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.
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.