Iremember the early days after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven when people were still checking in often on our family.
Some days there were a dozen or more messages that really, really needed an answer.
But I just couldn’t.
“How are you?” is often a more difficult question than you might think when your world is falling apart.
I wanted to tell the truth about how hard the days were and harder still the long dark nights but it felt too personal, too frightening and too likely to be misunderstood by a heart with no frame of reference.
So most of my responses looked something like this:
There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.
In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”
It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group. After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.
But, oh, when I did! What relief! What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!
I first shared this six years ago so it may shock some folks that while I have finally tossed most of the things in my fridge that once belonged to Dominic, I’ve got a giant bottle of hot sauce I’m still using.
Every time I add spicy flavor to chili I think of him.
I’m not looking forward to the day it runs out because it will be one more link dissolved between the living son I knew in the flesh and the memories I have to settle for now.❤
My dad lives in another state so I call each morning just to check in and say hello.
We usually chat about what we have planned for the day, what we did the day before and share any important family updates.
Yesterday my dad mentioned that he had been to the grocery store, came home and when putting away the food he bought decided to clean out his refrigerator. He joked that he found some things from years ago tucked in the back where they’d been forgotten.
I laughed and said, “Yeah-I did that sometime last summer.”
And then my heart froze as I remembered another fridge I cleaned out three years ago.
I went on to say, “I threw out all the old stuff except what I took out of Dom’s fridge when we cleaned his apartment.”
I used to look at tombstones in cemeteries and do the math between the dates.
I was most focused on how long this person or that person walked the earth.
I still do that sometimes. But now I do something else as well.
I look to the left and the right to see if the person who ran ahead left parents behind. My eye is drawn to the solitary stones with the same last name next to a double monument clearly honoring a married pair.
And then I do a different kind of math.
I count the years between the last breath of the child and the last breath of his or her mama.
Because while that first date marked an end for everyone else, for the mama, it marked the beginning of the rest of her life- a life she never imagined nor would have chosen.
Especially therapists that only know what child loss is supposed to look like from books and lectures.
I understand how logical it seems that a parent should be able to accept his or her child is no longer alive. After all, most of us saw our child’s lifeless body and performed whatever rituals our hearts find most comforting.
We haven’t received a phone call, text, message or new photograph. Weeks, months and years pass and no word.
Of course this child is gone.
But a mama’s heart still hopes. Somewhere deep down there is a part of me that longs for connection to this child I carried, nurtured and loved.