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

Just. Say. It.

I’m not sure when I began practicing this but I make a habit of telling people I love them even if it makes them uncomfortable.promise me something tell them you love themI remember saying it to my granddaddy who never told anyone-as far as I know-that he loved them.

I spoke it over each child as soon as she or he was laid in my arms.

Growing up, I closed every telephone conversation with, “I love you” and taught my husband to do the same.

tell the people you love that hou love them

I also try hard to tell people other important things right when I think of them, instead of “later”-whenever THAT may be.

when you see something beautiful speak it

I’m so, so glad I do and I did.

I have many regrets about Dominic’s too-soon departure from this life.

But I don’t have this one:  Unspoken words of love and affirmation.

The last time he was home, it was nearing final exams and I felt like I needed him to know how very proud I was of him and how very much I admired the man he had become.  So I stopped him as he was leaving, turned his strong shoulders to face me square, and looked him in the eye to give him words of blessing.

I didn’t get to hold his hand as he left this life. 

But I’m confident as he breathed his last, he knew he was loved.

 

 

heart hands and sunset

Don’t wait to tell the people that are important to you that they ARE important to you.

Don’t save words for “next time”, “later” or “when we get together again”.

Just say it.

Now.

Right now.

greatest weakness of humans optimus prime

What’s It Like Four Years Down the Road of Grief? Exhausting.

In four days it will be four years.

Four years since I woke to the news that my son was dead.

Four years since what I thought was going to be my life was shattered.  

Four years since I was forced to walk a road I do not want to travel.

Four years into the life I did not choose.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately which won’t surprise any bereaved parent reading this.

We think.  A lot.  

About what might have been.  About what is. About what it might be like to live for years or decades still carrying the weight of missing.

One thing that surprises me about life as a grieving parent is how ordinary it remains.  My world was shattered.  But THE world was not shattered.

My family is a tiny drop in the sea of humanity and our up-close tragedy is not even on the radar in the larger scheme of things.  If headlines about mass shootings drop to page ten in a week, how much more unlikely anyone but those intimately involved in our story will be thinking about it a month, a year, four years later?

All the things I had to do BEFORE Dominic left us I still have to do.  

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

The grass grows, clothes get dirty, food must be prepared. 

Friends have birthdays, holidays roll around, kids finish school, get married and have babies.  

This juxtaposition of internal disarray with ordinary routine means I spend a great deal of energy bringing my attention around to what needs to be done instead of allowing my mind to wander down memory lane or explore “what-ifs” or “why-nots”.

Everything I do requires more energy than it used to.  Everything takes more planning, more intentional action, more effort.  

So I’m tired.  

Four years in and I am. so. so. tired.  

This surprises me too.

I thought I’d be better at it by now.  

I’m not.  

EvilSuffering

 

 

Time Alone Does NOT Heal

time does not heal its a lie Time, by itself, does not heal the pain of child loss.

But time, plus the work grief requires, plus God’s grace poured out on my heart and in my life, does bring a measure of healing.

heals the broken hearted

I did not believe that in the first months or even years. But I can testify to that truth today.  It has been a slow and very painful process full of stops and starts, one step forward, two steps back.  

Am I still very broken?

Absolutely!

Am I still limping?

YES!

Until the day I die I will never be the same.

But I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of sorrow and God is helping me turn the ashes into something beautiful.

beauty-from-ashes-clothespinThat something bears witness to my son, to my pain and to the truth that, with God’s help, I can endure faithfully to the end.

 

And God is no respecter of persons-He has not given me anything He will not pour out on every single heart that asks.  

My prayer for each wounded reader is that you will feel the Father’s loving arms around you and that He will flood your broken heart with His grace, mercy and comfort.   

 

close to the brokenhearted

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.

I don’t have a clear view of the west from inside my house and the western edge of my property is peppered with tall trees so I usually only see the beginning of the end of every day.  But one of my favorite things to do is watch the golden glow of lingering light touch the tops of the highest pines and then slip away as the sun sinks below the horizon.

Another day has come and gone.

time-travelAnd the days become weeks that become months that become years.

 

Sometimes the days are long. 

But the years are short.

Some days bring news I don’t want to hear.  Some bring shouts of rejoicing. Either way I’m not the keeper of my days.  The sun neither rises nor sets at my bidding.

But I have choices in the daylight hours.  I can work while the sun is shining or I can worry that it might set soon.

I can take advantage of the light or I can wring my hands anticipating the darkness.

I am not naive. 

I wish I were. 

I wish I didn’t know by experience how much a heart can long for days gone by, days wasted, days that could have held more love and laughter but were overshadowed by worry or hurry or just indifference.

think-you-have-time

So I watch the sunrise to remind me that TODAY is a gift.  And I watch the sunset to remind me that the gift of today is gone forever.

What have I done with it?  Who have I loved?  Where have I placed my energy and purpose and hope?  

Every day is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  

I never want to forget that.  

 

Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

~Sheldon Harnick

What’s Your Legacy?

I can’t tell you how many people try to tell me what Dominic’s “legacy” is.  They extol his positive virtues and comment on how many lives he touched in his short 23 years.

They want me to be consoled with the intangible, relational, immeasurable impact of his life on the lives of others.

Yet they continue to live as if their OWN legacy will be determined by the amount of stuff they acquire or the size of their retirement accounts or the money they leave behind for others to spend.

It can’t be both.

If my son’s life is worth remembering just because of who he was, the people he loved and how he lived, then EVERYONE’S life is worth remembering for the very same things.

Christmas is the one time a year when far-flung family members are often gathered around the same table.  It’s an opportunity to make connections and build relationships.

So I ask myself, “Am I going to spend it talking about the weather and the news and other sundry things that won’t matter in a day, much less a year?”

family-reunion

OR, maybe I can choose to reach out, to ask deep questions, to make space for honest conversation and real sharing.

Maybe I can mend a broken relationship by offering a long-hoped-for apology, speaking aloud the offense and taking responsibility for the pain I’ve caused in the past.  

Perhaps I can proclaim a REAL blessing-not just the one we memorized from grade school-over the food and over the heads of the people gathering to eat it.

Why am I glad they are there?  TELL THEM!

Most of the presents under the tree will be consumed, broken, outgrown and tossed away one day.  But meaningful words spoken in love and kindness will live forever in a person’s heart.

We all leave something behind.  

We are all building a legacy.  

This Christmas I’m asking myself, “What’s mine?”

greatest gift is your time

 

 

Time and Time Again

Since Dominic ran ahead to heaven we have celebrated four graduations and a wedding.

Wednesday night was another one.  My daughter, Fiona, graduated nursing school.

We are so excited for her!

fiona grad jumping

And, as usual, our family rallied round, pitched in, showed up and made a great fuss over the accomplishment.

It was beautiful and hard all at the same time.

Because time and time again we join hands and hearts to celebrate an achievement, a milestone, a special moment or a holiday and there is always, always, always one missing.

Every photo is just slightly askew- one daughter, three two sons.

family fionas grad (2)

We’ve gotten good at closing ranks, squeezing out the space where he should be standing.  But our hearts mark the gap.

Our hearts will always mark the gap.

I am much better now at actually enjoying these things-I love the way my daughter’s friends surround and encourage her, I laughed at the antics of the children that enjoyed running from adult to adult, getting more attention than they knew what to do with.  I sat and listened with great pride as Fiona gave the closing remarks to her graduating class, drawing from a deep well of wisdom that includes heartache as well as hallelujahs.

And it was all good.  Really, truly  good.

But you have to go home eventually.

Hugging necks and saying “good-bye” is when it always hits me-I hug harder, cling longer, make sure to whisper not only “I love you” but everything I need to say-just in case.

And grown children text their mama so she knows they are safely home.

Dominic’s legacy is this:  We never miss a chance to celebrate one another.

We cling to the good and try to let go of the bad.

We love fiercely and openly and are not ashamed for one minute of our tears or our laughter.

Because you never know.

love the ones god gave you