Waking Up Is Hard To Do

Just after I got my driver’s license I was using the family station wagon to run some errands.  

I remember thinking, “Should I pull into that space between two parked cars or should I just go a bit further and make it easy on myself?”  I channeled my dad’s voice which was always pushing me past my comfort zone, threw off my fear and started into the smaller space.

Bad choice.

I kept trying to convince myself it was a dream.  I was not going to have to go home and tell my father what I had done.  It would disappear if only I wished hard enough.

But that was silly and untrue.

Denting the family wagon is small potatoes next to many other, bigger things I’ve faced in life.

And it is absolutely a zero on a scale of one to ten when considering the death of my son.  

You can fix a dent.  Even if it costs money and time.  

You can’t fix child loss.

Because of that FACT-I wake every morning to the same awful reality:  My child is dead.  He’s not coming back.  My life is forever changed.  My family forever altered.  My heart will carry this burden to the grave.

That makes waking up hard to do.  

Each morning I must force myself to push through an invisible wall and set my feet on ground I’m not sure I want to walk upon.

I must open my eyes and abandon the sweet release of dreamless sleep.

I have to face the light and embrace reality.

Four years and it is still a shock.  

Every

Single. 

Morning.

sometimes cant believe you are gone

Mind the Gap

My youngest son worked hard to retrieve some precious digital photos from an old laptop.

Being very kind, he didn’t tell me that we might have lost them until he was certain he had figured out a way to get them back.

So he and I had a trip down memory lane the other evening.

It was a bumpy ride.

Because for every sweet remembrance there was an equally painful realization that Dominic would never again be lined up alongside the rest of us in family pictures.

The British have a saying, “mind the gap” used to warn rail passengers to pay attention to the space between the train door and the platform.  It’s a dangerous opening that one must step over to avoid tripping, or worse.

I was reminded of that when I looked at those old pictures-my children are stair steps-averaging two years apart in age.

But now there will always be a gap between my second and fourth child-a space that threatens to undo me every time we line up for a picture.

I cannot forget that Dominic SHOULD be there.  I will never, ever be OK with the fact that he is missing.

To be honest, I miss him most when the rest of us are all together.  The space where he should be is highlighted because all the others are filled in.

No one else may notice, but I have to step carefully to keep from falling into a dark hole.

Mind the gap.

Be careful.

Don’t fall.

us at matts sunscreen

 

Why is the Second Year SO Hard?

I remember very well the morning I woke on April 12, 2015-it was one year since I’d gotten the awful news; one year since the life I thought I was going to have turned into the life I didn’t choose.

I was horrified that my heart had continued to beat for 365 days when I was sure it wouldn’t make it through the first 24 hours. 

And I was terrified.

During that first year there were multiple punctuated stops along the way-the first major and minor holidays scattered throughout the year, a family wedding, two graduations, Dominic’s birthday and on and on.  I’d muddle through and then turn my face forward towards the next one looming in the future.

There was so much emotional upheaval, so many things to process that I was unbalanced, focused only on survival without a thought to anything beyond the next hill.

But when I realized that I’d made it through one year, was still standing, was still breathing and was (apparently) going to survive this horrible blow, I began to think about living this way for the rest of my days.

And it was overwhelming.

Facing something for a defined period of time-even an awful something-is doable.  There’s an end in sight, relief on the way, endurance will be rewarded-just hang on.

But when a heart can’t lay hold of the finish line-well, that’s enough to undo even the bravest among us.

exhausted-over-trying-to-be-stronger-than-i-feel

All the things I muddled through the first year were just going to circle back around over and over and over for decades!

My grief took on a new dimension-it wasn’t something that was going away-it was life long.  

I spent the entire second year and most of the third just wrapping my mind and heart around that FACT and trying to develop tools to carry this burden for the long haul.

Every heart is different, every family unique.  

The second year is NOT harder for everyone. I’m not even sure it was HARDER for me.  But it was definitely different and full of new challenges.

It forced me to dig deeper than the first year when I was mainly in survival mode.  

The crying tapered off but the reality of my son’s absence loomed larger.  The breathless agony of his death really did grow more manageable but the prospect of this being a life sentence weighed more heavily on my heart.

But God’s grace has been sufficient in every season of my grief.  He has sustained me, strengthened me and carried me.  

i made you and i will carry you

Here I am-six weeks into year five-still standing, still fighting and still holding on to hope.

God is faithful.  

What He did for me,

He will do for you.  

god is always listening

Not Funny Anymore

Dominic had a habit of managing to travel on his birthday and often into the summer months.  

He’d jump at every opportunity to go here, there and everywhere.

He had the heart of an adventurer and life on our little farm in the middle of rural Alabama didn’t often offer the excitement his heart craved.

So just after his first year in Law School, he chose to study abroad for a short semester in the spring of 2013.

The rest of us gathered for the traditional Father’s Day photo with my husband and I thought it would be funny (and probably irritate Dom a bit) if I held up a photo of him as a two-year-old since he wasn’t there.

all of us on Fathers day except dom 2013 sunscreen

 

It WAS funny at the time.

And he saw it half way around the world and thought so too.

It popped up in my Facebook memories yesterday.

It’s not funny anymore.  

Those broad smiles have been wiped right off our faces.  

Because the ONLY way we can include Dominic in ANY family pictures anymore is with a photograph.

And while we’ve yet to have as many years between us as in the picture I held up that day, they’re coming (if we live and the Lord tarries).  

I hate that.

grief is great

Jealousy-Reaching For What I Can’t Have

I thought I had at least a passing understanding of what grief is, what it feels like, how it impacts a heart before my son died.

But I was wrong.  

Until you live with it day in and day out for weeks, months, years you really just. don’t. know.

There are so many feelings wrapped up in what we call grief.  So many surprises along this path.

Who knew that the same heart that would do nearly ANYTHING to spare another parent the awful burden of child loss could also be wildly jealous of that same parent’s intact family?

I confess, mine has been.  

beware of jealousy shakespeare

I have scrolled through social media posts about fun family vacations, beautiful weddings, newborn grandchildren, happy graduations, first jobs, Christmas photos, and family reunions where the number of people present fill the frame to the edges of the picture and been angry instead of happy for them.

It takes every ounce of self-control not to covet what I will never have.  

Jealousy is a green-eyed monster and I want no part of it. 

But I have to fight to keep it at bay.

I have to recall the years I was given with all my children happy around my table.  I have to remember the laughter, the shared experiences, the love and fun.

I have to focus on the gift and not the loss. 

desimones uab family

Sometimes I can.  Sometimes I can’t.

It’s getting a little easier now to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and not also feel jealousy lurking in the shadows.  

I pray one day I won’t feel that green-eyed monster breathing down my neck at all.  

heart and wood

 

It’s No Sin To Grieve

You’d be surprised how often Christians are shamed for grief.

Families are encouraged to call their loved one’s service a “celebration of life” instead of a “memorial” or “funeral”.

Of course I celebrate my son’s life-he was a gift-but the day I followed his casket to the cemetery didn’t feel like a celebration, it felt like death.

I continue to grieve what has been ripped violently from me.

Until all is redeemed and restored in heaven, I will walk this Valley in tears.

Grief is not sin.  

It wasn’t until another grieving mom asked the question that I realized there are some (many?) in the community of believers that think grief is sin.

Not at first, mind you-everyone is “allowed” a certain amount of time to get over the loss of a dream, the loss of a job, the loss of health or the loss of a loved one.

But carry that sadness and wounded heart too publicly for too long and you better be ready for someone to question your faith.

Read the rest here:  Grief is Not Sin

 

Season of Grief: How a Heart Marks the Days

It’s different for every heart.

But each of us who know child loss have a season of grief.

It’s so much more than “just” the day our child left for Heaven.

For me, it starts in November and runs through the end of May-fully half of

every.

single.

year.   

November 2013 was my 50th birthday and the kids arranged a surprise party for me at Dominic’s apartment.  My husband was home from California and we were all together for my birthday, Thanksgiving and the Iron Bowl.  So many memories, so many moments.

As the leaves begin to turn in Alabama, my heart begins the countdown.

Then that Christmas-it would be the last one where the table was full and all I have are a few fuzzy photos because we anticipated a spring season of graduations and a wedding.  Plenty of time for better pictures when we were dressed for the camera.

As we hang the lights and the nights get longer, my heart gets sadder.

January was back to routine.  Everyone busy.  James Michael and Julian would be graduating soon.  We had normal back and forth texts and messages, never knowing how precious these few recorded words would become.

As we move toward warmer weather, my heart grows cold.

February 14, 2014 was Julian’s birthday and for a couple of hours all the kids were home. We sat outside on an old trailer laughing and cutting up.  Someone suggested a photo.  Everyone demurred because we were in ragged work clothes and thought it was a waste of time.  Oh, how I wish I had that picture now!

But there’s no going back.

I saw Dominic in March a few times.  Since he lived just 25 miles away I would meet him to go to Sam’s Club and stock up on basic food stuffs.  He came out to our place to work on a friend’s car.  He and Julian met up and made a road trip for Spring Break.

It was the last time I’d see him alive.  My heart hates turning the calendar to April.

April.  What can I say about this awful, awful month? 

I will never be able to recapture any sense of hopeful anticipation as flowers bloom and leaves bud.  I don’t care when the last frost might be because try as I might, I can’t plant a garden.  When the first really beautiful day arrives, whether or not it corresponds to Dom’s death date, it only makes me fearful other young men will take their bikes out for a ride after a long, cold winter.  I wonder how many mamas wake to a knock or phone call. 

The smell of cut grass reminds me of the people that came to help us clean up before the funeral.  The sun streaming in the living room window conjures the mornings I woke and dared it to shine in the face of such tragedy.

My heart barely holds on.

And then May.  Mother’s Day-what kind of mother lets her son die?  Even though logic tells me otherwise, my heart still accuses.

Graduations, weddingsreminders that Dominic never got to finish his law degree, will never marry and that every single molecule of him is gone, gone, gone-no children, no likeness ever looking back at me again in this life. 

Finally, there’s his birthday-the one he missed by only a few short weeks.  Forever 23.  Never any older.  May 28th comes and goes.  Sometimes it’s on Memorial Day like the year he was born but often not.  So I gird my loins to face the date AND the day.

My heart hurts but breathes a sigh of relief.

This season is over.  But it will come again.

So I try, try, try to cram as much into the intervening months as possible.

The calendar is relentless.