The Silent Joy of Memory

We live in a noisy world.

Music, television, voices and the hum of electricity tunnel into our brains and distract us from hard questions and painful circumstances.

We live in a busy world.

If I’m not in motion, I am getting ready to be.

It is tempting in my grief to try to stuff life full of noise and busyness so I can ignore the pain and emptiness of missing my son.

But there is quiet beauty in the unfilled space of my heart–the spot once brimming with the living essence of the son I love.

In the silence I can hear his voice and see his smile.

So I will guard the noiseless place that still belongs to Dominic and keep it as a treasure,  a comfort, and a tribute to him until we are together again.

There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

[Context]

At my house, I’m the keeper of the calendar, the one who sends family greetings for birthdays, holidays and get well cards.

The first time I had to write a note and sign our family names, my heart stopped and air refused to fill my lungs.

Moving down the family line from my husband through me and each of our children, how was I going to mark the place where Dominic SHOULD be but no longer is?  Or, better said, how do I represent the space he continues to hold in our hearts and lives but can no longer be easily seen by others?

You ADD children to your family, you don’t subtract them. 

I have struggled with this for many months.  I tried signing just the family name but that has always seemed impersonal to me–quick and easy and kind of lazy.  I tried including only our living children and our new daughter-in-love which meant that there were still six names but my heart knew one was missing.  

Dominic is a living, breathing heartbeat within my own chest.

You can’t know me without knowing him.  My story, my family’s story includes him even though his physical presence is no longer with us.

So I have decided that I will list his name with ours on traditional family greetings.

[Dominic] will appear in the proper place on my family signature line.

Brackets are used in quotes to indicate that a direct quote has been edited–that something must be added to understand the context or to fit the quote into the surrounding information.

I will honor my son and let others know that although my life has been edited, the full text can only be understood by including  him.

 

curating grief

Most of us have taken a class or two in literature–we read other people’s writing and sit around discussing “what it really means”.  My husband has always scoffed at the notion that anyone but the author knows that.

Me–I love books, plays and poetry so I’ve spent a lifetime reading and trying to interpret the meaning of others’ words.

But now I find I’m leaning more toward my husband’s point of view.

One of the challenges I face as a grieving parent is finding that other people want to interpret my experience for me.

They want to curate my mourning like a museum exhibit–arrange and highlight and sift through the days before and after burying my child and lay my experience out in some way that makes sense to them.

Sometimes it is subtle and involves mentioning memories that cast the missing child in a positive light–extolling his virtues and highlighting his achievements–as if noting how wonderful he was when walking this earth makes it easier to let him go.

Other times it is direct and forceful–“Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “He wouldn’t want you to be sad.”  Or, my personal favorite, “You know he’s safe with Jesus and you will be together again one day.”

While my theology rests firmly on the finished work of Christ, my heart longs for the physical presence of my son.  So none of these platitudes are helpful and they only draw a sharper contrast between my hope and my experience.

Let me just be blunt:  unless you have buried a child, you do not know how it feels. 

Full stop.

No debate.

I am grateful for your support, for your prayers, for your kindness, compassion and love.

But please do not tell me how this all makes sense or fits together in God’s plan or will someday “make a difference”.

I  invite you to travel with me, to share stories (good and bad) of my son with me, to sit with me and look at the memories, feel the sorrow and experience the missing.

And, if you are brave, you can ask me what it means.

 

 

No Perfect Formula

Everyone loves a formula.

We spend millions (billions?) of dollars seeking the perfect, easy way to whittle our waistlines.  We spend hours (days?) googling tips on reducing clutter, improving relationships, decorating our homes (Pinterest, anyone?).

Christian bookstores are filled with tantalizing titles that promise a quick and effortless method for happiness and holiness.

We just want someone to tell us what to do, when to do it and exactly how to do it–we want life to work like a math problem: 2+2=4.

Sometimes, for a season, it looks like a formula might work.

But there is nothing predictable about life. And as long as people are involved, there’s no reliable method to accurately predict outcomes.

It’s just not that simple.

Looking for the perfect equation to balance life’s challenges distracts me from the life I’m actually living.  It offers false hope that one day, some way and somewhere, things will be “perfect”.

It seduces me into thinking that people behave like numbers and that I can size them up, put them in the math machine and turn out identical and predictable products.

Burying a child rips that notion right out of your head.

Nothing predictable about that.

There are no shortcuts.  No pat answers.  No perfect formulas.

Life is relationship.

With God,

with people,

with ourselves.

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

Ephesians 4:2-3 MSG