When The Last Fingerprint Fades Away

Dominic was always working on his car.

During one weekend session, something went wrong and he came storming through the garage.

He slammed both hands hard on my extra pantry, crashing one mason jar full of tomatoes into the other, making a mess and leaving greasy hand prints on the white melamine doors.

I waited until he made his way into the house and upstairs then went to assess the damage-tomatoes dripping everywhere, glass on the floor and hand prints in several places.

I cleaned the tomatoes and glass and gave a swipe at the doors. But those marks of my son’s temper remained for months. I finally found a mixture that got most of it off so only faint reminders were left.

After Dominic was killed, I went to the garage and put my fingers one by one into what was still there of his hand print.

It made me feel closer to him, like there was a little of his life left that I could touch.

Today I was thinking-what will I do when the last fingerprint fades away?

What will I cling to that can make him real to me again?

I know he has only left this earthly tent and the real Dominic is with Jesus, but I’m still stuck in the physical world, longing for physical connection.

A mama’s arms are made for holding her children, not for holding their memories.

This is the greatest challenge I face in my grief–not blaming God or even dealing with the pain–it’s the need to touch my children and knowing now one is beyond my reach until I join him in heaven.

[King David said] “Could I bring the child back to life? I will some day go to where he is, but he can never come back to me.”  2 Samuel 12:23b GNT

What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know

People say, “I can’t imagine.

But then they do.

They think that missing a dead child is like missing your kid at college or on the mission field but harder and longer.

That’s not it at all.

It isn’t nostalgia for a time when things were different or better or you talked more: it’s a gut-wrenching, breath-robbing, knee-buckling, aching groan that lives inside you begging to be released.

There is no smooth transition up the ladder of grief recovery so that you emerge at the top, better for the experience and able to put it behind you.

We’ve all heard the much touted theory that grief proceeds in the following stages:

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

And people (who haven’t experienced grief) tend to think it’s a straight line from one stage to another, gradually going from bottom to top and then on with life.

But it just isn’t true.

Reality is, these “stages” coexist and fluctuate back and forth from day to day and even hour to hour.

Grief remakes you from the inside out.

Losing a child has made me rethink everything I believe and everything I am.  It has changed and is changing my relationship with myself and with others in ways I couldn’t imagine and often don’t anticipate.

And it is hard, hard work.

Life around us doesn’t stop.  Grieving parents return to work, continue to nurture their surviving children, keep getting up in the morning and taking care of daily details.

We are doing all the things others do, but we are doing them with an added weight of sorrow and pain that makes each step feel like wading through quicksand.

We want you to know we are doing the best we can.

Life without my child is like having a leg amputated–I am forced to learn to manage without it, but everything will always be harder and different. And it will be this way for the rest of my life.

The one thing a grieving parent DOESN’T want you to know is how it feels to bury your child.

I don’t want anyone else to know what it means to leave part of your heart and a chunk of your life beneath the ground.

“But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as a comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff   LAMENT FOR A SON

 

Loving the Grieving Heart

If you love someone who has lost a child, perhaps these thoughts might help you understand a bit of their pain and how completely it changes the way we who have encounter the world.

Please be patient.  Please don’t try to “fix” us.  Please be present and compassionate.  And if you don’t know what to say, feel free to say nothing–a hug, a smile, an understanding look–they mean so very much.

A bereaved parent’s grief doesn’t fit an easy-to-understand narrative. And it flies in the face of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.

You can’t beat it–it’s not a football game-there is no winning team.

You can’t lose it–it’s not the extra 10 pounds you’ve been carrying since last Christmas.

You can’t get over it–it’s not a teenage love affair that will pale in comparison when the real thing comes along.

You can only survive it.  You can heal from it, but it will take a lifetime and require very special care.

I have a young friend whose first child was born with a life-threatening heart defect.  At just a few months of age, her little girl received a heart transplant.  Without it, she would have died.  With her new heart, this sweet baby will live-but her parents must observe careful protocols to protect that heart and she will never outgrow the scar from the surgery that saved her life.

Burying Dominic wounded my heart so deeply that while I know it will heal–it is beginning to, I think–it will bear the scars and require special handling as long as I walk this earth.

So when I thank you for an invitation, but choose not to go…I’m not rejecting you, I’m protecting my heart.  Please ask again–tomorrow might be a better day, and going somewhere or being with someone could be just what I need.

If you call and I don’t pick up…I might be crying, or about to, and I choose not to burden you with my grief.  Call in a day or two or next week–keep trying.

A text or email or card is so helpful.  I can read these when I’m ready and respond when it’s easier for me to think.

And please, please, please don’t look for the moment or day or year when I will be “back to my old self”.  My old self was buried with my son.  I am still “me”–but a different me than I would have chosen.

I know it makes you uncomfortable–it makes me uncomfortable too.

But because I trust in the finished work of Christ, I know that one day my heart will be completely healed.

I hurt but I have hope. This pain will be redeemed and my scars will be beautiful.

“For just as Christ’s sufferings are ours in abundance [as they overflow to His followers], so also our comfort [our reassurance, our encouragement, our consolation] is abundant through Christ [it is truly more than enough to endure what we must]”  2 Corinthians 1:5.

 

 

 

Tell Me Your Story

One of my greatest fears is that Dominic will be forgotten.

If I ever speak it out loud, people are quick to assure me that he will always be remembered. But I know it isn’t true–unless others allow me to tell my story.

Not the Reader’s Digest condensed version–but the full length director’s cut–the one that takes time to tell and time to hear.

Because the farther away I get from the last living memory of him, the harder it is to think of him in the present tense.  And I know if that’s true for me, his mother, it must be doubly true for others.

We buy tickets to movies, purchase books and cruise the Internet gobbling up other people’s stories.  Yet we often make it difficult for those we know to tell us theirs.

We jockey for attention at gatherings, or worse, give all our attention to electronic devices.  We think we KNOW other people’s stories so we don’t want to bore ourselves with listening again.

The truth is, we know less than we think about the folks we rub shoulders with every day.

Invite others to tell their stories–not just the grieving, but the elderly, the quiet ones in the corner, or the neighbor you’ve only seen from across the way.

Take some cookies, put away your phone and just listen.

(And feel free to share in the comments section too–I’d love to know YOUR story…)

 

 

 

 

 

Praying Through the Pain

For most of my adult years I felt like I had a robust prayer life.  I regularly interceded for my family, for my church, for missionaries and for the world. I’ve kept a prayer journal for over twenty years.  

I felt connected to the God of the Universe.  

But when Dominic died I felt like I lost that connection.

Of course, the first moments after hearing the news I screamed, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” My foxhole prayer for divine intervention–make it stop; make it untrue; make it go away…

But it was true.  It didn’t stop.  And it hasn’t gone away.

As the reality of what happened sank in, I searched my heart for why.

Why did MY son die?  What fault had God found in me that wasn’t covered by the blood of Jesus and demanded my son’s life as payment? Why were people who caused death and destruction and spread hatred and strife still walking around?

Did I, whose son died, pray less fervently or with less faith than the mother whose son lives?

So many people think that “good” Christians don’t ask, “why?” But I can’t find a compelling scriptural argument that supports this view.

The Psalmist asked, “Why?”

He often recited a litany of complaints that included his perception that God had abandoned him.  But there is a turning point when the Psalmist focuses his heart and mind on the truth that:

God is sovereign;

God is faithful;

And God’s love endures forever.

I am thankful that before Dominic died I had a habit of praying and reading Scripture.  I am thankful for the many verses that are so ingrained in my thoughts that they come, unbidden to my mind.

So I have continued to pray each morning, opening my journal and my Bible.

Even when I cannot feel the connection, I know God is there.  

And by an act of will and in obedience, I turn my heart and my mind to acknowledge His sovereignty.

To trust His faithfulness.

And to run for safety to His enduring love.  

 As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. Where can I find him to come and stand before him? Day and night I weep for his help, and all the while my enemies taunt me. “Where is this God of yours?” they scoff.

Take courage, my soul! Do you remember those times (but how could you ever forget them!) when you led a great procession to the Temple on festival days, singing with joy, praising the Lord? Why then be downcast? Why be discouraged and sad? Hope in God! I shall yet praise him again. Yes, I shall again praise him for his help.

Yet I am standing here depressed and gloomy, but I will meditate upon your kindness to this lovely land where the Jordan River flows and where Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar stand. All your waves and billows have gone over me, and floods of sorrow pour upon me like a thundering cataract.

Yet day by day the Lord also pours out his steadfast love upon me, and through the night I sing his songs and pray to God who gives me life.

Psalm 42: 1-8 TLB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testimony of Hope

No way around it–this goat is ugly.  He was born a runt and never outgrew it.

But he’s my favorite.

Several years ago he was attacked by dogs.  One had him by the ear (thus his missing ear) and one had him by the hindquarters. Only my youngest son’s swift barefoot run through the woods saved him from being killed. Julian carried him out, mangled and bloody.

We spent weeks cleaning and treating his wounds and months nursing him back to health.

He has no monetary value–in fact he’s cost me a good deal.  But I love him because he is a testimony of hope.  

He lives in spite of his scars.

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I’m meeting others who have buried their children too.

And it is so, so hard.

But these mamas are so, so brave.

And they are clinging with all their might to the hand of the One Who has promised to redeem this pain and these wounds.

I can’t tell you that anything “good” has come from my son’s death–at least nothing that couldn’t have come from his life.

But I can tell you that what the enemy intended to use to destroy me and my family has not done that.

I am hurt and I bear scars.

But the Shepherd of my soul has carried me and is carrying me.

I will continue to trust in Him and offer my life as a testimony of hope.

 

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcoming the Stranger

Last night I did something brave (for me).  

I went to a Christmas musical production at a large church about 45 miles away from my home.  It was brave because since Dominic died I haven’t been able to go to a worship service that includes a band and worship singers without being frozen in my seat, tears running down my face.

Someone posted a video of a practice run for the song “Mary Did You Know” done Pentatonix style and it was beautiful.

Made my heart long to hear Christmas music again.

I thought sitting in a different church, with different people  might just be the bridge to help my wounded soul  reengage in worship music.

So I arrived early, walked in and sat down in a row facing an aisle, right in the middle of the sanctuary.

By myself.

Clearly alone.

And not one person greeted or spoke to me or even smiled–though I smiled at several as they passed.

Flashing up on the large screen at the front of the room was an invitation to “send us your photo” watching the musical,  followed by various ways to connect with the church online.  Cute snapshots of people from around the area and around the world cycled through.

But no one saw, or reached out, or spoke to the person right there in front of them.

My feelings aren’t hurt. I wasn’t looking for affirmation or comfort and I’ve already “found” Jesus–but they didn’t know that.

I could have been a struggling middle-aged woman who had come, desperate for hope, or a reason to keep living,  or for the Savior everyone seems to sing about this time of year.

And that made me think:  What are we doing?

Really?

Are we so busy being IN church that we have ceased to BE the church?

The music was wonderful, the staging flawless, the choir amazing.

But what frightened and seeking and lonely people really want is a personal connection not a perfect production.

At this time of year when the days grow short and the nights are long, so very many people’s hearts are yearning for a tiny ray of light, the smallest gesture of compassion, a glimmer of hope.

And some of them bravely step through the doors of our churches.

One smile can bridge the gap.  One word can invite them in.  One extended hand can give them something and someone to hold on to.  

For if you love those who love you, what reward can you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that? And if you greet only your brethren, what more than others are you doing? Do not even the heathen do that?

-Jesus