Photographs And Memories

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.

Take The Picture!

Can I just let you in on a little secret?

Everyone knows about your wrinkles, your less-than-perfect figure and your lopsided smile.

So refusing to stand still for a picture ( unless you feel you “look your best”) when someone begs you to join in is not really effective in curating your photographic legacy for generations to come.

What will happen instead is that those who long to have photographic evidence of your sense of humor, your sense of style, your silly antics and serious moments will instead have a giant hole in the family album.

I just finished a week-long adventure that included two dogs, four cats, five adults and one infant crammed into a house that hasn’t seen that much action in a decade.

My son’s family had to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Dorian (which, thankfully, didn’t do near the damage to their area as anticipated!) and came north to my parents’ place. I drove south to meet them.

It was an opportunity to make pictures we will treasure for years to come even if many of them aren’t even near “perfect”.

My mom (on oxygen and in her nightshirt), my dad (sometimes sweaty from outdoor work), me (absolutely NOT dressing up or wearing makeup) and the baby had fun snapping candid and not-so-candid photos.

I’m not sure if many or any of them will ever make it to the boxes we used to use for Kodak moments since our phones are our photo storage units, but I know we will look back on them fondly and enjoy reliving the moments when we gathered round the TV wondering if or when Dorian might make its way up the coast of Florida.

I think I’ll print some out for my mama whose memory is failing her but whose smile shone bright when holding her great-grandson.

So go ahead, take that picture!

You never know when it might be all you’ve got left of someone you love.

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Why, “Just Think About All the Good Memories,” Doesn’t Comfort My Heart


I pull out the memories like treasures from a locked strongbox.

“Handle With Care” because they are all I have left.

But they are not enough.

They will never be enough to satisfy this mama’s heart.

We are supposed to have to remember our elders, our grandparents, even, maybe our spouse at some point-but not our children.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/11/15/why-just-think-about-all-the-good-memories-doesnt-comfort-my-heart/

Child Loss: Setting Aside Time To Grieve Helps My Heart Hold On

One of the commitments I made out loud and in my heart the day Dominic left us was this:  I was not going to let his death tear my family apart.  

I was not going to let him become the sainted brother that stood apart and above his siblings.  

I was going to continue to give as much of my time, effort, love and presence to each of the three I had left as I had done when there were four on earth beside me.

I’ve been more or less successful in keeping this promise.

I have no doubt that if you asked my living children, they could give you examples when I’ve failed.  Some days are just too much.  Some events are too hard to attend.

Some moments I am overwhelmed

and undone

and there’s no way to hide it.  

But I’ve learned a few things that help me be present, attentive and joyful for the beautiful things that are happening around me.

One of those is to set aside time whenever possible to “pre-grieve” an upcoming celebration or gathering.

hand-coffee-roosevelt

I allow my heart to feel all the things it needs to feel.  I journal the questions and comments and (sometimes) anger that would otherwise overflow and ruin a moment.  I write to Dominic and tell him how much I miss him, how much I wish he were here and how very hard it is to mark another happy occasion without him.

I mentally rehearse walking in, greeting people, making small talk. 

I think ahead to any big moments that might tap emotions I need to hold in check.  I even plan an “escape route” should I need it. Just knowing it exists has always been enough so far. 

Sometimes I find a song that suits my mood.  

I cry.  

And then I choose a token I can wear or slip in my pocket to remind me that I’ve got this.

I can show up and smile (honestly) because I’ve already loosed the dam of grief and let the stored up torrent flow over the spillway.

engagement party group shot (2)

I’ve learned the hard way that memories are precious.  I don’t want the ones I’m making now to always be tainted by sorrow and loss.  

Dominic is never far from my thoughts and always in my heart.  

I’m not abandoning nor forgetting him.

I honor him by honoring his siblings.  

Love lives.  

happy birthday balloons no words

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worse For Wear, I Don’t Care

I have never been one of those women who lied about her age.

My weight…well, you will have to threaten me with something that matters to get THAT number out of my lips.

But I’ve noticed this year more than others since Dominic left us that the wear and tear of years and tears and life and loss are showing up on my face as well as my hips.

I am definitely the worse for wear.

My daughter is getting married in May and for the first time in my life I am religious about applying under eye cream and moisturizing lotion to my face each morning and night.

who wants to look young

I don’t want to be the sore thumb in the family pictures!

I’m not sure it’s working.  I’m not sure anything can erase or roll back the marks that life and love and loss have etched on my face.

I’m not sure I want to.

Because each wrinkle, each line, each saggy, baggy skin flap says, “I loved, I lived and I am surviving-even though it’s hard.”

Before Dom left I was camera shy.  I still am, a bit.  But I’m trying hard to suck up my pride and my insecurity and let those flashes pop.  Memories are made one day at a time and photos help preserve them.

engagement party group shot (2)

So whether I’m at my best, at my worst or somewhere in between, I won’t say no to a Kodak moment.

I wish I had more of them from “before”.

Dominic and family at PRSSA banquet

I wish I hadn’t’ been so darned particular about what I looked like, what I was wearing and whether or not my wrinkles or big butt showed.

Worse for wear?

Who cares?

This one wasn’t made to last.  

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 MSG

New Year’s Eve and Auld Lang Syne

There is something about the song, “Auld Lang Syne” that strikes a chord in the hardest heart.  

You don’t have to understand the words to understand the meaning behind them.  

“Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?”

Every new year since Dominic left us my heart screams, “NO!” in answer to that question.  We CAN’T forget!

But we do.  No matter how carefully I mine the memories, I find the details beginning to escape me. 

I have boxes of photographs but even nearly five years out I find some of them too hard to look through.  When I see the innocent laughing eyes in pictures of six year old Dominic it breaks my heart.  Why oh why was I worried about so many things other than simply experiencing life in the moment?

But then I bring my heart back to reality and sternly tell myself that I had no idea what the future held.

And that’s really the crux of it, isn’t it? 

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  We plot and plan and hope and dream but in the end we have very little control over how our story ultimately plays out.

So we are left each New Year’s Eve with some good memories, some not so good ones and some we cling to like gold from a treasure chest because they are all we have.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?

Never. 

As long as this heart beats. 

I will not forget.   

Why, “Just Think About All The Good Memories,” Doesn’t Comfort My Heart

I pull out the memories like treasures from a locked strongbox.

“Handle With Care” because they are all I have left.

But they are not enough.

They will never be enough to satisfy this mama’s heart.

We are supposed to have to remember our elders, our grandparents, even, maybe our spouse at some point-but not our children.

I knew my son from before he made his entrance into the wide world.  He had already danced his way into my heart before he took his first step on solid ground.  He was part of me from the moment of conception.

I waited breathlessly to see his face for the first time.

I never expected that I would also see it for a last time.

We all have people we expect to outlive-our grandparents, our parents, elderly friends and neighbors-but not our child.

As our loved ones age, the wise among us begin to catalog and carefully store all those “lasts” or soon-to-be “lasts”.  We ask for stories to make sure we can keep telling them.  We take extra photographs, make extra phone calls and write down recipes.

I was living life forward with Dominic-just like all my kids.  We were a busy, busy family and I was never very good at scrapbooking or saving up the ordinary flotsam of everyday life.

dom age 2 sunscreen

So while I have some pictures, memorabilia and tokens of his too-short life, I don’t have nearly enough.  Oh, how I wish I had more!  Not to create a museum or a shrine but to help my poor brain remember.

When someone says, “Just think of the good memories” it triggers all kinds of emotions and not one of them is what the person intends when giving me that advice.

I feel guilty-guilty for all the things I CAN’T remember. 

Dominic is my third child and only 19 months older than his younger brother.  There are so many gaps from those early years because I was overwhelmed and tired.  Why can’t I conjure up images of him at 3 or 4? 

That hurts.

I feel incredibly sad-sad that whatever memories I DO have are all I will ever have.  I had the memories BEFORE my son wasn’t walking with me and had planned on making many more.

So focusing on memories brings little solace.

Even  at 4 1/2 years into this journey, I’m torn when I pull out the memories.

I can smile now about many of them, but it’s always bittersweet.

Because this treasure trove is as large as it will ever be.