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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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

75 Percent

I have tried blogging at various times through the years and always given up after a few posts.  My life was full and I found that in a few weeks or months I didn’t really have all that much to say.

It’s different this time-I have been writing every day for almost 20 months and seem to always have at least a sentence or two that wants to burst forth from my keyboard.

I think pain births words.

But one thing I never want to forget is that although Dominic is gone from my sight-my other three children are not.  I still have 75 percent of my children with me.

I do not take that for granted.

They are each a successful and highly-functioning adult in their own right.  It would be easy to run from a broken family and run toward a life that didn’t include daily reminders that their mama cries often and is not nearly the woman she once was.

But they don’t.

Instead they check on me, love me and encourage me with text messages and Facebook memes and silly photos.  They listen when I need to download a pile of frustration and disappointment.

They help me remember that life is still happening, even when I wish (in some ways) it wasn’t.

When each one of my children was born I received him or her as a gift from God.  I could not imagine there would be a day when I would treasure them more than I did on that day.

But I do.

I miss Dominic, because he was a gift from God too.

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But I will be forever thankful that, at least for now, I have Fiona, James Michael and Julian.

Forced to give one child back, I will never, ever, take the ones I have left for granted.

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Unafraid

I’ve never been really big on fear.

I jumped from the high dive at three years old-that belly flop hurt but I survived and it fueled my adventurous spirit.

I rode horses other people didn’t like-was bucked off a time or two but no broken bones so that didn’t slow me down.

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My dad had an open cockpit biplane and we flew aerobatics over Colorado Springs-fanny pack parachute strapped to my butt “just in case”-upside down and round and round. We never needed to jump and landed safely every time.

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Never been afraid of speaking in public.

Never been afraid of strangers.

Never been afraid of heights.

UNTIL.

Until I had children and then I was afraid of nearly EVERYTHING for them.

I didn’t want any harm to befall these tiny humans carrying my heart outside my body.  I wanted to protect them, to cushion them, to wrap them in a bubble so that nothing bad ever happened to them.

As they grew, I learned to let go- a little at a time.  I learned you can’t prevent the scrapes and bruises and heartaches and disappointments of life.  And I learned that a little “harm” made them stronger.

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I forgot most of my fears and was again unafraid.

UNTIL Dominic was killed.

And all the old fears came rushing back.  I wanted to lock my surviving children in a room and slip food under the door.  I HAD to keep them safe.

Only I can’t.  It is not possible for me to keep. them. safe.

All I could possibly do is make them afraid.  I could make them afraid of choosing their hearts’ desires in an attempt to prevent more pain for mine.

I won’t do that.

I will not allow part of Dominic’s legacy to be that our family lives afraid.

NO.

I choose to release my children to make the best choices they can and to live boldly and unafraid.

 

A Letter To My Living Children*

I never thought it possible to love you more than I already did.

But I do.

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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.

No more do I take even a moment for granted.  Never again will I be “too busy” to listen to you, to hug you, to greet you on the porch when you decide to make your way back home.

I promised you when that deputy came to the door we would survive.

And we have.

 

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I promised you that I would never raise Dominic onto a hallowed pedestal that obliterated his orneriness and only kept track of his laudable qualities.

I pray I have lived up to the promise.

We are changed-every one of us.

I am so very proud of you for continuing to live.  It would have been easy to give up.  It would have been easy to “live for the moment” and give in to hedonism.

You haven’t done that.

You have had to carry more weight than you should.  I am so very anxious to see how you take this awful  pain and weave it into your own stories-how this dark thread helps define who you become and how you choose to impact your world.

You have lent me your strength when mine was waning.

You have checked on me and loved me and borne patiently with me and with one another when it would have been easier to walk away and try to create a life outside this place of brokenness and vulnerability.

I am always cautious when ascribing feelings and words to our departed Dominic-it’s easy to make him say or feel whatever is most convenient since he’s not here to dispute it.  But I am certain of this:  while he would never, ever have wanted us to bear this awful burden, he would be so, so proud of the way we have supported one another in doing so.

Like always, our family has closed ranks and lifted together the weight that would have crushed us individually.

It’s who we are.

It’s who we have always been.

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*I am absolutely convinced that Dominic is very much ALIVE today in the presence of Jesus.  But for now, I’m denied his daily companionship.