But when our pastor recently asked, “What was the best Christmas gift you ever received?” I didn’t have to think hard at all.
It was my daughter, Fiona.
She wasn’t bornONChristmas but a week before-today is her birthday-and I was oh, so glad to finally hold that tiny bundle in my arms instead of in my belly.
My first successful pregnancy (I’d miscarried a year before) was a long, hard and difficult one. I never achieved that “glow” so many women enjoy while hormones guaranteeing baby’s health and safety surged through my system.
Instead I was desperately ill for the first four months as I wrapped up my college degree. (In hindsight, taking biology at six in the morning was a bad choice.) I spent many of those days in close communion with the toilet or a bowl when I couldn’t muster the energy to get to the bathroom.
I had a few short golden weeks before my body revolted once again and I developed a serious case of preeclampsia. Now my doctor visits were weekly and included fetal monitoring.
Back then there were few interventions for this condition so it was wait and see, wait and see all the while I counted days and weeks until I could reach the magic “thirty-four week” mark of likely viability.
Thankfully, we made it!
But then that little Miss decided to assert her personality and refuse to make an entrance.
So…finally…I was scheduled to deliver ten full days after her due date of December 8th.
It was a long day of pitocin, contractions, no progress and a swift trip to the OR for what ended up being an emergency C-section. Drama all the way!
She was here, safe and sound, in my arms at last.
There are lots of things I don’t remember in detail about that day or even the week that followed but I remember this: I knew in my bones that life would never be the same. This precious child made me a mama and my heart would forever be wrapped around hers.
I’m so very thankful I had the blessing of three more little ones after that.
I’m grateful for the lives they’ve lived and the ones they are living now.
I miss my third-born, Dominic. His birth story is woven just as firmly into the fabric of my being as Fiona’s and that of her other brothers.
I can’t pick out his threads without unraveling the whole cloth.
And I don’t want to.
I celebrate today the gift of motherhood and the gift of children.
Even when one of them leaves too soon.
Love is always costly, but love is always worth the price.
I first shared this post in 2016 when we had muddled through the first two holiday seasons after Dominic left us and were headed for a third.
Now facing our ninth, there are some things that have changed a lot (adding grandchildren and losing my mama) and some things that remain the same (the ongoing struggle to balance everyone’s needs and expectations with the reality of sorrow).
I still find the principles I outlined years ago to be the best way to approach the season. We certainly don’t always get it right but we continue to strive to honor one another, to honor the true meaning of Christmas and to honor Dominic.
How do I honor the child for whom memories are all I have and love well the children with whom I am still making memories?
That’s a question I ask myself often.
And it is especially difficult to answer for celebrations and holidays, special events and birthdays.
Even though I said I’d be taking August off, here I am because I think teachers, parents, friends and family members need this reminder at the beginning of every school year.
Siblings are often forgotten grievers. But they shouldn’t be.
They have not only lost a brother or sister but also the family they once knew and relied upon. They (if young) may not have the capacity to express or process these losses in ways adults comprehend or recognize. And if older, they may work hard at hiding grief so as not to add to their parents’ burden.
It’s so, so important for those who love and serve bereaved siblings to pay attention, to offer support, to grant space and grace and freedom of expression. They are grieving too.
I am always afraid that Dominic will be forgotten.
I’m afraid that as time passes, things change and lives move forward, his place in hearts will be squeezed smaller and smaller until only a speck remains.
Not in my heart, of course.
Or in the hearts of those closest to him, but in general-he will become less relevant.
But he is not the only one who can be forgotten. I am just as fearful that my living children will be forgotten.
I think often about the things my children know that others don’t have to know.
The fact that life is precious, short and never guaranteed no matter how young or healthy you may be.
The reality that doing everything right or keeping your nose clean or staying “prayed up” doesn’t guarantee you’ll be spared from death, destruction or devastation.
It’s true that several generations ago folks grew up knowing all these things as a matter of course. But we’ve forgotten so much of this with antibiotics, life extending interventions, emergency medicine and abundant food, water and other resources.
I never interact with my earthbound kids without thinking about all the ways we are changed because death has invaded our home and our lives.
My youngest son worked hard to retrieve some precious digital photos from an old laptop.
Being very kind, he didn’t tell me that we might have lost them until he was certain he had figured out a way to get them back.
So he and I had a trip down memory lane the other evening.
Before my mother’s illness and death, before the frighteningly early arrival of our little Captain and the less-frightening and less early arrival of his brother, LT, before an overseas deployment, a destructive hurricane, Covid19, and too many other stressful events to list.
I have watched my kids meet every challenge-sometimes with grace, sometimes with grit, sometimes with both.
They are different people than they would have been if Dominic still walked beside us. They know things their peers can’t even guess.
We all lost so much when we lost Dom. But we still have each other.
And that’s a treasure.
I never thought it possible to love you more than I already did.
But I do.
Your brother’s untimely departure has opened my heart in a whole new way to the glory that is your presence. It has made me drink you in like water in the desert.