Springtime Preview: Countdown to April

We’ve had an unusually warm winter this year.  

Not at all like the winter in 2014 which was punctuated by several deep freeze days and one giant “Snowmeggedon” that resulted in hundreds of people trapped in cars, at work or in schools.  

But there are other things that strike a chord in my heart and make me feel like I’m reliving that January through April. 

Lots of rain-both here and at my parents’ place in Florida.  A few days before Dominic left us, I sent him a photo of his younger brother nearly knee deep in creek water that had spilled from the banks into a nearby field.  He couldn’t believe it!  I still have the texts.

julian and creek in 2014

 

As for my parents’ home-well the rain has already filled the ponds which have risen across some spots in the dirt road that connects them to everywhere.  In 2014, the water got so high they were forced to evacuate for months as travel became nearly impossible except for lifted trucks or tractors.  It probably won’t reach that state again since dirt has been added to the road bed but it’s coming awful close and that taps memories and feelings in ways it’s hard to explain.

The year Dominic left us was going to be a year full of celebrations, culminations and hearty parties.  Julian was graduating with a Business Management degree, James Michael was wrapping up Veterinary School, Dominic would have survived the first two years of Law School with relatively easy classes left, Fiona was advancing in her Masters of Public Health Degree and James Michael and Lillie were getting married.

We thought all we’d need to “survive” that year was a cold winter and wet spring.  

We were wrong. 

This year is another year of celebration:  Fiona is marrying Brandon.  James Michael is coming home from deployment and will welcome, along with Lillie, his first child.  My husband will retire.

And all the preparation, along with the rain, is making me anxious.  

I wish it didn’t.  

Something about the timing, the temperature, the smell of green grass growing and leaves unfurling just overwhelms my heart.  

I’m so much better at planning now than I was just a year ago.  I can think more clearly, work more consistently, stay on track and make progress much better than those first years after Dominic ran ahead.

I have notebooks stacked on my table, decorations stacked in the room that used to be Dom’s.  Plastic bins full of tidbits we’ll use for the wedding and bridal showers.  My dress is sleeved in plastic and hung on the door for safe keeping.

I’m as ready as I can be.  

But once you’ve made big plans and had them shattered in an instant, once you’ve looked far forward to exciting times and had dancing turned to mourning, once you’ve done all the right things to make everything right and it’s gone all wrong-well, you just can’t shake the feeling that it might happen again.

I’m working hard to throw off the mantle of hesitation and anxiety that threatens to weigh me down.

I’m doing everything I can to remind my heart that this is an entirely different year, these are completely different celebrations.

Some days I am really good at it.  

Others, not so much.  

But I AM looking forward to all the beautiful things on my calendar.  

New marriage.  New life.  Bigger family circle.  

Spring is the year’s promise.   

I’m hanging on to that.  ❤

no winter lasts foreer and no spring skips its turn

Child Loss: At Night, It’s Still Fresh

It happens most often as I am drifting off to sleep. 

There is this one spot on the bedroom bookshelf where my eyes landed that first night-one paperback spine that instantly transports me to the moment I had to close my eyes on the day I found out my son would never come home again.

And it is fresh.  

Absolutely, positively fresh.  

Like “just happened” fresh.  

missing-someone

You’d think that nearly five years of intervening experience, nearly five years of grief work, nearly five years of trying so darn hard to learn to tuck that feeling away deep down so it can’t escape would have worked whatever magic time is supposed to work.  

it has been said that time heals all wounds rose kennedy clock

But it hasn’t.  

Oh, most days I can lock that lid down tight.  I can distract my mind, busy my hands and keep my heart from wandering too close to despair.

Darkness though. 

Shadows and silence and stillness give room for the memory to rise to the surface.  

And it does.  

My son is never coming home again.  

Fresh.  

Absolutely, positively fresh.

“Just happened” fresh.  

sometimes cant believe you are gone

 

Child Loss and Secondary Losses

While I certainly had no real idea in the first hours or even weeks what losing a child entailed, I understood plainly that it meant I would not have Dominic to see, hold or talk to.

I wouldn’t be able to hug his neck or telephone him.  

He wouldn’t be sitting at my table any more.

But the death of a child or other loved one has a ripple effect.  It impacts parts of life you might not expect.  As time went on, I was introduced to a whole list of losses commonly called “secondary losses”.

secondary losses

Here are just a few:

Loss of a large chunk of “self”.  Dominic possessed part of my heart and part of my life.  It was violently ripped away when he died.  There is part of me that was uniquely reflected from him-like a specialty mirror.  I can never access that part of me again.

Loss of identity.  Before Dominic died I was one kind of mother.  I was a mother of four living children who were making their way in the world as successful adults.  I was a mother looking forward with happy anticipation to the next years.  Now I am still a mother of four children but one whose heart has been changed by tragedy and sorrow. Tomorrow is still bright, but there’s a shadow just behind it.

desimones uab family

Loss of self-confidence.  I used to enter a room without a thought to how I’d be received or perceived.  That’s definitely not the case now.  I’m self-conscious-constantly wondering if I’m saying or doing the right thing.  I never know if a grief trigger will (at best) pull my attention away from conversation or (at worst) send me scurrying for the bathroom.

Loss of sense of security.  I think every parent has moments of fear over his or her child.  When they first go off someplace without us, when they get a driver’s license, travel abroad, go to college.  But all the awful things I imagined didn’t hold a candle to the reality of waking one morning to a knock on my door and the news that Dominic had been killed.  The bottom fell out of my (relatively) safe world.  Bad things, random things can and do happen.  Once it happened to ME, it changed how I processed everything.  The passing years have softened some of the anxiety but I will never be able to assume safety again.

Anxiety

Loss of faith.  I did not “lose” my faith.  I never once doubted that God was still working, was still loving and was still in control.  But I most certainly had to drag out every single thing I thought I knew about how I thought He worked, loved and superintended the world and examine it in light of my experience of burying my son.  It took a long time to work through all the pat answers I had been offered and myself doled out to others for years that didn’t fit with my new reality.  I am learning that doubt is not denial and that I have to live with unanswered questions.

Loss of family structure.  I’ve written before that a family is more than the arithmetic total of the number of members.  There were six of us.  But we were so much more than six when we were all together!  Our talents, personalities and energy were amplified in community.  When Dominic’s large presence was suddenly whisked away, every relationship got skewed.  We’ve fought our way back to a semblance of “whole” but still miss him terribly.  We can function, but we will never be the same.

empty chair

Loss of my past.  Memories are funny things.  They are plastic and subject to change.  And my recall of an event is limited to my own perspective.  For a memory to be rich and full, I need input from others who were there as well.  One vessel of family memories is no longer available to add his unique contribution.  Every time I pull out a photo or dig down deep in my heart to draw up a treasured moment, I realize I’ve lost something I can not recover.  The joke, the glance, the odd detail are all gone.

Loss of the future I anticipated.  I’m a planner by nature.  Not a detailed, OCD, got-everything-in-order kind of planner, but a “big picture” kind of planner.  When Dominic left us in 2014, things were going (pretty much) according to plan.  Each child was well on his or her way to the career path they had chosen.  I was easing into an empty nest and exploring options for life after homeschooling.  My husband was entering his last few years of a lengthy career.  It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, but when your world is shaken by child loss, everything gets scrambled.  You can’t just pick up where you left off and keep going with the pieces that remain. 

There’s a prolonged period of confusion and everyone is impacted differently and in ways you could never imagine.  All of us have changed dramatically in the years since Dominic left us.  He is not the only thing missing from the rest of our lives.  Holidays are altered.  Birthdays are different.  We have to plan special events around uncomfortable milestone dates that roll around every year whether we want them to or not.  It’s a constant readjustment to life as it IS instead of life as I thought it WOULD be.

Loss of ability to focus and function.  Oh, how this surprised me!  I was in some kind of zone for the first month after Dominic left.  My other children were home, we had to make it through planning his funeral, two graduations and cleaning out his apartment.  I also had to handle paperwork for my husband to take short-term disability due to grief.  I cried a lot, wrote down dozens of notes but managed to do what I had to do.  Then I crashed. I couldn’t remember a thing.  I couldn’t read more than a couple sentences at a time.  I hated the telephone.  I could barely stand to hear the television.  I had to make a list of the most basic things like brushing my teeth, feeding my animals, turning off all the lights before bed.  It was awful!  And it didn’t really get better for well over a year.

I still suffer from a very short attention span, low tolerance for noise and an inability to accommodate last minute changes.  I don’t schedule anything back to back.  I live in a rural area and sometimes shop in the nearby town.  I will start the day with a long list and shorten it repeatedly as I go along because driving in traffic, crowds and random sounds ramp up my anxiety and make me want to go home with or without what I came for.  I have changed the way I do so many things.  My pre-loss memory has never returned.  

griefbrain1

Loss of patience.  I am at once impatient and long-suffering.  I have zero patience for petty grievances, whining and complaining.  Yet I have compassion for other people living hard and unhappy stories.  I berate myself for not being “better” and, at the same time, extend grace to others who aren’t “better” either.  I want to shake people who bowl over weak, hurting, desperate souls.   I don’t have time for moaning about rain when you were planning a picnic but will listen for hours to a mama tell me about her missing child.

Loss of health.  I had a number of chronic health conditions before Dominic ran ahead.  Within the first year of his departure, I was hospitalized twice.  My experience is not unique.  Some parents suffer immediate health effects (heart attack, blood sugar spikes, anxiety/depression) and some see a slow decline over time.  In part because child loss, like any stressor, will negatively impact health and also because sometimes bereaved parents stop doing the things that help them stay healthy.  At almost five years, I’ve learned how to manage the stress better although some of my health issues continue to get worse.  It’s hard to tease apart what is age, what is disease and what is grief.

When your child leaves this life before you do, it changes everything.  

Not only things you might expect, but many you’d never imagine.  

It’s a constant balancing act, readjusting every day to new challenges.  

Struggling to keep my head above the waves.  

grief like the ocean learn to swim

 

 

Baby Steps Count

When my daughter was learning to walk, I would hover near-ready to catch her if she fell.

I covered sharp corners or moved furniture so that the chance of injury was minimized. I clapped and cooed each time she made a little progress-pulling up, cruising around the edge of the sofa and coffee table-those tentative moments when she was brave enough to let go and then plop on her bottom.

And finally, when she made her first unassisted steps between the security of holding on and my waiting arms.

It was a judgement free zone.  

I wasn’t looking for technical perfection or measuring progress according to any external metric.

crawling walking baby huff post

I didn’t rush the process. I couldn’t do it for her.  I could only support her own efforts toward the goal we both had in our hearts.  I never despised her baby steps.  

They were a beginning.  

And everything has a beginning.

When Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I felt like I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually knocked to the floor.  I had no idea how I was going to make a life after this great blow.   I could barely get dressed, much less do anything that took more thought or energy than that.

I was overwhelmed.   I had to learn to walk all over again.

And I did it with baby steps, in a judgement free-zone I created for myself where I refused to gauge my progress against anyone else’s.

its all about the baby steps

Because baby steps count.

Here are some of the baby steps I’ve taken and am still taking:

  • Got up, got dressed, bought groceries.
  • Cooked dinner.
  • Cleaned the bathrooms.
  • Went to church.
  • Remembered a birthday and sent a card.
  • Drove to an unfamiliar place to meet someone for lunch.
  • Exercised.
  • Made phone calls.
  • Went to work.
  • Volunteered.
  • Slept through a whole night.
  • Organized a party.
  • Showed up to graduations, a couple funerals and a wedding.
  • Kept doctor’s appointments.
  • Laughed.

I have yet to hit my stride and I don’t think running is in my near future, but I am moving forward.  I’m making progress.  I don’t have to meet a timetable or get anyone else’s approval.  

It’s my journey.

And baby steps count.  ❤

feet on path

 

 

 

Will It Ever Get Better?

I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.  

Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.

Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.

Who is right?  

What’s the difference?

Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?

It will be five years in April since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve learned a few things since then.

letting-go

Time, by itself, heals nothing.  But time, plus the work grief requires, brings a measure of healing.  

If I cling with both hands to my loss, I can’t take hold of the good things life still has in store for me.  

Longing for the past all the time only brings sorrow.  I cannot turn back time.  Days, weeks, years will keep coming whether or not I choose to participate in them.  I will rob my heart of potential joy by focusing exclusively on the sorrow I can’t undo.

Daily choices add up.  When I lean into the small things required each day, I build confidence that I can do the bigger things that might still frighten me.  Making phone calls eventually helps me show up to a meeting or to church.  I strengthen my “can do” muscle every time I use it.

Doubt doesn’t disappear. Facing my doubt forces me to explore the edges of my faith.  It does no good for me to stuff questions in a drawer and hope they go away.  They won’t.  I have to drag them into the light and examine them.  Doubt is not denial.  If God is God (and I believe that He is!) then my puny queries don’t diminish His glory.  He knows I’m made of dust and He invites me to bring my heart to Him-questions and all.

My mental diet matters more than I might think.  I have to be very careful what I feed my mind.  If I focus on sadness, tragic stories, hateful speech and media that feeds my fears and despair then those feelings grow stronger.  If instead I focus on hopeful stories, good conversation with faithful friends and inspiring quotes, verses and articles I feed the part of my heart that helps me hold onto hope.

I need a space where I can be completely honest about what this journey is like.  Bereaved parents’ groups have been that space for me and have been an important component of my healing.  But even there I must be cautious about how much time I spend reading other parents’ stories if I notice that I’m absorbing too much pain and not enough encouragement.

me too sharing the path

Grief is hard.  

It’s work. 

And that work is made up of dozens of daily choices that are also often difficult.  

I don’t expect to be healed and whole this side of eternity.  But I do know that if I consistently do the work grief requires I will be stronger, more whole and better able to lean into the life I have left than if I don’t.

I want to live. 

I want to honor my son by living a life that’s more than just limping along, barely making it, struggling for each step.  

So I do the work grief asks of me.  

Even when it’s hard.  

give yourself space to do the work grief requires

 

Repost: Sunrise, Sunset

It’s my habit to watch the sunrise and the sunset every day.

I usually greet the morning in my rocking chair, looking out my east-facing picture window.  It never gets old to watch darkness chased away by relentless light rising over the tops of trees.

sunrise trees

Beautiful.

Every. Time.

Sunset is a little trickier.

Read the rest here:  Sunrise, Sunset

Just Yesterday and Forever

The human heart is a funny thing-always working hard to protect itself from grievous injury yet prone to exactly what it tries to prevent.

I honestly believe that one of the gifts of early grief is disbelief.  Because if I could have understood at once what it meant that Dominic was really, truly GONE, I would have never lasted the first 24 hours.

Even now, going on five years, my head plays games with my heart.

Missing my son is very much like bringing him home except in reverse.

I don’t know about you, but each child added to our quiver slipped in and seemed like he had always been there.  It was nearly impossible to remember life before he joined us.  I knew, as a matter of FACT, that months and even years had passed without him there, but it was so natural, so beautiful, so perfect now that he was here, the before faded in the background of the after.

It’s much the same way now that he’s gone.  

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human mind and heart.  The spaces I was able to keep sacred to Dominic’s memory (or maybe because some part of my heart held out hope he’d return) are slowly being filled in by people and events and things that he’s never met, participated in or touched.  They crowd out the Sacred Spaces I have worked hard to maintain.

And bit by bit it’s as if it’s always been THIS way.  

Only it hasn’t.  

I’m not forgetting my son.  That will NEVER happen.  But I am losing the daily pathways that once helped me trace his fingerprints on my life, my belongings and my heart.  

And that makes me sad.  

I’m trying hard to find new ways to keep him current, part of everyday conversation, events and gatherings.  I want his name mentioned as naturally as that of my other children.  I want the funny things he used to do remembered and recounted.  I want my oldest son’s child to know Uncle Dominic as well as his or her other aunts and uncles.

There are still moments, days and even a week here and there, when it feels like only yesterday that Dominic left for Heaven.  The pain is as fresh, as intense, as unbelievable as it was when I got the news. 

That shocks me every time.  

But most days I’m digging deep to tap old memories, working hard to weave his story into our ongoing story and looking for ways to keep his legacy alive for the generation to come.  

Time is a funny thing.

Yesterday AND forever.