get to hold his hand as he left this life and entered Heaven.
I know he is just fine. He’s full of joy and perfectly content.
I spent last weekend with eleven other bereaved moms.
And lest you think, “How sad!”, let me just tell you we had a beautiful time together.
Sure there were tears-how can there not be when talking about the precious children we miss-but there was fun too.
Of course we had somber moments.
Especially as we lit candles in honor of each child whose light lives on even as their physical presence is denied us.
In between Bible study sessions we ate, talked, walked outside and got to know one another.
A game of “Two Truths and a Lie” revealed all kinds of surprises that had us practically falling off our chairs with uproarious laughter.
Even though most of us had never met before, knowing we shared the heartache of child loss drew us together and opened the door to meaningful conversation.
For 72 hours we didn’t have to put our masks on or walk with one foot in the world of the spared and one foot in the world of the deeply wounded.
We were free-gloriously free-to be real and unguarded.
One of the fun things we did was have a Mary Kay consultant come and do facials and makeup. I think we kind of shocked her when she went around the circle asking, “So what are you primary make up concerns?” and over half of us said, “I don’t wear make up.”
She had no idea that we had long passed the point of faking feelings or saying what someone expects just because they expect it.
I know it was a stretch for some of the moms to make their way to this place they’d never been to and walk into a room full of women they’d never met.
It was a stretch for me to facilitate discussions when I felt I had reached my limit for anything besides staying home for the rest of this year.
But it was worth it.
There is nothing as beautiful as broken hearts gathering together to love, uplift, encourage and listen to one another.
If you have the opportunity and are afraid, please step out.