How Grief Continues To Shape My Life Eight Years Later

It would be lovely if life were neatly divided into seasons or sections.

But like so many things, there are no clean lines between now and what used to be.

Who I am today is shaped by who I was the day before.

I think that’s one of the things I enjoy most about fiction-authors are free to wander back and forth among character’s thoughts, past experiences and present reality.

It makes for a more complete story.

Each year about this time (in the waning days of my Season of Sorrow) I usually stop and take stock of how far I’ve come and how grief continues to shape my life.

There are many, many ways I’ve healed and am healing:

  • I no longer cry every day.
  • I feel true joy!
  • The pain of losing Dominic doesn’t dominate me although it plays like Background Music-not always demanding my attention.
  • I celebrate my family and my family’s milestones with genuine excitement and once again enjoy planning get togethers, birthdays and (most!) holidays.
  • I function at a higher level and am able to rejoin some groups and participate in some activities I just couldn’t manage in the early years.
  • I’ve made peace with the questions that won’t be answered this side of eternity.
  • I’ve incorporated traumatic loss into my understanding of Who God is and how He may work in world while accepting I don’t always like it.
  • I attend baby showers, weddings and even funerals without bringing all my lost dreams or personal sadness to the event.
  • I laugh-a lot. It feels good again to belly laugh at family memories or new jokes.
  • I can extend hospitality once more. That was a core component of my pre-loss life and personality and I missed it.

But there are many ways in which grief and loss continues to inform how I walk in the world:

I absolutely, positively cannot multitask! I have to break daily chores into single actions so I can focus and accomplish one thing at a time. I used to be able to cook, talk on the phone, bend over and motion to a child needing help with school all at once. Not anymore! Just recently I lost an important piece of mail most likely because I was looking at it while chatting to a family member. I put it down and cannot for the life of me remember where it is.

I become anxious when around too many people-especially if they are people I don’t know or the venue is one with which I’m unfamiliar. This even happens in the car driving in new places. I was never an anxious person before. In fact, I was typically the voice of calm in a group of friends panicking over some small detail that went awry. I try not to share my anxiety, but it’s there and it takes a huge amount of energy to corral it and keep it from escaping into wild demonstrations like running from a room. (I do a lot of counting/visualizing/breathing and self-soothing.)

I don’t like noise. To be fair, I never really did but now it’s exacerbated. Shopping can be a real trial when stores insist on blasting music in hopes it makes patrons feel like spending more money. I, for one, just want to get what’s on my list and get the heck out of Dodge! I love children but I can’t tolerate the incessant chatter little ones bring to a Sunday School classroom or a Vacation Bible School craft table. I used to be the first one to volunteer for those posts but I just. can’t. do. it. anymore.

I crave predictability. I know, I know, of all people I should understand control is an illusion. I do. But the tiny details of life-like planning meals, choosing clothes, cleaning routines and evening quiet times- are things I want to be able to count on. Routine is my friend. It helps my mind (such as it is) operate on reliable pathways. I’ve never been a big fan of random, but now it’s something I try to avoid at all costs.

I need solitude. I’m still processing some things. I imagine I’ll be doing that the rest of my life as different experiences from NOW interact with my loss. I cannot do that in the presence of others. I need to think, reflect, write, read and walk it out. That means I have to devote time and space to being alone. If circumstances prevent me from quiet solitude for too long my blood pressure climbs, my patience disappears and little things grow large.

I don’t sweat the small stuff (usually-see above!). If time, effort or money can remedy it then it’s just. not. a. problem. I’ve learned the hard way that life and love are the most important things in life. Everything else might be nice but it’s not essential. I’m not minimizing the stress and strain of broken pipes, wrecked cars or lost jobs. It’s just that eventually those are situations that can be fixed. And lest you think I’ve not experienced any of those, I have. My first thought whenever anything happens I once perceived as “the worst thing that could happen” is, “It’s absolutely, positively NOT the worst thing that can happen”.

I need to observe a careful rhythm of commitment and freedom on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I always kept my big calendars each year and tossed them into a box of “if I ever need to know these things”. When I look back on how busy we were as a young family I’m astounded at the pace we kept, the places we went, the hours I was frantically working to fulfill all our obligations along with the things we just wanted to do. I’m sure some of this is a function of age-I’m no spring chicken any more-but I know in my bones it’s also a function of the ongoing toll grief takes on my body, mind and soul. I can only manage a few days of busyness in a row until I need a complete shut-down for at least twenty-four hours or more. I refuse to schedule any but the most difficult to get appointments in a week where I’ve already inked in other commitments.

Sleep, regular exercise and good food are necessary for me to face life with a good attitude. This is probably true of most folks but just a day or two of fast food, no outdoor walks or interrupted nights and I’m toast. I’m not a whole foods, organic everything kind of gal but I try to eat a variety of fresh and less-processed meals. When I’m home I have an almost two mile path through woods and up gentle inclines that builds muscle, exercises my lungs and body and gives me ample time to drink in the beauty of birds, wildflowers and leafy trees. If you’ve ever been to my home you know that the rest of the crowd can stay up as long as they want to but I’m headed upstairs between eight and nine. Of course I get up before the sun, so my total hours are roughly the same but there’s something about that pre-midnight sleep that restores me like no other.

I could probably list dozens more, less obvious, ways grief still shapes the me of today. But it no longer binds me like it did in the early days. I’m better able to work around the difficult bits and still make a meaningful life with the people I love.

But it’s Ok to not be OK some days.

Those days are fewer and farther between.

I’m very thankful for that.

Time, Child Loss and Major Life Changes

I remember thinking in the first days and weeks after Dominic’s accident that the world really needed to just STOP!

Sunrise, sunset, sunrise again felt like an abomination when my son was never coming home again. Shouldn’t the universe take notice that something was terribly, terribly wrong?

But it didn’t.

So life (even for me and my family) carried on.

Some days lingered like that last bit of honey in the jar-slipping slowly, ever so slowly into nights when my brain betrayed me by replaying all the ifs, whys and should haves as I tried in vain to get some sleep.

Others flew by and I found myself months further into a new year unable to remember how I got there and what I’d done for all that time.

My adult children married, moved, graduated, changed careers, and had their own child (another on the way!).

My mother joined Dominic in Heaven.

I got older.

We’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

Daily life isn’t as difficult (most days) as it was in the beginning but my husband’s retirement has forced me to figure things out once again.

I can’t blame it all on the fact we’ve buried a child. I’m pretty sure most couples struggle to find a new normal when one or both give up long term employment for staying home.

Suddenly my little house kingdom has been overtaken by my husband’s love of music in the background (I’m a work in silence kind of gal), his tendency to leave a trail of breadcrumbs (paper, gum wrappers, tools) wherever he goes and a completely different wake/sleep/work cycle than my own.

I have a plan for the next day the night before. He treats every morning as a blank slate and takes a few hours to decide what he will do. By the time he gets going, I’ve nearly finished my list.

Trying hard to accommodate these changes has laid bare one of the main ways I’ve managed my grief for almost eight years.

I can’t make time stop but I work hard to control it. I schedule and plan and execute the plan in an attempt to reorder life so I don’t feel as vulnerable to its vagaries.

It’s a vain attempt.

My husband’s sense of time is challenging my coping mechanism. Once again I need to figure out how to navigate a changing world, how to carry grief and carry on.

I’m working on it.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sudden, Unwelcome Change

Imagine being used to the modern convenience of electricity at the flip of a switch and then being suddenly plunged into darkness and disconnection.

Unprepared-no matches, no alternative fuel sources, no extra warm clothes for winter days and nights-just plucked from the world you knew and dropped into a world you didn’t.

That’s what it felt like when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  No warning, no chance to think through what life might be like, what changes I would have to accommodate, how I would need to face the days, weeks, months and years of his absence.  

Read the rest here: Sudden and Unwelcome Change

I Don’t Like Mirrors

I hate mirrors.  Not because I’m ashamed of my wrinkles or my fat hips.  But because the face staring back at me now is not one I recognize.

I see someone who’s supposed to be me and can’t quite place her.

Read the rest here: No Mirrors, Please!

Grief Doesn’t Stay The Same

The first time I shared this post was two years ago-before my mother’s death.

It had been five long years since Dominic left us and I was beginning to notice reliable, positive changes in the heaviness and quality of grief.

Our grandson was born very premature but his story has a happy, happy ending! He’s growing even more and is such a delight.

There have been other changes too-Covid19, social isolation and my husband’s retirement-all impacted daily life and how I experience Dom’s absence.

I want to offer this bit of hope for those who are just beginning the awful journey of child loss-the pain softens, I’ve grown stronger and better able to carry it, and life, in all its varied forms keeps going.

There ARE some beautiful things ahead.

Hold on.

❤ Melanie

This life is not all sadness and sorrow, death and darkness.  

It was.  For a very, very long time all I could see was distant flickers of light.  

They were just enough to keep me going but not enough to lift the utter blackness that surrounded me.  

Read the rest here: Grief Changes

Unwelcome, Sudden Change

Imagine being used to the modern convenience of electricity at the flip of a switch and then being suddenly plunged into darkness and disconnection.

Unprepared-no matches, no alternative fuel sources, no extra warm clothes for winter days and nights-just plucked from the world you knew and dropped into a world you didn’t.

That’s what it felt like when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  No warning, no chance to think through what life might be like, what changes I would have to accommodate, how I would need to face the days, weeks, months and years of his absence.  

Read the rest here: Sudden and Unwelcome Change

Changed For Life

I wrote this three years ago but it still speaks my heart.

I will not get used to the fact that my son is beyond my reach.  I have come to a certain acceptance of it as fact, and acknowledgement of the truth that I cannot change that fact.

The pain hasn’t become less painful, only more familiar.  It doesn’t surprise me as often when it pricks my heart anew.

The world goes on.

Read the rest here: True Truth

It’s The Weight of Death That Changes Us

Death will always be terrible.

Easter Weekend seems to be the only time we can we crawl out of this uncomfortable skin, call a dark and deadly Friday “Good” and skip to the joy of Resurrection Sunday.

Real life doesn’t let you do that.

Real life means you have to walk through the trauma of Friday and the uncertainty of Saturday, perhaps believing but not yet seeing the hope of Sunday.

Don’t crawl out.

Don’t confuse crucifixion’s pain with resurrection’s joy. It is the weight of death that changes us.

Fiona DeSimone, my daughter

Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal. The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.

I trusted Jesus at an early age and I have lived my life beneath the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God.

But I never-not really-grasped the horror of the crucifixion until I watched as my own son’s body was lowered in the ground.

Death. is. awful.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/03/25/10006/

When Grief Sneaks Up On You

Dependable routine is one of my most important coping mechanisms.

I like slipping from one familiar chore to the next without thinking.

It keeps my mind busy in an effortless way that leaves little room for random thoughts, little space for grief-inducing memories to sneak in and trip me up.

Change Aversion And The Conflicted User - Usability Geek

Change is really not my friend.

Still, change is upon me (and millions of others!) because of this virus. So I’m doing the best I can to cope.

Instead of a house to myself, now my husband is working from home. Instead of quiet mornings alone, conference calls echo off the walls and follow me out open windows to the yard. Instead of before dark breakfast and early lunch with the kitchen closed by noon, I eat early, he eats later, I eat lunch and he eats supper. Kitchen open til eight.

None of those are things I can’t get used to.

After all, I’m blessed he’s here, has a job and we have not only enough to eat but a wide variety . I like cooking and love finding creative uses for leftovers.

Creative Ways to Use Leftovers - Bites for Foodies

What no one but me knows about all the change is this: I’m walking places I tend not to go-in the house, in the yard, down our paths-and every place I set my foot holds memories I’ve been avoiding.

When we moved an old pen a couple weeks ago for new chickens we found a rusty chain attached to its base. While my husband and son were digging it out to use again I was transported to the day Dominic moved the pen years ago with the tractor. It was just me and him and he was a little perturbed with me that I needed it moved. I saw him in my mind’s eye plain as day on the tractor. I could hear his baritone voice above the trusty thrum of the engine and picture him hopping down from the seat, unhooking the chain and driving off to park the tractor.

It was a flash. Here and gone in an instant. But the rest of the day I suffered from a grief hangover that I just couldn’t shake.

These are challenging days.

So much of the routine I depend on to guide me through has been shredded. So many of the habits I’ve developed over years are unavailable right now.

Image may contain: ocean, cloud, sky and water, possible text that says 'FACEBOOK.COM/ SILENTGRIEFSUPPORT THE GRIEF ATTACKS OF CHILD LOSS ARE so UNEXPECTED. THEY COME CRASHING LIKE A WAVE THAT TRIES TO SWEEP US AWAY CLARA HINTON'

So I’m doing the best I can.

One day and one memory at a time.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Repeat.

How To Find What You’re Looking For-Practical Search Tips & Tricks

I get emails and messages and texts pretty often from folks who either follow me here or who look for each day’s post on Facebook or Twitter trying to locate a specific post.

Even I sometimes can’t find the one they are looking for.

So I’ve done a couple things recently that might help and wanted to share how to use them.

There’s always been a “word cloud” on the sidebar (if using a computer) or when you scroll down (on a phone). Those words represent the most-often used tags and you can just click on one to find posts on that subject.

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I added a “search” box about a year ago.

It can bring up more specific results if you remember a word or phrase that isn’t as common as those in the word cloud. Even part of the title of a post will almost always narrow it down to two or three choices. It won’t recognize dates, though, so for that I’ve done something different.

Now there is an “archive” section that links to each month’s posts since I started writing in this space. So if you are new to the blog and interested in a series of posts, you can click on the month and find them.

Image result for image of archive"

Two other ways to find what you are looking for is to simply Google “thelifeididntchoose.com and [whatever topic or part of a title you want]” OR do the same in Facebook search.

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I even do that sometimes to get a more refined search since Google spends billions on their process and Facebook tends to prioritize friends’ posts and pages I look at most often. (Nope! Can’t remember all the posts myself. )

I am thinking about (when I have both the time and energy and mental space!) doing a series of posts that aggregate themes so that one post will automatically give readers five to ten options for exploring a topic. My goal is to have them done within a month or so.

I hope this helps folks find that one post (or two) that spoke to their heart but they didn’t save somewhere.

Please share your comments and experiences with me if you use any of these tools-I would love to know how well they work.

I want this space to be as user-friendly as possible.

~Melanie

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