Be Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

I’m pretty sure that every single grieving parent I know has gotten at least one private message, text or phone call that starts like this, “I know that I haven’t lost a child, but…” and ends with some sort of advice that seeks to correct a perceived flaw in how the parent is grieving (in public) his or her missing child.

I know I did.  It was the genesis of this post.

But before you hit “send” on that well-meaning missive, you need to know this:  

You have NO CLUE.

None.

Truly.

No matter if you lost a spouse, parent, close friend or favorite pet-it’s not the same thing.

It isn’t even the same thing if you have faced a season when your own child was near death due to accident or disease.

If your home has been demolished due to wind, fire or flood and all its contents lost forever-that is awful and tragic-but not comparable to watching the body of your child lowered beneath the ground.

Just like everyone else who uses social media, what you see in public does not reflect but a tiny corner of the whole picture.

I write every day about loss.  But loss is not all I experience 24/7.  I laugh, I love, I live. 

And while I may post my yearning for Dominic, I speak my heart to my living children every. single. day. 

kids at sea world 2017

My faith has been tried and tested.  I will not be false and pretend that just because I trust the finished work of Christ my heart has had it easy.  

But I’m still holding onto hope with both hands.  

My body has borne the brunt of anxiety and stress and grief.  You can see it in my eyes and in my hips.  

But I’m still standing.

My marriage has been stretched and strained.  

But we are still clinging to one another.  

beach hector and me and boys in sand

So before you suggest ways I might need to trim my sails,

just remember you aren’t sailing the same sea nor facing the same storms.  

before you tell a grieving parent to be grateful which of yours could you live without

Mind the Gap

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.

It was a bumpy ride.

Because for every sweet remembrance there was an equally painful realization that Dominic would never again be lined up alongside the rest of us in family pictures.

The British have a saying, “mind the gap” used to warn rail passengers to pay attention to the space between the train door and the platform.  It’s a dangerous opening that one must step over to avoid tripping, or worse.

I was reminded of that when I looked at those old pictures-my children are stair steps-averaging two years apart in age.

But now there will always be a gap between my second and fourth child-a space that threatens to undo me every time we line up for a picture.

I cannot forget that Dominic SHOULD be there.  I will never, ever be OK with the fact that he is missing.

To be honest, I miss him most when the rest of us are all together.  The space where he should be is highlighted because all the others are filled in.

No one else may notice, but I have to step carefully to keep from falling into a dark hole.

Mind the gap.

Be careful.

Don’t fall.

us at matts sunscreen

 

Not Funny Anymore

Dominic had a habit of managing to travel on his birthday and often into the summer months.  

He’d jump at every opportunity to go here, there and everywhere.

He had the heart of an adventurer and life on our little farm in the middle of rural Alabama didn’t often offer the excitement his heart craved.

So just after his first year in Law School, he chose to study abroad for a short semester in the spring of 2013.

The rest of us gathered for the traditional Father’s Day photo with my husband and I thought it would be funny (and probably irritate Dom a bit) if I held up a photo of him as a two-year-old since he wasn’t there.

all of us on Fathers day except dom 2013 sunscreen

 

It WAS funny at the time.

And he saw it half way around the world and thought so too.

It popped up in my Facebook memories yesterday.

It’s not funny anymore.  

Those broad smiles have been wiped right off our faces.  

Because the ONLY way we can include Dominic in ANY family pictures anymore is with a photograph.

And while we’ve yet to have as many years between us as in the picture I held up that day, they’re coming (if we live and the Lord tarries).  

I hate that.

grief is great

Grief is a Family Affair

One of the things I absolutely LOVED about having four kids was the way they pinged off one another.  There were evenings when the comments were flying so fast I could barely keep up.  Sly looks, secret texts, funny faces and friendly punches made up most of our times together.

That’s how families are-each person is just a little “more” when surrounded by folks that love and understand him or her.  

When Dominic left us, we didn’t only lose HIS companionship, we also lost the part of each of us that was reflected back from him.

dom looking up with camera

And just as each one of us had a unique relationship with him in life,we have a unique relationship with him in death.

Sure he was brother to all his siblings.

But he was a younger brother to the older two and older brother to our youngest.  He was a middle son but a third child.  He was close to his sister who shared his love of musical instruments, bonded with his younger brother over cars and butted heads with his older brother when he felt like he was bossed around.

boys

Dominic and I were both political junkies and loved to debate policy and current events.  We listened to NPR and compared notes.

He enjoyed talking sports with his dad and trying out different guitars and sound effects pedals as they jammed to the radio.

So how we remember him, what we miss, what we long for and what we hold onto is a reflection of the different way we interacted with him.

How much and how loud we express our grief is also a combination of our relationship with him and our innate personalities. 

Sometimes that is helpful-like when one of us can sit and listen to another because we are not so emotional at the moment.  Sometimes it causes frustration or even conflict when one or more of us feels that we need to DO a certain thing to remember Dominic and one or more of us is uncomfortable doing that very thing.

We’ve got to respect our differences, embrace them, make room for them even in this Valley.  

We ALL miss him.  That’s something we can agree on. 

We ALL would give anything to have him back.

And we are ALL in this together, even in our unique expressions of the same pain.

Grief is a family affair as much as life is. 

We learn, we grow, we adapt.  

And together we survive.  

beach-and-family-better

Why I Won’t Hide My Tears

It’s always a delicate balancing act when I’m with my living children and missing Dominic.  I never, ever want to elevate their brother to a level that says I love him more than them-because it isn’t true.

I didn’t love him more when he was living and I don’t love him more now that he’s dead.

But I do love him differently.

dom looking up with camera

 

I can no longer DO things for him.  I can’t buy him a special Christmas gift, send him a thoughtful text when he’s having a tough day, make his favorite dish because he’s coming home for the weekend.

I can only testify to the love I continue to carry in my heart and to the impact he made on my life.

THAT’S why I won’t hide my tears.

tears (1)

I won’t pretend that some things don’t sting, some moments don’t overwhelm my wall of defense against the grief waves that pound relentlessly against it, some smells or sights or memories don’t bowl me over and knock my heart to its knees.

Because not only am I testifying to the love I have for Dominic, I’m also testifying to the love I have for each of my children.

They can see with their own eyes that death will never sever the ties I have with them nor cut the bond of love that stretches like a silken cord between my heart and theirs.

kids at sea world 2017

 

Parenting After Loss: Giving Surviving Siblings Permission to Live

I wrote this post about things I’m learning almost two years ago.

A couple of the things I’m learning are:

There is no limit to the pain you may have to endure this side of heaven.

Lightning can strike twice in the same place, and fear of what you know by experience trumps fear of the unknown by miles.

I’ve buried one child, I do not want to bury another.

So one of the biggest struggles I face is how to parent my surviving adult children.  I do not want their lives circumscribed by my fears.

Are we ALL changed by Dominic’s death?  Absolutely!  But they are young, at the beginning of life and making choices about direction and life partners and what they want out of the years stretching before them. 

IMG_2153

I pray every day they will make those choices from a place of freedom and hope instead of a place of confinement and fear. 

Can something happen to any one of them?  Of course!  But it is no more likely today than it was three years ago when I didn’t think it could happen at all.

I will not let my mind and heart borrow trouble from tomorrow.  I will choose to focus on today and encourage them to do the same.

While Dominic was here-he LIVED.  

IMG_1800.JPG

I want his brothers and sister to be completely free to live too.

losses-and-choices-nouwn

 

 

 

 

Holidays and Grief: Surviving Siblings

I have never wanted to make my life journey with blinders on.  I realized young that MY perspective is not the only one.  I understand that more clearly now. 

So I try hard to think about, acknowledge and accommodate the feelings and needs of others.

But it’s especially challenging since Dominic left us.  And doubly so this time of year when every sight, smell and song screams, “It’s the holidays and HE IS NOT HERE!

I may not be as thoughtful to some in my circle as want to be, but I will expend every ounce of energy and effort I can muster to make space for my living children’s needs during this season.  

beach-and-family-better

I promised them the day Dominic ran ahead to heaven our family would not be defined by what we have lost.  I committed right then and there we would not sanctify Dominic, wouldn’t whitewash his ornery ways and would not put him on a pedestal against which they would be measured  for the rest of their lives.

What I didn’t say, but purposed in my heart, was that I would not allow my own feelings of grief, sorrow, missing and despair to rob them of the mother they deserve.   I would not stop being there for THEM-because, let’s face it-Dominic didn’t need me anymore.  He is safe in his eternal home.

THEY are here with me in this less-than-perfect, messy and painful world we have to navigate together. 

So when I’m working on holiday plans, the first thing I do is ask them what they need from me. I want them to have a safe space to express what’s hard for THEM this year.  I welcome ideas, frustrations, hopes and dreams.

I will not shut them down because my heart is hurting

I know what I think-I have to listen to know what THEY think.

I don’t conduct a sit down interview but over the course of a few days or weeks, I ask probing questions, offer potential scenarios and try to hear the heart behind their words when they answer.

questions

Here are some of the things I ask my kids.   Maybe they will be helpful for your family as well:

  • What’s your work schedule for Thanksgiving/Christmas?
  • Do you have any other major commitments that we need to work around?
  • How do you feel about what we did last year?  What worked for you, what didn’t work?
  • Is there something special you really want to do this year?
  • Is there something you absolutely do NOT want to do this year?
  • How’s your head going into the holidays?  What are you struggling with?  What’s easier than this time last year?
  • Do you need something from me to make the holidays easier?
  • When would you rather have the main meal?  Do you want/need to invite friends or co-workers?
  • What would the ideal Christmas Eve/Christmas Day look like for you?

There are dozens of corollaries to each of these questions.  As my children share, I try to explore the edges of the conversation and probe a little further to get at what is really going on.  I am open about my own feelings and fears for the season.  I’m honest about where we can compromise and where, because of trying to manage everyone’s needs, we can’t.

best thing to hold onto is each other

I always assure them we will continue to work together, to adjust and to muddle through the best we can. 

Humans are flawed and fragile and hearts are unpredictable.

Frustration is inevitable at some point.  

Don’t apologize for tears. 

We will not have thought of everything.  

And that’s OK.

we will all struggle and fall brene brown