In the past six months I’ve been invited to tell my story in print and on air.
It’s been both a blessing and a curse as I realize that I’m far enough down this road for others to see me as a guide. It’s frightening to recognize the distance between the last time I saw and spoke to Dominic and this instant.
While others may grow tired of the same old photographs, the same old social media memories and the same old stories told by this mama who wants nothing more than to have new ones, it’s all I’ve got.
Believe me, I would trade my life for more.
When Dominic ran ahead to heaven, there was a sudden, horrible and unchangeable end to new experiences, to making any more memories, to another conversation, picture or text.
All I have of my son is whatever I had saved up to the moment of his accident.
And it is not enough.
It will never be enough to fill up the spaces of what my heart wishes I had.
He lived for nearly 24 years. But I can’t withdraw those memories like cash and “spend” them, day for day, for the next 24 years.
Our family had only recently upgraded to smartphones when Dominic left us so we didn’t have the treasure trove of photos and real time videos so many folks have today.
I often wish for more of those but there’s not one thing I can do about it.
Even now I don’t think we record as many family moments as we should-there’s just a subtle whisper, “He’s not here” that plays on repeat in the background when we get together.
Like so many other things after loss, photographs are complicated now.
I remember everything about the first formal family photograph after Dominic died.
It was two months to the day since we buried him, and his older brother was getting married. A day we had planned for and looked forward to for a long time. It marked a new beginning, a new life, but the spectre of death veiled my eyes and whispered in my ears.
Standing there, smiling and holding back the tears, my heart cried,”One of us is missing!” and I wanted to shout, “Don’t take the photo. Don’t memorialize the absence of my son.”
I swallowed the words and have an album full of evidence that he wasn’t there.
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 seven years ago was recorded.
I don’t know about you but my face and my body tell the tale.
It’s a story of stress and strife and it’s not pretty.
I look at photos before and after and see grief written all over the pictures taken since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
There’s an old saying in the South when you see someone who looks exhausted and unwell: “She’s been rode hard and put up wet.” My horse loving friends will get it right away.
For the rest of you this is what it means: When a horse is ridden hard or worked long, it sweats. The kind and appropriate thing to do is to walk the animal until it dries off and then stable it. Doing so means the horse’s muscles have time to recover from the exertion and helps prevent injury or lameness. If a horse is repeatedly “rode hard and put up wet” it begins to show in her performance, resilience and ultimately, in longevity.
Living with child loss is definitely a hard slog through difficult terrain.
While my burden is not nearly as hard to carry TODAY as it was in the beginning (six years ago) it still adds significant resistance and requires more effort when doing everyday tasks or facing new challenges.
And I rarely have the ability or capacity to treat myself to a “cool down” period because my to do list is long and the days seem short. Life just doesn’t let up.
It has taken a physical toll.
I tire more easily-physically, emotionally and mentally. I am less resistant to illness. My chronic disease has progressed more in these six years despite aggressive treatment than the decade previous to Dom’s leaving. I don’t handle change well. I am more prone to call it quits, give up and give in when things get tough instead of powering through. I have a drastically shortened attention span. It’s hard to remember details and words-I write things down so I won’t forget. The lines in my face have deepened and multiplied. Sometimes getting out of bed is the bravest thing I do all day.
I could list at least a dozen more ways grief impacts my body but you get the idea.
Grief isn’t *just* an emotional response to loss.
It’s physical too.
So if you are noticing your body doesn’t act like it used to, you’re not alone.
I know many of us bereaved moms and dads edit ourselves on a daily basis. While others post freely on social media platforms, we write and delete post after post because we feel like if we put it ALL out there other folks will think less of us.
Or worse-they might think less of the child we miss.
Why oh why would we want to continue to share that same tired old photo some people might ask.
Well, because it’s all we have. We don’t have the luxury of another birthday, Christmas or happy family gathering to snap new pictures of our growing, thriving child.
We wish we did. Believe me, we wish we did.
I know many who read this blog belong to closed online bereavement groups.
That’s a beautiful thing- a place where we can share our pain with others who understand it in a judgement-free zone.