I’ve learned that there are new things to miss even five years down this road of child loss.
I’ve learned that any odd moment, random smell, taste,touch, or occasion can pierce that place in my heart that screams, “Dominic should be here!”.
I’m also learning additional ways his absence continues to shape the family we have NOW. Dom’s absence continues to impact decisions, expectations, hopes and dreams TODAY.
I miss family photos when I don’t count heads and note unfilled spaces. It’s not just Dom I’m yearning for. I long for us to all be together-no one missing. It’s a little easier (sometimes) when one or more of us aren’t able to make a particular trip or event because then it’s not ONLY Dominic gone from the frame.
But truth be told, I can’t stop my heart from looking and hoping that this time, it’ll be different.
This time, we’ll be whole.
I miss the ease with which I used to toss together family meals, social occasions and holiday gatherings. I’ve always LOVED making things special and never minded cooking buckets of food. I used to plan weeks in advance-gathering recipes, ideas, decorative items and sometimes little gifts or favors for those who attended. I checked with folks for dietary preferences or allergies. It was a joy even when it exhausted me because I loved shaping spaces and experiences to strengthen family ties.
I miss waking up and facing a new day without reservation or trepidation. I’m a sunrise kind of gal. I used to turn my face toward the big picture window in our living room waiting for first light to dawn and the day to get going. Fresh start. New opportunities.
It took awhile but some days I can do that.
Still there are many days I watch the trees come into focus knowing daylight can’t always lift the darkness in my heart.
I miss turning corners in my house or walking on my land encountering only good memories, happy reverie and hope that tomorrow would bring more of the same. When we moved here over twenty years ago, it felt like home. Plenty of space for children to run, exciting adventures discovering woods, water and animal life abounded. There are so, so many memories everywhere I turn. Memories used to spark hope for more. Now they are silent witness to the line that demarcates our lives into BEFORE and AFTER.
I miss the certain assurance when someone doesn’t pick up the phone or answer a text that “all is well”. We have always been a family on the move. It sounds ridiculous today, but a driver’s license was the ticket to a personal cell phone when my kids were growing up. As each one gained the privilege of driving away alone, we made sure they had a way to call and let us know they arrived safely. If I called them and there was no answer, it was a good hour or two before my heart went into overdrive and my mind imagined all the horrible possibilities.
Now I make that trip in seconds or minutes despite any logic that can easily explain it away.
I miss having energy to spare. I know part of my energy drain is simply age. I’m not so cocky as to assume the years don’t play a role in slowing me down. But I know that’s only half (or less!) of it. The constant effort to edit, direct, control and contain my words, thoughts and emotions sucks the life right out of me. What used to easily be a one hour job takes two. And projects I could whip together in a day require a week or more. Discouragement makes me sad and tired. So the cycle continues.
I miss sound sleep and good dreams. Right after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I could barely sleep at all. There was no escaping awful scenes playing across my closed eyelids. Eventually I was able to lull my mind into a kind of calm and sleep a little. Five years later I rarely sleep more than two hours at a stretch without waking. While I usually roll over and doze off again, I never get the kind of restorative rest I really need.
Dreams are another matter altogether.
They are often full of jumbled bits that leave me unsettled and full of dread.
I miss making plans for next month or next year without the silent caveat that we just can’t be sure they will come to pass. A large calendar hanging prominently in our kitchen was my go-to for keeping track of crazy family schedules and commitments for decades. I took it down a day after Dominic died and didn’t hang another for over two years. I couldn’t bear to turn page after page knowing Dominic’s name would never show up again except in reference to him being gone. I have one now. But while I still write things in different colored pen (easier to see and track) my mind knows every single plan is really just penciled in.
Until the day comes or the moment arrives, my heart holds it lightly.
I miss saying innocent good-byes. I was never the crying mom waving a handkerchief as my kids made their way down the long driveway to the larger world. I always missed them, of course. But the goal was to raise independent persons capable of doing things, going places and living their own lives. So a good strong hug, a kiss on the cheek, “I love you” and they were off leaving a smiling mama behind. It never occurred to me that THIS time could be the LAST time I touched or talked to them.
Now, every good-bye is sacred. Every hug a prayer.
I miss hearing Dominic’s name in casual conversation. Oh, we still talk about him. But it’s not the same. Sometimes it’s awkward and leads to odd pauses. Most times it’s more natural. Always it’s with sad recognition that instead of memories we should be sharing fresh stories of adventure.
I appreciate each new day I’m given.
I take nothing for granted because I know how quickly and easily it can be snatched away.
But my heart can’t help but long for the way things used to be and yearn for the way things would be if Dominic were still here.
I want to be everything my living children need me to be.
I try hard to celebrate them, be available, listen closely and love them well.
I never, ever want them to feel they are competing with their missing brother for my affection or my attention.
But I’d be lying if I said it was always easy.
Sometimes the happy moment so closely resembles a shared memory that includes Dominic, my heart takes my head in directions I wish it wouldn’t go. Sometimes it’s a long awaited once-in-a-lifetime occasion and Dom’s absence is a giant, gaping hole everywhere I look.
It’s really hard to be stuck at the crossroad of being happy for a child still here while mourning and missing the child that’s gone.
I’ve had to do that many, many times in the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve found a couple of things that help.
I put something in my pocket or wear a piece of jewelry that is a token of my love for Dominic.
It helps me feel as if he’s represented even if no one else knows about it. Then I lean in and take hold of the celebration as best as I can.When I feel overwhelmed, I touch my little token and/or escape to a quiet corner or bathroom for a minute or two and collect myself.
I also try to do something called “pre-grieving”.
I allow myself time early in the morning of an event to be alone and cry if I need to. If the tears won’t come, I listen to music that helps my heart reach that place of release. I journal my feelings. I walk through the day and admit where it might be especially challenging. I think through how I can deal with that and make a plan.
It makes a difference.
So much has been stolen from my surviving children.
I miss a lot of things since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
I miss HIM-his deep voice, his perspective and his thump-thump-thumping down the stairs and the rhythm of who he is.
And I miss how his absence has reshaped the family I thought I’d have.
Raising four children, investing my time, heart and energy into who they were turning out to be, I naturally projected into the years ahead. All that love poured into them would create a legacy we’d all enjoy. Marriages, careers, grandchildren and experience would blend together into a (if not perfectly harmonious) at least a shared future.
I never imagined turning a calendar page without one of my children to turn it with me.
Dominic’s death has touched each one of us. His missing is as powerful a force as his presence. We are absolutely NOT THE SAME as we would have been if he were still here nor as we were when he was still here.
When Dom first left us, I was primarily mourning him. I still miss him like crazy.
But a lot of my mourning during the past twelve months has been for the family I thought I would have. I see each of my surviving children are processing Dominic’s absence in ways that influence their decisions.
In some ways it’s beautiful-I see twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings making choices with wisdom way beyond their years. In some ways it’s brutal-they set up safeguards because they know by experience that leaving the house doesn’t always mean you return. They have back up plans for everything.
Which wasn’t something I even thought about when I was their age.
My husband and I expected to drift into retirement years full of energy and vigor. Much of that has been stolen from us by child loss too. Oh, how we long to be the fun grandparents, the traveling duo, the footloose crazy pair but it’s much more effort than we anticipated.
Sometimes we can’t muster that energy at all.
I know some changes were inevitable. Dominic’s death coincided with a natural progression toward an empty nest. I’m not a helicopter mama and I’ve always said my goal was to raise children who could function well without me so I think that as much as possible, I prepared my heart for them to grow up and grow apart.
But in addition to normal changes, there’s an utterly unnatural and unwelcome transformation from nuclear family to brokenhearted family.
I am so, so thankful that we have chosen the hard path of running toward one another instead of running away.
I’m grateful that we have grown from five left behind to a table for eight-two new spouses and a precious grandchild.
I do not take a single second for granted because I know that seconds are not guaranteed.
But I sure wish Dominic were here to share it with us.
In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.
The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes. Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain.
There is definitely a time and place for professional counseling. Many, many families benefit from having a trained individual, outside the immediate grief circle, guide them in exploring feelings, developing coping strategies and learning to live life this side of loss.
But there is also something to be said for arranging casual open-ended activities with surviving siblings, parents and even grandparents where space and a more relaxed atmosphere often leads to honest sharing.
This graphic has lots of excellent suggestions for how to craft such a space.
Not all will be suitable for every family, but every family should be able to find a few that fit.
I’ll add these guidelines that may help your family make the best choice for YOU:
Don’t force it. If you make an offer of an activity and it drops with a thud to the ground, let it go. You might be able to do it another time.
Don’t make it (what my kids like to say!) a “mandatory option”. There must be no guilt or coercion invading this space. If one or more of your family members consistently refuse to join in, consider asking a close family friend to take that individual out alone and see what might be going on.
If you choose a movie or other story-themed activity, LOOK UP THE PLOT! I can’t tell you how many times we were sideswiped by a death scene or some other heavy emotional plot twist. There may be a time when your family is prepared to experience those things together (we can now) but it may not be yet.
Mix and matchmore structured activities with open-ended ones like walks outside, watching the sunset, sitting on the beach, hanging at the pool, playing a game (not too competitive-that will sometimes bring out hidden anger).
If you have a family with a broad range of ages you might have to do some things with the littles and some with the older kids. You can always add one or two activities a month or quarter where everyone (or as many as are available) gets together.
If your children, spouse, parent or other close griever begins to talk-let them. If tears flow-that’s progress! If ugly feelings are expressed, listen. Try not to be defensive. Try to hear the hurt behind the words. It’s OK to set ground rules like using “I” statements and not blaming. But don’t shut them out or shut them down.
These are just ideas.
Google is your friend and your phone is probably already in your hand or pocket-use it.
It may seem like the easiest way to get an inside scoop on how I’m REALLY doing-but don’t do it.
Please don’t ask my kids how I’m doing.
Respect the fact that they have their own grief burden. Respect family privacy and understand you are putting them in an impossible position.
If you want to know-toREALLYknow-how I’m doing, ask me.
Life for us is no different than life for you except every decision, every event, every single thing requires more effort and energy because we carry the additional burden of death and loss.
It’s easy to assume children and young people-even adults in their 20’s and 30’s-are somehow more resilient than they really might be.
They are often in seasons of activity that serve as cover for deeper, more difficult feelings. Many beautiful celebrations typically mark these years. Graduations, weddings, births are wonderful! But they are complicated for grieving siblings as well as grieving parents.
So be a friend to my kids. Love them. Celebrate them.
And please, please, please treat them as fellow grievers and not simply bystanders to their parents’ grief.