Bereaved Parent Holiday Survival Tips: Surviving Siblings and Christmas

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.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/12/16/surviving-siblings-and-christmas/

Like It Or Not, I’m Teaching My Children How To Grieve

In spite of my best efforts, I have made and continue to make less-than-healthy or ideal choices in grief.

I’m sure some of those patterns are being passed down to my children and I hate that. Grief is hard enough on its own without adding layers of dysfunction that make it harder.

So I try to be mindful of what I model because like it or not, I’m teaching my children how to grieve.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/10/02/why-its-so-important-to-model-grief-for-our-children-grandchildren/

Repost: When You Feel Like You Can’t Breathe-Setting Living Children Free

I wrote this last year just before my son deployed for a lengthy overseas assignment.

So much has happened in the months since then including the birth of HIS son, way too early but mercifully safe and sound.

This tiny fella is now a round little six-month-old.

I returned yesterday from another quick visit with his now-larger family at my parents’ home halfway between my little farm and my son’s house.

I had forgotten all about my musings from a year ago but they are still the cry of my heart:

A couple weeks ago I walked away from my son’s house, after kissing him goodbye and prayed under my breath that it won’t be the last time I see his bright eyes and lively smile.

Because when you’ve mistakenly waved a cheery “see you later” to your child, ignorant that it’s the LAST time, your heart never takes these moments for granted again.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/09/19/when-you-feel-like-you-cant-breathe-setting-living-children-free/

Repost: Little Ways Grief Changes Things


I accidentally dialed my son’s number the other night.  

All he heard amidst the noise of the baseball game he was attending was, “I’m sorry” which immediately put him in “oh no!” mode.  

A couple words later and he understood that what I was sorry for was interrupting him, not another tragedy that required a heart-wrenching, life-changing long distance phone call.

But that’s how it is now.  

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/07/19/little-ways-grief-changes-things/

Bereaved Parents Month: Self-Care For Families

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

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. 

Read the rest here:  Grief is a Family Affair

Bereaved Parents Month Post: The Missing Never Ends

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. 

wedding our family

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.  

winter sunrise pines and zeke filter

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.  

cell phone in hand huffpost

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.

sleep doesnt help if your soul is tired

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.  

calendar

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.

rememberers

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.  

fiona and brandon wedding memorial flowers
In memory of Dominic from an anonymous friend for Fiona’s wedding. Photo by Katie Jewell Photography

 

 

Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

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.

brandon and fiona wedding her laughing not screenshotI’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. 

IMG_1815

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”. 

coffee and journal morning

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 don’t want them robbed of their mama too.  

beach-and-family-better