When Dominic first ran ahead to Heaven I resisted having any kind of calendar visible. I didn’t want to mark time passing without him to pass it with me.
I’ve since resumed my yearly ritual of hanging the big blank picture calendar in my kitchen-the only way I really know how to keep up with doctor appointments, family visits, birthdays and other important dates in spite of technology.
I don’t know about you, but days turn into weeks turn into months almost faster than I can count them. Even during this pandemic pause or craziness or whatever you want to call it, life goes on.
I’ve been busy but not overwhelmed (most of the time!). I’ve tried to tackle some home projects that had been neglected, organize things, take a few trips here and there to visit family and (did I mention?) get our ducks in a row for my husband’s retirement.
I’ve often written that grief doesn’t only change the way I think about the past but it also changes the way I experience the present.
And while I’ve gotten oh, so much better, at pacing myself, granting myself grace for milestone days and simply saying “no” to extra demands, I still find that having a hole in my heart shapes how I approach even the most mundane tasks.
I’ve had to make a lot of phone calls lately-tying up loose ends, getting new healthcare lined up, making yearly doctor appointments, getting dental work done (which I hate!). Long minutes on hold still-STILL!-make me feel trapped and out of control, even when I put the phone on speaker. Repeating myself over and over to the “next available representative” echoes the many times I had to tell of Dom’s demise when I made all the necessary calls to people with whom he did business.
It’s funny where your mind goes when forced to sit and wait.
Some days I’m just done by lunchtime. Even though there is a lot of day left in the day I am out of steam for taking advantage of it.
I’m learning to prioritize and knock out pressing tasks earlier rather than later and leave the rest until tomorrow.
Trouble is, the tomorrows areadding up and piling on.
I’m not sure there are enough days left in this year to get them all done.
I used to be a dynamo-regularly squeezing two days’ work into one. Now I don’t think I ever get a full days’ worth out of my waking hours. My writing has suffered since it’s something I only do well when I feel rested and caught up on other chores.
I’m not the person I was before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. I’m slower, less organized and definitely undermotivated.
The calendar accuses me of how little progress I’ve made.
It’s a lesson I learned decades ago and have honed over the years.
When the big things feel out of control, focus on the small ones right in front of your face.
It has served me well since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
Right now there are so, so many big things outside my control-not just the ones all of us are facing like the pandemic, or job loss, or trying to figure out how to navigate a world where you can’t hug your friends or even see their smiles-but many in my own family.
So I’m getting up every morning and looking for the one or two or twenty (if they are small!) things I love and can do something about.
In practice (for me) it looks like this: taking a morning walk along with feeding my critters (stopping to notice butterflies, lovely flowers, falling leaves, sunlight through the trees and sticking my nose in my horses’ manes); sweeping off the front porch and tidying the kitchen so my eyes can rest happy on clear spaces (even though the rest of the house is out of order due to major reorganization/moving rooms); putting my hair up and washing my face; writing (obviously); choosing one corner to clean well and declare “finished”; taking an afternoon walk with my son’s little dog and laughing silently as her tiny legs churn away keeping up with me; smelling hay as I toss it to the donkeys; reading bits of books (my attention span still isn’t what it used to be); chatting with friends and family online or on the phone; resting after a long day’s work by watching old British mysteries with lots of interesting characters and no bloody violence; embroidering or crocheting until bedtime and sleeping with open windows.
It will undoubtedly look different for you.
And my list has taken years to develop-when Dom first left us I most often only managed a walk and maybe a little readingor journaling.
But you can begin by jotting down things that used to bring you pleasure or feed your passion.
I wrote a few months ago about how the pandemic changed the routine around here.
My long quiet mornings spent reading and writing were suddenly transformed by our living room serving as office space for my work-at-home husband.
It took awhile to figure out how to adapt but eventually we found a rhythm to our days.
Now life has taken another turn. He’s retiring! Which is a very, very good thing but means I’ve got another boatload of adjusting to do.
Since he’s had an apartment in California for several years, he returned to clean it out and move things here. I need to declutter and rearrange at home to make space for some furniture and other items he’ll be bringing back.
I wish I had been one of those people who spent the past few months of stay-at-home to dig into closets, deep clean corners and dejunk junk drawers but I wasn’t. So that means I’m trying to do it now. Which is not only time consuming but sometimes overwhelmingas decades of daily memories fall out of folders, show up in odd places and hit my heart.
I’m soldiering on though.
I doubt I’ll tackle the toughest space-Dominic’s room-before my hubby makes it home. But I’ll have most of the rest of the place shipshape.
Until he brings that truckload to the door.
I better take pictures.
It may be the last time the house looks this good.
I continue to be surprised by how my body betrays me in this post-child loss world.
A simple, relatively painless procedure brought me to my knees and there was nothing I could do about it.
I had a last minute appointment with a new specialist the other day because my rheumatologist wanted a dermatology consult.
So I hauled myself downtown (first time since all this pandemic stuff started!), parked, temperature checked and entered the brave new world of mostly empty waiting rooms populated by masked people looking at their phones.
Once I was called back into the room, the medical assistant took my vitals and I waited for the doctor. As I waited, I realized that this would be the first time I was seen by a health professional who didn’t know I had buried a child. But at six years into this journey, I dismissed it as inconsequential to the day’s business.
The exam went well and confirmed some suspicions. Just when I thought things were over the room suddenly morphed from “exam” to prepping for a “procedure”. They needed to take a small biopsy to rule out or rule in the diagnosis.
Now, I’ve had all kinds of uncomfortable and downright painful things done to me. I’m no whiner (although I do not like anyone to give me a play-by-play). I sit still, grit my teeth and put up with whatever comes my way.
But as I watched the nurses prep the tray I realized I was getting anxious. I applied all my little tricks-the 5-4-3-2-1 sensory tool, deep breathing, touching each finger to my thumb-and thought I was victorious.
When the doctor injected the lidocaine it really did feel just like tiny bee stings.
And then suddenly, unexpectedly and uncontrollably my world began to spin, my breath became ragged and I knew for certain I was headed toward passing out.
It was so embarrassing.
I apologized over and over and over.
But they were great.
The doctor said it was a vagal nerve response and I had no control over it. My body was reacting to stimuli and no amount of willpower could make it stop.
She finished up, the nurse brought me some cold water and I sat in the room for fifteen or twenty minutes to recover. I tried at one point to get up and realized I wasn’t quite ready.
I drove home but felt drained for the rest of the afternoon.
I don’t know why doctor’s offices seem to provoke my grief. Dominic didn’t enter Heaven from a hospital room.
But for some reason, they do.
And while I am so much more in control of when and how I let the grief roll down my cheeks NOW than I was even a year ago, there are times when my body acts against my will.
When that happens, I need to remember it isn’t a choice.
Every day I am holding in so very much. Choosing to spare the world from my inner turmoil and moments of weakness.
It’s a paradox really-that grieving hearts can be more anxious and more sorrowful BEFORE and AFTER a milestone day, birthday or holiday than on the day itself.
That’s not true for everyone, but it’s a frequent comment in our closed bereaved parent groups.
Fearful anticipation of how awful it MIGHT be can work me up into a frenzy.
The day of whatever it is usually passes quicker than I thought it could especially if there is a big meal involved and lots of people milling about.
Then everyone leaves and quiet darkness ushers in space and silence.
That’s the moment my heart recounts all the places Dominic should have beenbutwasn’t. That’s when I think of how his baritone voice was missing from the conversation, his laugh from the chorus of merry makers, his opinion from the slightly heated volley over politics or another current event.
I guess it’s kind of a holiday hangover without the booze.
But there’s no strange concoction I can drink to rid me of these symptoms.
Instead I have to give my heart permission to take out each feeling and FEEL it. I have to acknowledge that even when I spend the day laughing and enjoying family and friends, I still miss Dominic.
So I try to build a day (or two!) of recovery into my holiday planning.
And that’s OK.
Whenever possible that’s exactly what I do.
So you won’t find me rushing out to shop the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas or any of our own family’s unique grief anniversaries.
Instead I’ll wake slowly, drink coffee and watch the sunrise.
I might take a walk, read a book or write in my journal.
I will definitely find moments of solitude to acknowledge that once again I have survived what I thought I might not.
My deployed son began his trek back home to his wife and newborn son.
My youngest son went on the bachelor trip with his soon to be brother-in-law and was incommunicado for almost 72 hours which always makes me nervous.
My daughter’s wedding is only a few weeks away and there is so much to do. Fun things. Things I want to do.
My companion animal and faithful sidekick died two weeks ago and I haven’t been sleeping nearly as well as I did before
It was the fifth anniversary of Dominic’s death and funeral.
I didn’t cry, but then I did.
And I couldn’t stop.
I just couldn’t stop.
How in the world can it be five years? I can’t explain it to anyone who hasn’t buried a child. But I keep trying. The giant chasm between what I thought life would be like and what it actually turned out to be is so wide that it’s impossible to comprehend. I’m living it and I can’t comprehend it.
I am trying so, so hard to participate.
I’m working at keeping grief at bay and leaning into the life I have without constantly comparing it to the life I thought I would have or the life I wanted instead. I’m purposing to keep my expectations low so I won’t be disappointed.
But it’s not working.
I think I’m just at the end of my personal resources. I think I’ve exhausted any reserve I might have had. I’m leaning into Truth and holding onto the hem of His garment.