A Whole Series of “Lasts”

One of the things even the most uninformed person understands about loss is that the first birthday, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas and all the “firsts” after loss will be hard.

But one of the things no one tells you about is that a heart will mark the “lasts” just as much.

The last time I saw him.

The last time I spoke to him.

The last time I hugged his neck and smelled the unique fragrance that was my son.

missing child from arms

 

Every year as I approach the anniversary of the day Dominic left this life and stepped into Heaven, I also remember all the last times.

It’s hard on a heart to think about and wish that somehow I had made more of those moments.  I long to have just one more opportunity to say what needs to be said, to see his smile, hear his voice, and hug his neck.

But there’s no going back.

So part of the pain of marking the milestones is knowing there is no way to change a thing.  Not only the FACT that my son is gone, gone, gone.  But also the FACT that whatever I said or did or left unsaid or undone is utterly and undeniably carved in stone.

I don’t know why this anniversary is hitting my heart harder than last year.  Maybe it’s because I recognize how much life has happened since Dominic left us.  Maybe it’s because I think in terms of decades.  Maybe it’s because there are so many exciting family celebrations that he won’t be part of.

I have no idea.

But it’s nearly five long years since my son crossed the threshold of his family home.  It’s nearly five years since I heard that familiar deep “Hey!”.  It’s nearly five years since I waved him down the driveway and hollered, “Be careful!” as he drove back to his apartment.

I am thankful for the faithful love of my God and my family.  I am thankful for the compassionate companionship of friends.  I am thankful that I am still standing after the awful blow that I was sure would knock me so far down I’d never get up again.

But I miss him.  I miss him.  I miss him.

I will never be able to watch the early spring flowers bloom again without also remembering that it was those blossoms that heralded the good weather that lured him to take his motorcycle that night.

I will never hear Spring Break plans without counting the days between his last Spring Break trip and the day he met Jesus.

dom and julian spring break

I cannot step outside and smell the grass growing, feel the breeze blowing and hear the birds singing without my heart skipping beats and doing the math.  Today marks less than two months before the day he left us.

I understand that for others-if they remember at all-Dominic’s departure is a day circled on the calendar.

For me, it’s an entire season.

I mark every single day that led up to that day.  I remember every single conversation, meeting, text and phone call.  I remember all the things I did and regret all the things I didn’t do.

While the world is celebrating new life, I’m remembering a life that ended.

miss-you-every-day

How Can I See Love?

Fairy tales and favorite movies aside, what does love really look like?

How can I see this feeling that has driven some to distraction, some to destruction and even more to dedication to another in spite of whatever obstacles life has placed in the path?

It’s not often writ large.

In fact, it’s usually tiny stitches in the tapestry of life.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

A choice to fix her breakfast before his. * Bending down to plant a kiss on that frowning face. * Lending a tool or a few dollars knowing full well you’ll never see it again. *Refusing to leave when that friend pushes away.Bearing witness to sorrow and joy and pain and celebration. * Holding a hand when a heart is barely able to hold on. *Showing up, without being asked, because presence makes a difference. * Consistency in the face of chaos. * Doing the things that need to be done even when they go unnoticed and the one you do them for is ungrateful. * Letting go when it’s time.  * Turning up the heat for him and taking off your sweater. * Cooking a favorite meal or dessert or stew. * Carefully preserving a legacy. * Folding the towels the way she likes. * Phone calls across continents. * Refusing to give up, ever, no matter how hard it gets. 

winnie the pooh feel love

If I want to see love, all I have to do is look around.  

Love is so much more than flowers or candy on a single day of the year. 

It’s a life lived in service to another. 

It’s a pouring out. 

Real love is costly-in time, in effort, in energy.

And it’s always, always brave. 

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

 

Child Loss: Helpful Tips for Interacting With Bereaved Families

I firmly believe that our friends and extended family want to reach out, want to help, want to walk alongside as we grieve the death of our child

 I am also convinced that many of them don’t because they don’t know how.  

It may seem unfair that in addition to experiencing our loss, we also have to educate others on how to help us as we experience it, but that’s just how it is.

The alternative is to feel frustrated and abandoned or worse.  

So here’s a list of helpful tips (and a great infographic!) for interacting with bereaved families:  

Express condolences and show you care. Don’t avoid me, please!  You cannot make me any sadder.  I need to hear from you.

friends hugging

Refer to my child by name.  Dominic is STILL my son.  He is still part of my story.  But because he’s no longer visible, his name often goes unspoken.  Please talk to me about him, use his name, tell me a story of how he impacted your life or a memory that makes you smile.  It makes me smile too.

Actively listen and be supportive.  It’s hard to listen to someone tell you how much they are hurting and not offer advice or think of ways to “fix” them.  I can tell you from experience that what I need most on my darkest days is for someone to say, “It IS dark.  I’m so sorry.”  Silence is OK too.  Not every quiet moment needs to be filled with chatter.

listening is a postive act

Understand that each family and family member will grieve in different ways.  You may have observed child loss before but what you saw in one family may not translate to the next.  There are no hard and fast rules for this awful journey.  The age of the child, family background and structure, manner of death-all these impact grief.  In addition, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers all bring their personalities, stage of life, beliefs and experiences to the journey.  There were five of us left behind when Dominic ran ahead.  We were each devastated but expressed it in very different ways.  Nearly five years later, those gaps have widened, not narrowed.

Fathers grieve too.  Sometimes support focuses almost exclusively on the mother.  In part because of a common notion that mothers are somehow emotionally closer to their children than dads.  In part because many men are less demonstrative and may do a good job hiding grief.  Whatever the reason, don’t assume one parent is dealing “better” with the loss than another (mother or father) just because he (or she) is not crying openly.  No one escapes this awful blow unscathed.

bereaved fathers

Don’t overlook siblings.  Surviving siblings are sometimes referred to as “forgotten grievers”.  If they are very young, people may think they are relatively unaffected by the death of a brother or sister. If they are grown and out of the home, people may figure that the siblings’ own, very full and very busy, lives keep them preoccupied.  While some of that may be true-to an extent-most surviving siblings are deeply impacted by the death of a brother or sister, regardless of age.  Not only have they lost a member of the family and changed birth order, they have also lost the family they knew, the parents they knew and a co-keeper of memories and secrets.  Bereaved parents are often overwhelmed with grief for their living children as well as the child that is missing. One of the best gifts anyone gave me was reaching out to my surviving children.  It helped my heart to know that they had friends who were supporting and loving them well.

kids cartoon

Be yourself.  People often feel awkward and stiff when approaching a bereaved parent or family member.  That’s perfectly understandable.  The bereaved seem so fragile (are so fragile!) that folks are afraid the wrong word or touch might shatter them into a thousand pieces.  But what your friend or family needs right now is the you they’ve always known and loved.  If you are a hugger, hug!  If you are a storyteller, tell stories (appropriate ones, ones of the missing child).  If you are a cook and cleaner, then cook and clean.  Our family was blessed by our friends doing exactly what they had always done-come alongside in their own special way.  So much had changed in our world that familiar touchstones, familiar routines and familiar faces were a real comfort.

Keep in mind words matter.  Now is not the time to try to satisfy your curiosity about exactly “what happened”.  Loud joking is rarely welcome.  Many bereaved families find it hard to laugh in the first days, weeks, months because it feels like betrayal.  Don’t offer platitudes intended to help them “look on the bright side” or consider that “it could be worse”.  There is nothing worse than burying your child.  Nothing.  Listen and take direction from the person you are comforting.  Follow his or her lead.  And if something less than helpful slips out, own it and apologize.

pencil-drawing-bereaved-mother

It’s never too late to reach out.  NEVER.  Sometimes people stay away at first for lots of reasons.  Or they show up for the memorial service and then fade into the background.  After a bit, even if they want to reach out, they may feel embarrassed by the long absence.  Don’t be.  So many people stop calling, visiting and texting within the first weeks that your outstretched hand of friendship will be a welcome beacon of hope.  If you need to, apologize for your absence.  Be honest.  Admit you were scared or whatever.

Then show up. 

Stick around.

You don’t have to be perfect.  

Just be present.  

bereaved families infographic

Repost: What is Safe?

I remember as a  young mother of four working hard to keep my kids safe. 

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

Next to fed and dry (two still in diapers!) that was each day’s goal:  No one got hurt.  

It never occurred to me THEN to add:  No one got killed.  

Because the most outlandish thing I could imagine was one of them falling or touching a hot stove and us having to rush to the emergency room.

Then I became a mother of teens and one by one they acquired a driver’s license and motored away from our home.  

That’s when I began to beg God to spare their lives.

Read the rest here:  What is Safe?

Child Loss: Good Days, Bad Days-All Part Of The Journey

Will today be a good day or a bad day?

Not sure yet.

Mainly because what usually determines THAT is something that happens (or doesn’t happen) at some point after my morning quiet time.

But whether it’s a good day, a bad day or somewhere in between, it is absolutely, completely, utterly NORMAL for my emotions to change as I make my way down the path called “Child Loss”.

As long as I am doing the work grief requires I will continue to have some better days.  

But grief still comes in waves in response to triggers or in response to nothing at all and it may be a bad day.  

waves-of-greif

How well did I sleep, rest, eat or exercise? My body affects my emotions in ways I don’t fully understand but absolutely experience.

Stress can bring tears to the surface.  Even GOOD stress can do it.  Looking forward to things, planning a party, large meal, trip or event is stressful, even if it isn’t sad.  All stress weakens my defenses and makes it harder to employ the techniques I’ve mastered for diverting my thoughts or controlling my tears.

Sunshine or rain? I have learned to count the number of recent cloudy days if I wake one morning feeling bluer than normal.  I often realize that a week or more has passed since I’ve seen the sun.

Too much interaction or too little interaction with other humans makes a BIG difference. My introvert self loves long afternoons alone, sitting in silence with a book or crochet, quiet walks in the woods and chore-filled days without music blaring.  But healthy solitude can turn to withdrawal if I let it and sometimes I realize my sudden sense of overwhelming grief is, in part, due to lack of human company.

The list is endless.  

Thankfully, at nearly five years, the better days outnumber the worse ones for me. 

But  no matter what kind of day it may be, I no longer worry if it’s normal. 

Because it’s ALL normal. 

you will have good days bad days keep showing up

 

 

 

 

Child Loss: Can My Marriage Survive?

A few decades ago, faulty research methods made popular an inaccurate statistic that a disproportionate number of marriages fail after a couple experiences child loss.

Like many urban legends, once fixed in the minds of many, it’s nearly impossible to dislodge.  

And that is more than unfortunate because when marriages falter (and they often do) after child loss, lots of people just give up because they think failure is inevitable.

But it’s not. 

Marriage is hard under any circumstances.  It requires sacrifice, compromise, communication, change and most importantly, commitment.

Any stressor makes it harder. 

I can’t think of a bigger stressor than child loss. It’s no surprise that many marriages tend to flounder in the tsunami of grief, sorrow and pain that follows the death of a child.

But grief rarely causes the problems that surface, it simply makes them unavoidable.

Suddenly all the energy that was once available to deflect, to distract, to pretend is gone.  And things that have gone unaddressed for years or decades can no longer be ignored.

charlie brown too tired to cry

It’s important to make that distinction because if child loss is the only reason a couple can’t find their way, then giving up might make sense.  Anyone who lives with child loss knows that the pain, sorrow and missing will never go away.  We become better able to deal with it, but it is something we will carry for life.

If, however, child loss is simply the force that shook other problems loose, then working on those specific issues is not only possible, it’s doable. 

wedding rings

Here are some common conflicts in marriage that surface after child loss:  

Different ways of expressing (or not expressing) emotion.  Men and women often grieve differently.  You and your spouse may have always dealt differently with strong emotions but until it was grief, it went unnoticed.  Sometimes these differences cause conflict because one spouse cries openly while another rarely mentions their missing child.  To the open griever, it feels like her spouse doesn’t care.  To the secret griever, it feels like his wife is dramatic and out of control.  If you don’t talk about it, the gap grows wider and can become unbridgeable. 

It’s OK to grieve differently.  But it’s not OK to blame someone for grieving differently.  Ask questions.  Give grace.  Listen carefully.  Grant space. 

style of grieving marriage quote

Blended family dynamics that have gone unaddressed.  Some bereaved parents are no longer married to the mother or father of their child.  They have remarried and are part of a blended family.  Any differences in grieving styles between spouses can be exaggerated when the biological parent feels like the stepparent “doesn’t get it”.  Sometimes the bio-parent becomes bitter that his family circle has been broken while his spouse is spared.  The list is practically endless but nearly always starts with things in the relationship that were always there-favoring one child over another, a sense that the stepparent never cared for her spouse’s children as much as for her own, or other silent resentment.

Before you assume that the only reason your spouse isn’t crying at all or as much as you is because it wasn’t HIS child, think carefully about it.  Have there been rumbles in your relationship before?  Consider the full sweep of how your spouse treated your missing child-is there ample evidence that he or she loved your child well?

Don’t jump to conclusions.  Ask questions.  Give grace.  Listen carefully.  Grant space.

listening is a postive act

Underlying health problems.  Sometimes child loss causes or uncovers health problems.  If you or your spouse suffer from heart disease, diabetes or other chronic health issues, the stress of burying a child can make any or all of them worse. Child loss can also push marginal mental health to the point of requiring counseling and/or medication.  Chronic pain tends to get worse.  Thyroid medication often needs to be adjusted.  All of these things can make someone grumpy, short-tempered, less likely to extend grace and mercy.  Add that to the stress of child loss and it’s no wonder spouses may find themselves at one another’s throats. 

One spouse may be motivated to take better care of him or herself while another may give up and give in, refusing medication or treatment for the most obvious health problems.  Frustration and a sense that the unmotivated spouse is making life harder for everyone adds to family stress.

If you find yourself or your spouse acting out of character,  a thorough physical examination and blood work can expose underlying health problems.  Appropriate medical intervention will make a huge difference.  Counseling is often an important part of that intervention.  

Old wounds.  Child loss is such a deep wound!  It frequently uncovers other, older wounds as well.  You or your spouse may have wounds from earlier in your marriage or from earlier in life before marriage.  Many, many times we cover these up and *almost* forget them.  But when a heart is shattered in the aftermath of burying a child, all those tender places become exposed.  Whatever tricks we’ve used to keep them hidden just don’t work anymore.

If you feel like you are reacting disproportionately to everyday stresses, stop and listen to your own heart.  Is there an offense behind the offense you think you’ve suffered at the hand of your spouse?  Is there an unhealed wound shading the meaning of words and actions that otherwise wouldn’t upset you?

 

heart baloon girl

I could list a dozen more examples of the complex reasons a marriage may struggle after child loss.  

I won’t.  

Marriage is a commitment.  A difficult, trying, time consuming, energy zapping commitment under the best of circumstances.  

 

Child loss may be the worst of circumstances.  

But remember that child loss alone is rarely the reason a marriage flounders.  

Look deep.  

Grant space.

Ask questions.  

Strain to hear what your spouse is really saying.  

Give grace.  

We can’t bring our children back but we can choose to fight for our marriages.  

They do not have to become another casualty in this life we didn’t choose. 

hands across table

 

 

 

 

How Terrible It Is To Love Something That Death Can Touch

I know as a believer in Jesus I’m supposed to be able to look beyond “this mortal veil” and treat death as a mere “address change”.

Well, I can’t.

Death is the enemy and I do not experience it as simply a transition from one state to another.

The last enemy to be abolished and put to an end is death.

~I Corinthians 15:26 AMP

Death is a reminder of all that is wrong with this earth.  It’s a reminder that sin is costly.  It’s a reminder that this world is not my true home.

find in ourselves a longing c s lewis

It’s just plain wrong!

I hated death long before I counted my own son among the casualties.

Living on a farm, we have buried everything from domestic livestock to random wildlife that wandered up, wounded and we tried to save.  I have hatched eggs found in disturbed nests,  loved on baby rabbits, squirrels, deer and woodchucks, nursed abandoned kittens, lambs and goat kids.  Many of them didn’t survive and every one took a bit of my heart when they breathed their last.

how terrible it is to love somthing that death can touch memorial stone

I have said “good-bye” to my 99 year old aunt, my grandmothers, my grandfathers and my own son.

There is nothing pretty about death.  It wasn’t in God’s original plan and I hate it.

Lately, I’ve been worrying about my “therapy” cat-Roosevelt.  He’s aging.  And all things being equal, he won’t last much longer.

r and christmas

 

He sat in my lap as I recovered from numerous surgeries and hospitalizations.

And he stayed with me as I received concerned family and friends when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  I don’t know what I would have done without his warm weight holding me in the chair when all I wanted to do was run away and hide.

hand-coffee-roosevelt

He has been a compassionate companion in many sad and lonely moments-never asking for a thing and giving so much with his presence and unconditional love.

Every night he sleeps beside me, snuggled down tight against my neck, purring peacefully.

But he’s getting old and I am becoming fearful that I don’t have too many more years left with him.  I hate that most nights I drift off to sleep thinking he won’t be here much longer.

And then I feel guilty.

Because the death of my cat (when it happens) can’t begin to touch the depth of pain of the death of my son.  It seems, though, that every death taps that wounded spot in my soul.

dominic at olive garden

But every death-whether a person or an animal I love-opens the floodgate of sadness I work so very hard to keep behind the dam.

I know I’m not supposed to borrow trouble from tomorrow and I work hard not to do that. 

I’m working hard to cherish each moment with everyone I love without worrying that it may be one of the last. 

It’s a fine line I walk every day.  

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