Social media is full of rants about this and that. Television blares raised voices shouting over one another in what passes for news coverage. T-shirts are emblazoned with one-liners intended to provoke others.
We tolerate and even embrace anger as a legitimate emotion.
Yet we rarely make room for mourning. We hide our tears. We shame those who don’t hide theirs as “weak” and “soft” and “cowardly” or worse.
But many times what we think is anger, is really sadness.
When your scale of awful is off the charts, there’s a tendency to dismiss anything less as merely inconvenient or inconsequential.
But that’s just not how our hearts work.
You can be shattered by child loss and still feel the slings and arrows of everyday losses, disappointments, discomfort and sadness.
It’s OK to mourn the things that don’t measure up to the pain and despair of burying a child.
It’s OK to admit that even ordinary things like an empty nest, changing circumstances, moving away from friends and family, ill health, family drama and dozens of other, smaller wounds prick your heart and make it bleed.
While child loss has helped me gain perspective on what’s truly important, irreplaceable and worth my time and energy, it has not created a protective and impenetrable barrier that guards my heart from further pain.
I am just as likely as anyone else to fall into a funk over a misunderstanding, a less-than-expected outcome, a disappointing phone call with a friend or some other everyday frustration. And, sometimes, there are truly hard and horrible things I’ve had to bear: my mother’s prolonged illness and death, my grandson’s premature birth, my son’s overseas deployment and other things I’m not at liberty to share because I’m not the main character in the story.
Child loss doesn’t mean there won’t be more pain in this life.
It doesn’t give me a pass on heartache.
And it is perfectly normal-actually perfectly and absolutely right-to be sad and mourn the smaller losses in life.
I remember the early days after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven when people were still checking in often on our family.
Some days there were a dozen or more messages that really, really needed an answer.
But I just couldn’t.
“How are you?” is often a more difficult question than you might think when your world is falling apart.
I wanted to tell the truth about how hard the days were and harder still the long dark nights but it felt too personal, too frightening and too likely to be misunderstood by a heart with no frame of reference.
So most of my responses looked something like this:
Eventually I found out who the safe people were and began to share more openly.
The others-the ones who weren’t safe or who were only asking out of a sense of curiosity or obligation-simply stopped asking when they didn’t get the answers they were looking for.
I’ve learned to give hurting hearts space.
I give them permission NOTto answer.
I want them to know I care but I don’t ask penetrating questions that might require answers they aren’t prepared to give.
Not because I don’t have anything to say but because I can’t find ways to say it that might make sense to anyone else.
So much is jumbled up inside me, so much is wrapped around itself and I can’t find the end of the string to unravel it.
Ever since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, writing has been my refuge. First in my journals and now in this space.
I depend on words on the page to tell me what I think and feel.
Lately my trusty tool has let me down.
I’m sure part of it is the abrupt end to silent days and virtually unlimited alone time since the coronavirus crisis upended my routine.
Now when I come in from my walk I’m greeted by my husband (a good thing!) instead of only cats. I spend more time making meals and cleaning up after them. I don’t have the quiet moments watching the sun sink down behind the trees and dark reclaim the living room as I peck away at my keyboard.
Part of it is the time of year.
Sunday will be six years since Dominic left us and each passing day brings me closer and closer to that milestone. I should be better at facing it by now.
But I’m not.
Last year my faithful companion animal died around this time too. His death didn’t hold a candle to the death of my son but any death-every death-pricks that deep wound and reminds me the world is not as it should be.
Last year’s Facebook post:
2:53 4/7/2019 ••UPDATE•• Roosevelt died in my arms without suffering. I am so thankful for the years I had with him. ❤️.
I’m holding my precious companion animal as he dies. I want him to know that he is loved and the last thing he feels to be my hand on his fur.
So today, breathing is enough.
2:53 April 7, 2019
And this year-well-this year death is the headline everywhere.
Actual death, impending death, anticipated death. Numbers, numbers, numbers that represent real people, real lives, real families left behind.
How my heart hurts!
I try to stay away from too much news, too much social media, too much of anything besides family and close friends.
I’m still up before sunrise and spend time reading, praying, researching, thinking, waiting to hear from my heart.
I’m not entirely sure this quote is an accurate one from the original Winnie the Pooh books but it is absolutely an accurate reflection of the characters.
And it’s a beautiful reminder to all of us how powerful presence can be.
May we all have Poohs and Piglets that come sit with us when we are Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around.
“It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.
‘Hello Eeyore,’ said Pooh.
‘Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,’ said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice.
‘We just thought we’d check in on you,’ said Piglet, ‘because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.’
“Eeyore was silent for a moment. ‘Am I okay?’ he asked, eventually. ‘Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now.’
“Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.
Eeyore looked at them in surprise. ‘What are you doing?’
‘We’re sitting here with you,’ said Pooh, ‘because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.’
‘Oh,’ said Eeyore. ‘Oh.’
“And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.
It would be helpful if the world could just stop for a day or a week (or a year!) when your heart is shattered by the news that one of the children you birthed into this world has suddenly left it.
But it doesn’t.
And immediately all the roles I have played for decades are overlaid by a new role: bereaved mother. Except instead of being definitive or even descriptive, this role is more like a foggy blanket that obscures and disorients me as I struggle to fulfill all the roles to which I’ve become accustomed.
Watching my father grieve my mother is the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Grieving my own son, watching my husband and children grieve him too, is the hardest.
I observe Papa’s expression, hear the weariness in his voice, note the far off stare when conversation drifts to mundane and unimportant things and realize that was exactly how I looked and sounded in the first months after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
I love my mama.
And I spent a lot of time with her these past two years since the fall and heart attack that changed everything in August, 2017.
But I was not her daily caregiver. My schedule didn’t revolve around whether or not someone could stay with her so I could go somewhere else-even if it was just down the road-for more than an hour.
I called each day and talked to Papa, checking on them both, but then I was free to do or not do whatever I wanted to without considering her need to be attached to oxygen and her limited endurance to do anything even then.
I tried to be supportive. I made multiple trips down to the farm and tried to give Papa some space and freedom.
That’s just not the same as 24/7 care.
His grief for the wife with whom he spent 58 years is deeper and wider than my heart can understand.
Just as my grief for the child I had carried, birthed, raised and cared for was impossible for him to fully comprehend.
Dominic is his grandson. And as grandparents go, my parents were extremely involved in my kids’ lives-showing up to not only the important events and occasions but also to many mundane and everyday moments.
But the gap between even frequent visits and daily living is huge.
So while I cannot feel precisely what Papa is feeling about Mama-his wife-I can absolutely understand how very devastating his loss is.
Our losses are different in kind but not in quality.
When I look at him, I’m looking in a mirror.
Grief etched everywhere.
Pain across his forehead.
Heartache painted on his lips.
I am so sad that I am no more able to touch that deep wound and render healing than anyone was able to touch mine and do the same.
No one can do the work he has to do but himself-not even someone who has done the same work in her own life.
All I can offer is to walk with him, no matter how hard it gets, for as long as it takes just like he did (does!) for me. ❤
It gets harder and harder to be honest the longer I walk this Valley.
Because it’s natural that those for whom Dom’s death was a moment in time, a short season of mourning, an unfortunate incident they sometimes look back on with sadness and regret but don’t live with daily move on.
The further we get in time from the actual moment of Dominic’s sudden departure, the larger the gap between my heart and theirs.
I understand that.
But that chasm is more and more difficult for me to bridge.
It requires energy and effort I don’t always have to reach out and reach across and try to help them understand me.
So sometimes I just don’t.
There is always going to be a blank space where Dominic SHOULD be, but isn’t.
There are always going to be places that aren’t colored in because that part of the canvas belongs to HIM.
There is always, always, always going to be pain when I line up for family photos, set the table for family dinners, go on family trips, wrap presents, send cards, list names on documents because HE IS NO LONGER HERE.
Others think the water fills in where the stone sank down.
But my mama heart knows exactly where those ripples ought to be.
So I quietly remember, quietly mourn, quietly mark that special spot-smiling on the outside.