It’s been five plus years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
And while I’ve grown stronger and better able to carry the load of grief, the missing never ends.
I cannot become accustomed to photos that don’t include one of my children. I can’t set aside the sense that someone is absent from the table. It still seems unreal and unnatural for there not to be presents under the tree with Dom’s name on them. It is absolutely impossible for me to tick off the current ages of my kids without a pause for the age Dominic should be, but isn’t.
Now missing Dominic on one side of life is bookended by missing my mama on the other.
Sure, it’s perfectly natural and orderly for our parents to leave this life before us.
But it isn’t painless.
As a matter of fact, it is very, very painful.
I miss the generational space between me and eternity. I miss Mama’s voice, her silly stories, her peculiar habits and stubborn nature. I miss seeing her in the chair that was her daily perch these past two years. I miss the way she piddled with her food always declaring, “I eat everything on my plate” when she knew good and well she didn’t.
Our circle is smaller this year.
When we gather for opening presents and enjoying the Christmas feast there will be two people absent.
My heart will always mark the space where Mama and Dominic SHOULD be.
I thought I understood just how heavy it was the moment the deputy’s words sank deep inside and crushed my heart.
But I didn’t know the half of it.
You really can’t know how large a person’s absence is until you’ve explored the edges of the world without him or her.
When folks started coming up our long and winding drive, even though I knew full well he would not be among them, my eyes strained to see inside every car. When his friends gathered in our front yard, I couldn’t help looking through the picture window trying to make out his face among the crowd. When we walked into his now-empty apartment I thought surely he was in his bedroom, around the corner, just out out of sight.
But he was nowhere to be found. And the hole in my heart where he should be but wasn’t got bigger.
Those were just the early days.
In the weeks, months and years to follow I found everywhere I set my foot that followed a path we’d walked together, I missed him. When the next movie in a series was released, he wasn’t there to watch it with me. Family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, graduations all went on without him and my heart counted his absence.
From sunrise to sunset my heart marks all the Dominic-sized spaces in a day.
At night, dark stillness invites me to recite them.
But after more than five years, most people no longer see any tale-tell sign of this mama’s heart longing desperately for one more minute, one more hug, one more quick exchange of “I love you!”
I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of missing.
Daily exercise will do that.
And it IS a daily exercise-lifting the missing up on my shoulders or carrying it in a basket on my head like women hauling water from a well far away has taught me to bear it well.
I still miss him.
I will always miss him.
Greater strength means I can shift the missing to make room for living. I can carry that weight and still find room to carry joy.
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.
I try to limit the time I spend perusing old photos and old social media posts of my missing son.
I’ve learned that while they remind me of sweet memories and happy times they also prick my heart in ways nothing else can.
I was looking for something specific the other day and had to scroll through Dominic’s Facebook page to find it. As I did, I began reading some of the back and forth comments under the posts and pictures.
This time it wasn’t what was said or where the photos were taken that hurt my heart.
Instead it was the tiny little time stamp underneath the words that took my breath away.
Nothing more recent than five years ago was recorded.
Because that’s when his voice went silent.
That’s when whatever he was going to say was either said or never would be said. That’s when all the brilliant, not-so-brilliant, snarky, funny, sad, silly and sage thoughts Dominic ever had or ever would have were cut off.
I firmly believe that Dominic is safe in the arms of Jesus-more alive now than he ever was here. I know he’s got things to say and when I join him we will have eternity to chat together.
But right now, what I wouldn’t give for one more conversation in the here and now.
I’ve got things I want to ask him.
I’ve got things I want to tell him.
I’d love to hear his voice or read his comments or see a new picture.
The years of silence echo loud in my ears and louder in my heart.
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.