Confluence

Like most parents who have buried a child, a line is drawn through my life.

April 12, 2014 changed everything.

Whenever I hear a date or a memory drifts across my mind, I think, “that was so many days, months or years BEFORE or AFTER Dominic left us”.  I can plot events on a calendar like I’m making a history timeline.

Put this one here and that one there. It seems so simple and straightforward 

But daily life is much more complex.  

I live in a world where “before” and “after” run together in a mighty torrent.  And I can’t control the way they mix and churn.

river-rapids

These past few days I’ve been pet sitting for my eldest son, James Michael,  and my daughter-in-law while both are out of town for work training.

They just moved from North Carolina to Florida and are still unpacking.

packing-boxes

So while I’m here I’ve been helping to put things away and clear the boxes.  I decided that working in the office was a good place to start-I figured I couldn’t do much damage by putting books on shelves and pens in cups.

None of these things belonged to Dominic.

But as I opened the boxes I was flooded with memories.  

I found a scrapbook my daughter made for JM’s high school graduation-filled with photos of my three boys-years upon years of adventures, goofy faces, travel and achievement.

Another box held my son’s old Bible with a couple of church bulletins tucked inside.  I was tossed back to the time when we all sat in the same pew, strong voices blending in worship, hands together in service-when I could not have imagined we would be one less-I only dreamed then of adding to the family, not taking away.

There was the graduation program from Auburn School of Veterinary Medicine.

james-michael-grad-auburn

Just weeks after burying Dominic we were celebrating the culmination of four years’ hard work.  It was supposed to be a rip-roaring party, but it was a quiet dinner instead.  

And then onto the mementos marking James Michael’s transitions since then:  from single to married; from sheriff’s deputy to Air Force captain; from West Virginia to North Carolina to Florida.

All important events that were missing Dominic.

Celebrations and achievements that were a bit smaller because we are fewer.

Even as nostalgia swept over me, excitement also filled my heart because James Michael and his wife were beginning a new chapter.

I was happy to be helpful.  

Encouraged that I could be of use in this season where many times I feel useless.

And I thought about rivers-rivers of time, of memories, of experience and of dreams.

Confluence:   a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point, especially of two rivers of equal strength.

This is where I find myself right now-swimming, drifting, sometimes drowning in the rivers

of “what was”

and “what is yet to be”

as they join in the “right now”.

 

 

 

Feelings; The Bane of my Existence — Boxx Banter

From my friend and fellow bereaved mother, Janet Boxx.

Choosing to go THROUGH grief is frightening, and hard, and takes so very much work, energy and commitment. 

I, too, would often rather think about my grief experience than feel it.  But it is the only hope for healing.

“How do you feel about that?”, Ruth, my grief counselor asked. Tears filled my eyes and choked my throat as I desperately tried to prevent them from falling, to prevent a sob from escaping, while my mind grappled for words to define my feelings. For such a wordy person I find it ironic how completely […]

via Feelings; The Bane of my Existence — Boxx Banter

Subtitles

My husband is the child of immigrants.  And even thirty years after coming to America, my in-laws preferred their native Italian to English.

italian-village

So when we would be in a crowded room, comments flying, I struggled to keep up with what was being said because I didn’t speak the same language.

As the years went by and our relationship deepened, I realized they had the same struggle when I would try to communicate complex truth in English.  It wasn’t their heart language and some things just didn’t translate well.

Sometimes feelings got hurt because what one of us thought we were saying was not what the other person heard.

Subtitles would have been useful.

The other day in an attempt to keep my unwell body in a chair, I pulled up Amazon and picked a movie.  It was in French with subtitles.

I thought, “I’ll try it.”

But as the movie went on, I realized that I was unable to give full attention to either the action of the movie or the subtitles that interpreted the dialogue.

It took way more effort than I was willing to commit to what was supposed to be a relaxing couple of hours.

So I turned it off.

Today someone in a bereaved parents group to which I belong asked if anyone else found holidays exhausting.

The comments were a resounding “yes”!

The more I thought about it the more I realized that a big part of what makes it so exhausting is a communication gap.

1538R-61348

I am not the same as I was before burying a child.  

My family is not the same.  

Nothing is the same.

Some of the “not the same” is the gap between my understanding of how I have changed and the lack of understanding by others about how I have changed.

Many friends, extended family members and acquaintances continue to relate to me as if I’m the “old” me. That creates tension and requires energy to deal with-I either have to overlook it, try to help them understand or figure out how to deal with it some other way.

We’re just not speaking the same language anymore.

Sometimes I think subtitles would be helpful.

But even then it would still be exhausting.   

 

 

 

I’m Not, but He IS

Even when I can’t see Him, He is near.

psalm-34-18.jpg

Even when I don’t feel it, He is loving me.

nothing-separate

Even when my strength is gone, He is sustaining me.

fear-not

I am not strong, or smart, or brave.

But He is Strength

ephesians-6_10

 

and Wisdom

the-lord-gives-wisdom

and Courage!

psalm-27-1

 

 

 

 

No More “Smile and Wave”!

We live in a world of fake smiles, plastic body parts and cheap knock-offs.  We’re so used to it that sometimes we can’t tell the difference anymore.

It’s part of our relationship patterns too.

We see someone we know out shopping and toss, “How are you?” at them anticipating the obligatory reply:

“I’m just FINE!  How are YOU?”  (Said with a deep southern accent and wide, lipsticked smile.)

shopping-cart-medium

But then something unexpected happens.

She says, “I’m having a hard time.  I’m struggling.  This week has been really stressful.  (Spoken in a whisper, through tears.)

weakness1

And I’m faced with a choice:  

Do I shut her down or draw her out?  Do I recognize the courage it took to be honest or do I dismiss her openness as inconvenient and inconsequential?

 

Me, I’ll take genuine, every time.

I will stop, find a quiet corner and allow her to share as long as it takes.  I will pray or listen or hug or console until the storm passes.

Because that has been, and still is, ME sometimes.

Before Dominic left us, if you saw me in the grocery store you would have gotten the answer you expected.  My eyes on my list, my head filled with the next thing I was going to do when I left with my buggy full, my heart unbroken and whole-who’s got time for chit-chat?

Smile and wave was standard practice as I moseyed on down the aisle.

Not anymore.

There is nothing, NOTHING, more important than people in this life.

compassion and stay with you

If you want proof, ask a bereaved mama.

Because no one knows with more certainty, with more clarity and will tell you with more conviction that MORE TIME  with someone you love is the ONE thing you would give EVERYTHING for-in a heartbeat. 

So I will lay aside things and chores and to do lists.  

I will give up entertainment and ignore the urge to check Facebook or Twitter.

Because the person in front of me is a gift.

And I want to unwrap that gift and be present for every moment.

kindness

Grief and Grace:What I Need from Friends and Family

You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.

You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall.  He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.

He never made it home.

So when I come out of the room red-eyed, teary and quiet, please don’t look at me like I’m a freak.

Please don’t corner me and ask, “What’s wrong?” Or worse-please, please, please don’t suggest I should be “over it by now”.

If you were reading a novel or watching a movie, you’d show more grace.

You would nod in understanding as the main character made choices that reflected the pain of his past.  You would find his behavior perfectly predictable in the context of a life lived with a broken heart.

I can’t control what makes me cry.  I can’t stop the memories flooding my mind or the pain seizing my heart.

I might be OK one minute and the next a blubbering mess. Grief doesn’t mind a schedule.

But there are some things you can do to help:

  • If you are aware of the circumstances around my child’s death, be thoughtful when highlighting similar situations in conversation, in movie choice, in recommending books or news stories.  I bump into reminders all the time, I don’t need to have them forced upon me.
  • It can be particularly hard to celebrate milestones in another child’s life when that child is about the same age as the one I buried.  Feel free to invite me, but give grace if I choose not to attend a birthday, graduation or wedding.  I’m doing the best I can and I don’t want to detract from the celebration so sometimes I bow out.
  • Ask me if, or how,  I would like my missing child included in family gatherings. Sometimes I want his memory highlighted and sometimes I want to hold it close like a personal treasure.  It might be different one year to the next. Just ask.
  • Be sensitive to the calendar.  Make a note of my child’s birthday, heaven day, date of the funeral or memorial service-these are important dates for me and they will be as long as I live.  In the first months, maybe for years, each month is a reminder that I am that much further from the last time I heard his voice, hugged his neck or saw his living face.  Those days are especially hard.
  • Don’t pressure me to move faster in my grief journey.  And don’t interpret a single encounter as the measure of how I’m doing.  Be aware that it is often a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of experience.  It is MY experience and will go as fast or as slow as it does.  I can’t even hurry it along even though sometimes I am desperate to do so.
  • Understand that the things I may share don’t paint a total picture.  There are pains too deep, thoughts too tortuous, experiences surrounding my son’s death and burial too hurtful for me to speak aloud.

I admit that I never thought of any of these things until it was MY son missing.

But now I think about them all the timenot only for my sake, but for the sake of others like me. I try to walk gently and kindly, extending grace and love.

And honestly, that’s really all I want from anyone else-grace, abundant grace.

I will be weepy when it’s inconvenient.  I will react when you can’t fathom why.  I will stay away when you want me to come near.  I will make choices you don’t understand.

I am truly sorry.

But child loss is not something I chose for myself, it was thrust upon me.

I am walking this path the best I know how.

When you extend grace and love me through the roughest places it makes all the difference.

heart and wood