Wedding Day!

Today is the day!

All the preparation and anticipation meet under a covered outdoor chapel as my daughter and her fiance exchange vows and become one.

By the end of the evening, we will have laughed (and cried!), danced and toasted our way through this very important event.

And they will leave changed in ways they can’t imagine nor fully understand.  It takes time to grow into lifelong commitment.

It takes years for singleness to be sanded down to a perfect fit one for the other.

Weddings are fun.  

Marriage is work.  

My parents have been married for 58 years.  My husband and I for nearly 35.  None of us has a magic formula for marital longevity.  Mostly it’s been leaning into the commitment we made at the altar so many years ago even when it seemed easier to give up and give in.

We’ve all faced so many challenges in our decades together.  Some we saw coming and some landed suddenly on top of us without warning.  Life, death, moving house, illness, accident, floods, hurricanes, and dozens of smaller crises have forced us to change course, adjust our sails and adapt to new and often unwelcome directions.   But we haven’t abandoned ship.

Sometimes it’s been pure grit and determination that see us through.  Other times it’s holding on to the good things we’ve shared together.  

I’m thankful we are celebrating today.  

I’ll be tucking this memory in a safe place where I can pull it out on days that aren’t so beautiful.  

It’s my prayer that Fiona and Brandon do the same.  

fiona and brandon at farm

When life gets hard (and it will!) may they remember the promises they made to one another and weather the storms together.

Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 VOICE

 

 

Worse For Wear, I Don’t Care

I have never been one of those women who lied about her age.

My weight…well, you will have to threaten me with something that matters to get THAT number out of my lips.

But I’ve noticed this year more than others since Dominic left us that the wear and tear of years and tears and life and loss are showing up on my face as well as my hips.

I am definitely the worse for wear.

My daughter is getting married in May and for the first time in my life I am religious about applying under eye cream and moisturizing lotion to my face each morning and night.

who wants to look young

I don’t want to be the sore thumb in the family pictures!

I’m not sure it’s working.  I’m not sure anything can erase or roll back the marks that life and love and loss have etched on my face.

I’m not sure I want to.

Because each wrinkle, each line, each saggy, baggy skin flap says, “I loved, I lived and I am surviving-even though it’s hard.”

Before Dom left I was camera shy.  I still am, a bit.  But I’m trying hard to suck up my pride and my insecurity and let those flashes pop.  Memories are made one day at a time and photos help preserve them.

engagement party group shot (2)

So whether I’m at my best, at my worst or somewhere in between, I won’t say no to a Kodak moment.

I wish I had more of them from “before”.

Dominic and family at PRSSA banquet

I wish I hadn’t’ been so darned particular about what I looked like, what I was wearing and whether or not my wrinkles or big butt showed.

Worse for wear?

Who cares?

This one wasn’t made to last.  

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 MSG

Child Loss: Marking the Milestones

When your child is born you take notes.

You plan to mark this day as a special milestone for the rest of your life.

You absolutely, positively NEVER think you will have to mark another one:  the day he or she leaves this life and leaves you behind.

But some parents have to mark both.  The dash in the middle is shorter than we anticipated, and our child’s life ends before ours.

grieving mother at grave

So how do you do it?  How in the world do you observe the polar opposite of a birthday?

Here are some ideas (shared with permission) that parents shared recently in an online discussion sparked by one mom’s very honest admission that she just didn’t have it in her to create another video montage from the same old photos to mark yet another year without the earthly companionship of her precious son:

Don’t do anything.  That is an option. We do not have to draw a red circle around THAT day on the calendar, gather folks as if  it’s a celebration.  As one mama said, “Yes, the day they left us does not need to be ‘remembered’.”  For some parents, going to work like it’s a regular day, engaging in whatever normal activities are required, ticking the hours off on the clock until night falls and the earth turns to the next day may be the very best choice.  Another mama wrote this:  “I have friends who celebrate a ‘heaven day’ for their son.  I can’t.  I just can’t.  If it were up to me, I would probably go camp somewhere all alone, and not move a muscle for the entire day.”

Do something big (or small).  Some parents choose this day to hold an annual “Celebration of Life”.  It might take the form of a balloon release, or lantern release at home, at a park or other outdoor venue or at the cemetery.  It might be lunch or dinner out at your child’s favorite restaurant or at home with your child’s favorite menu.  Invite friends and family to join you and ask that they bring a photograph or memory and share.  One mom said that such an event kind of happened organically and spontaneously when contacted by her son’s widow:  “We went to one of [his] favorite restaurants.  Told funny stories about him, talked about how missed he is, then went o his grave and put fresh flowers.”

balloon release

Serve others.  Did your child have a special interest in a particular charity or community organization?  Maybe you can spend this day volunteering or raising awareness/money for that group.  Often having something to do helps a heart from sinking into despair.  If the group allows, maybe put up a sign saying, “Volunteering today in honor of __________” and attach appropriate photos of your child.  Some parents whose child died from cancer or suicide or violence participate in walks or fundraisers that highlight those causes.

Encourage Random Acts of Kindness (RAK).  I plan to do this one in April.  It will be five years (!) and I can barely stand it.  But so many of the comments from Dominic’s friends after he left for Heaven went something like this one, “He was always doing something for someone else.  Fixing their car or showing up when they needed an encouraging word.”  He was known for his many acts of generosity and kindness and I feel like he lives on in the hearts of others because of that.  I had cards printed ( I intentionally let his “dates” off) which I will distribute well in advance of April 12th for friends and family to leave behind when they do a RAK in memory of Dom.  Vistaprint and other online publishing companies offer reasonable prices and will guide you through the process step-by-step.

random act of kindness

Escape.  Lots of us find being at home (alone or in the company of others) too hard to bear.  Many received word of their child’s death at home and as the day creeps closer, the memories crowd every corner of mental and physical space and are inescapable.  So sometimes parents plan a trip around this time.  Go somewhere your child would have loved to go or go somewhere he or she enjoyed visiting.  Take photos and post them in honor of your child if you want to.

Focus on family.  You may not want to be alone, but the thought of being with anyone outside your closest grief circle is overwhelming.  That’s OK.  Spend time with the people who, like you, are most affected by your child’s absence.  You don’t have to do anything special.  You can make room for them to speak or not speak about their grief as they choose.  Sometimes just having another warm body in the room is enough to ward of the chill of despondency.

grieving dad

Flip the script.  For those of us who believe that this life is not all there is, the day can be one of celebration.  Our children have escaped life full of sorrow and trouble and are safe forever in the arms of Jesus, where we will also be one day.  Waiting is hard, but waiting is not forever.

Simply allow yourself to feel the full force of missing and grief.  “As far as his death day, for me, that is a day when I allow myself to fully feel and express the pain of my loss.  It is a way to (temporarily) empty myself of all this pain, so I can breathe again to face another day.  I will sit in his sweatshirt, listen to reflective music, cry a lot, talk to him, pray to God, and just allow myself to feel all the pain and emotion that everyday responsibilities cause me to stuff away.”  If you can manage it, taking the day off work and giving yourself grace and space to grieve in ways that are denied so often may be the very best way to experience the day.

Here’s a list of ways some parents honor their child on this day:  

  • Giving away stuffed toys with a card or note explaining why.
  • Taking goodies to first responders and/or nurses who were served their family during an accident or illness.
  • Handing out Bibles or books in memory of their child.
  • Making memory baskets for parent whose child will be born straight into heaven.
  • Adding to a scholarship fund or other charitable fund in honor of their child.
  • Placing balloons, flowers or other special decorations on their child’s final resting place.
  • Lighting candles, releasing butterflies, balloons or lanterns.
  • Placing a memorial advertisement in a local paper.

Do or don’t do whatever helps you make it through those twenty-four hours that represent another year of sorrow, another year of missing.  

missing child from arms

There is NO wrong way to mark or not mark this day. 

It’s up to you and your heart.  

And absolutely does not require anyone else’s permission or approval.  

dont trade authenticity for approval

 

 

Repost: Be Free to Celebrate [Or Not!]

Often bereaved parents dread the major holiday season that starts in November and lasts through January.  We brace ourselves for THOSE days because they loom large on the calendar and give fair warning.

But the year is chock full of minor holidays and other celebrations that require just as much emotional energy as the “big” ones.

If I’m not careful, they will slip up on me and drain me dry.

So here’s how I try to approach them.

It helps my heart.

Maybe it will help yours too.  ❤

One of the most challenging things that faced me immediately after Dominic’s funeral was that we had two college graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, his birthday, a wedding and my own thirtieth wedding anniversary within two months.

Thankfully we had some amazing friends and family that stepped up and filled in the gaps.

Read the rest here:  Be Free to Celebrate [or Not!]

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

 

Be Free to Celebrate [or Not!]

One of the most challenging things that faced me immediately after Dominic’s funeral was that we had two college graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, his birthday, a wedding and my own thirtieth wedding anniversary within two months.

Thankfully we had some amazing friends and family that stepped up and filled in the gaps.

How do you celebrate when your heart is broken?  

How do you make merry when you can barely make it out of bed?

How do you NOT cheat your living children when you’ve buried their sibling?

In the three years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven we have marked the occasions above as well as Christmases, Thanksgivings, my father’s 80th birthday, my husband’s 65th birthday, my daughter’s graduation with a master’s degree and receiving Dominic’s posthumous diploma from the University of Alabama School of Law.

In between these mountain tops were multiple hills of accomplishment that required more or less recognition and affirmation.

So the question comes up:  “How should I celebrate [fill in the blank] now that my child is gone?”

The short answer is:  However best suits your broken heart, the wishes of your immediate grieving circle and your circumstances.  

And you owe no one else an explanation of why you make that choice.

Now, I’ll warn you that not all the choices you make will be received well by others who might be impacted by your decision.  Extended family, no matter how much they may want to understand, often won’t.

I get that-traditions are hard to turn loose.  Family habits are hard to change.  If everyone is used to getting together to open Christmas presents it can seem selfish when one person says they just can’t do it.

But no one but a grieving parent can truly understand that the most random things can trigger uncontrollable anxiety and overwhelming sorrow.  And no one but a grieving parent can know how much energy it takes to JUST SHOW UP.

Every single time my son SHOULD be here with us but ISN’T, is another stark and undeniable reminder that he is gone, gone, gone.

So this is how I make the decision about how to celebrate [or not!] any particular holiday or occasion:  I ask my husband and children first what will best meet their needs, feed their souls, help them face the day with minimal stress and/or sorrow.

Then I stack that against the expectations of others that may be involved.

Where they overlap, we join in.  Where they don’t, we politely decline.  And if there is a way to bend standing traditions to accommodate our grief, I will often propose a compromise.

I try to be thoughtful and plan ahead.  

I try to let anyone else involved know as far in advance that we will either be participating (or not) so they can make their own plans. But I reserve the right to back out last minute if I wake up and find out I simply can. not. face. the. day.

So far I’ve realized that having a plan takes a great deal of stress out of the system.  Being honest with extended family and friends is so much better than trying to fake it and finding out halfway through the meal I just can’t.

Choosing to stay home is kinder than making a scene and ruining the gathering for everyone.

Sometimes my suggestions have been met with resistance.

That’s just going to be part of this life.  

I’m learning to stand up and speak my truth even when others don’t understand or like it.  I work at being kind but I won’t be bowled over by someone else’s lack of compassion.

So much of life this side of loss is outside our control.  We do not have to live up to others’ expectations of how or when or where we celebrate [or don’t!] birthdays, holidays or other special occasions.

None of us chose to be bereaved parents.

No one but us has to carry this heavy burden.

If we are going to do it well, we will have to make choices about the battles we fight and the additional burdens we allow others to place upon us.

It’s OK to say, “No.”  It’s OK to do things differently.  It’s OK to not do them at all.  

Be free!

authenticity brene