Child Loss is Not a Single Event

Child loss is not a single event. 

Of course the moment when the last breath leaves a body is noted and duly recorded because the law requires such.  I can pull out Dominic’s death certificate (what an ugly thing to have to say about my child!) and it reads:  Time of Death:  1:10 a.m. April 12, 2014.  

But I didn’t know about it until 4: 15 that morning when the deputy rang the bell.  

So for me, his death came then.  

For family members away from home it happened when I called them.

Others found out later that day or the next.

Yet hearing the words and swallowing them down deep where my heart could comprehend them were two different things.  I think it wasn’t until I saw his body that it truly dawned on me he was not coming back.  This was not a dream or a mistake or happening to someone else.  It was very, very real.

That was just the beginning.  

I continue to experience loss every time there is a moment when Dominic SHOULD be here but he isn’t.  Every time one of his peers gets married, has a child, makes a career move, celebrates a promotion-I think, “Dominic would be doing this if he were still here.”

When our family gathers for photos and the gap where he should be standing is closed in by another body, squeezing his presence from the record of our lives, my heart sinks.  I smile-that’s what you are supposed to do for pictures-but my mind is working double-time to keep the tears in check.

My living children touch base with me nearly every day-a habit they had before Dom left us but one reinforced by the knowledge that no one wants to regret the phone call or text they didn’t make.  But just like the photographs, his absence is highlighted by their intentional presence. 

When extended family ask for updates on my kids, I have to mindfully skip Dominic and land on Julian.  They don’t notice the tiny pause but my heart marks the place and mourns the lack of news for my third born.

I know for other people Dominic’s death was a date on the calendar.

This realization was very painful at first because my wound is so deep and my sorrow so great.  I’ve made peace with that now.  I understand why folks can move on and forget.  The loss happened-past tense-and their lives are full of new people, new activities, new connections and commitments.  That’s how it should be.

But for me, the loss is an everyday event.  It continues to happen.  It will continue to happen.  

I’m not “dwelling” on my son’s death anymore than I am “dwelling” on my living children’s lives.

They are my children.  

Loved and remembered-every one.

ALWAYS.

mother and child painting

 

 

 

 

What Can I DO? Start by Showing Up.

This weekend another family joined the ranks of the bereaved. 

A beloved son left for heaven in a car accident.

The mama’s best friend messaged to ask what she could do to help this newly broken heart.

It made me dig deep in my memories for who did what in those first hours, first days and how it made a difference in our family’s ability to hold onto hope and to stumble forward in the heavy fog of grief, pain and sorrow that enveloped our hearts.

My friend was already committed to showing up and sitting silently and  lovingly with this child’s mother. I didn’t have to remind her of the power of compassionate companionship.

She was going. 

She was staying as long as it was helpful and necessary.

She was coming back as many times as needed.

And that is a gift!

love is courage

I remember the morning I got the news and as the sun was coming up, a truck pulled down our lane.  It was Robbie-our “adopted” son.  As soon as my oldest son (who was in WV at the time) got the call, he called Robbie.  Because he knew I would be able to bear Robbie’s presence and accept Robbie’s help.  I cannot describe the relief I felt when he came to the door-another shoulder to help carry this burden until we could gather all our family together to lift it in unison.

And after him came a couple we had known since the kids were little. 

Both rushed to our doorstep to offer companionship, practical aid, listening ears and simple reassurance that though this was NOT a dream-oh, how I wanted it to be a dream!I was not going to walk this Valley alone.  They stayed until my husband, son and parents had made it here.  I will never, ever, ever forget that gift of unconditional love and time offered just when I needed it most.

Others came.  Some did practical things, brought necessary items, helped me begin to think through next steps.  But many just sat with me and my children as we waited for my husband to fly in and my parents to drive up.

I cannot overstate how important SIMPLY BEING THERE was!

Thinking back on that time, I dug up some other very practical “first few days” things friends and family can do:

  • Bring disposable plates, cutlery and plenty of paper goods (toilet paper, kleenex, napkins) along with extra trash bags.
  • Place a notebook and pens near the spot folks might drop off meals or other things and ask that they write their names and what they brought inside.  My daughter did this for me and while I was often unable to acknowledge it at the time (or unaware of the blessing) I had a record that is dear to me still.
  • Set up an online meal planning/scheduling group. Make sure to note allergies or special food needs because while it’s wonderful to have food provided, it’s not helpful if the family can’t eat it because of dietary restrictions.
  • If there are unwashed clothes belonging to the childDO NOTwash them in an attempt to help out.  It may sound awful to anyone who has not buried a child, but nearly every mom I know wanted something with her child’s scent still on it.  I have a few things of Dom’s that are in a sealed plastic bag.  Every so often I open it and inhale what’s left of his fragrance.  Smell is such a powerful memory stimulant.
  • Begin to collect photographs from online sources, friends and family so that there will be many to choose from if the family wants to make a video for services.
  • Bring disposable Lysol wipes or something similar for quick clean ups in bathrooms and the kitchen.  Discreetly tidy up whenever possible or necessary.
  • Do NOT move papers, piles of mail, etc. without the family’s permission.  It may seem like a good idea at the time to make things neat for visitors, but it will be a nightmare later!  My brain is nearly empty of details for most of the first month after Dominic left us.  I depended on routine and familiar spots to remember where important items might be for the first year.  If something had been moved, I could not locate it, no matter how hard I tried.  If somethingHAS to be moved, place it in a box-clearly labeled-and attach a prominent note on the refrigerator or someplace like that indicating where it is.
  • Just sit and listen.  Or just sit in silence.  Whatever is most helpful to the bereaved parents and their family. Loving presence kept me anchored to this world when all I wanted to do was float away somewhere the pain couldn’t find me.

Compassionate companionship makes the difference between a heart holding onto hope or letting go and falling into the abyss.

Trust me.

I know.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

Holy Week Reflections: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

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:  Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

Holy Week Reflections: Sorrow Lifted as Sacrifice

In some liturgical Christian traditions, today is the day the church remembers and honors Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive and rare perfume.  

It was a beautiful act of great sacrifice as the perfume would ordinarily be a family treasure broken and used only at death for anointing a beloved body.

It’s also an expression of deep sorrow because somehow Mary knew.

Mary.  Knew.  

So she poured out her precious gift on the One Who loves her most.  

Tears are my sacrifice. 

I am pouring them at the feet of Jesus, trusting He will receive them and bless them as He did those of Mary even if others don’t understand.

Christians sometimes have a funny idea about sorrow being unspiritual. We often expect grieving hearts to heal quickly without allowing for the many stages of the grief process. Pam writes, ‘Our Savior was ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3). I wonder if He came to one of our churches now like that, if someone wouldn’t try and cheer Him up and tell Him to ‘let it go and open himself to the joy of the Lord,’ then give him a book and tape series to that effect?’ “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is great, but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” 2 Samuel 24:14

~ Jennifer Saake, Hannah’s Hope

Would I have chosen this broken path?

Absolutely not.

Will I embrace it as something God can use to make me more like Jesus?

I hope so-I’m certainly trying.

We are told our tears are so very precious to God that He keeps track of them in a bottle. I often wonder if when we get to Heaven, or when God remakes the earth into its beautiful and perfect form, the bottles will be opened and every tear counted and redeemed.

you keep track of all my tears

I do know that God has made many precious promises to those who love Him and suffer sorrow in this life.

Psalm 84 has always been a favorite and since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven it is doubly so.  Verse six speaks hope to my heart:

“Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings.”  AMP

This version is beautiful:

And how blessed all those in whom you live,
    whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
    discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
    at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!

~ Psalm 84:5-7 MSG

No matter how difficult the passage, God promises to be with me on the journey and to bless my endurance with His very Self.

It’s hard to receive sorrow as a gift and even harder to lift it as a sacrifice of praise.  

But when I do, I find God meets me there.  

The pain doesn’t disappear, but He gives me strength to bear up under it.

And this great sorrow that weighs on my heart also opens my eyes.  I am not the only one weeping.

Look at Jesus. He is always weeping, a man of sorrows. Do you know why? Because He is perfect. When you are not absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world. ~Tim Keller

jesus weeping sad on hillside

When God Disappoints Us

I know many faithful readers who also follow Christ may gasp at this title.  But the definition of disappoint is most literally, “not to live up to expectations”.  And if we are honest, every one of us has expectations of how God is going to act in our lives.  I know I did!

Aren’t there promises in Scripture that declare good things for those who obey the Lord?  Aren’t there proclamations of protection?

So when Dominic died I was most certainly disappointed.  ❤

I can identify with the faithful among the Palm Sunday crowd- joyful because all evidence pointed to a happy climax.

Here was the Messiah entering Jerusalem just like the prophets promised.  Surely an end to this pagan tyranny was near!

“Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!”

palm Sunday

Just a little longer and this heavy burden will be lifted, this hard life transformed.

A few days later this same crowd would choose a murderous rebel over the gentle Rabbi because He had not lived up to their expectations of deliverance.

jesus in the garden

I can identify with those folks too.

God most certainly has not lived up to my expectations. He has not fashioned my life according to my plan.

woman-grieving-loss

He has not delivered me from this body of sin and death.

He allowed death to enter my home and my heart.

I am tempted, in my sorrow, to shake my fist and demand an answer.  And then, in a moment of clarity I realize how foolish that is.  

“Where were you when I [God] laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

Job 38:4-7 NIV

I am in no position to judge God’s motives, His heart, His plan.  I am bound by time and blinded by the limitations of my flesh.  

I want immediate relief because pain is painful and sorrow is heavy and grief is unbearable in my own strength.  

But God knows the end from the beginning.  He is weaving all these things into a story that will be told for eternity.  He is creating masterpieces to declare His glory, His faithful love and His grace and mercy.  

For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.

Ephesians 2:10 VOICE

So on this Palm Sunday I will join the crowd of worshipers shouting, “Save us!  Son of David!”  

I will lay my sacrifices at His feet and trust that He will redeem and restore what the enemy has stolen.  

I will refuse impatience when the time of waiting lingers long before me.  

wait patiently for gods promises

I will refuse despair when it looks like things are dark and may never be light again.  

light shines in the darkness image

 

I will trust and not be afraid because my King has conquered and is conquering every evil thing and every sad thing.  

in christ alone

 

Grief IS Love in Action

How can all the love and all the hopes and all the dreams of a mama’s heart be squeezed into days or weeks or months of tears and sorrow?

If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them.
—James O’Barr

I grieve because I love.

My tears are a gift to the son I miss.  My sorrow honors his memory.  My broken heart gives evidence to the ones walking with me that my love is fierce and timeless.

Read the rest here:  Love: The Reason I Grieve

Love in Action: Some Things Hurt

Bereavement has not made me a perfectly compassionate person.  I still say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and sometimes don’t do the right thing.

But it HAS made me more aware that what I do/don’t do/say/don’t say can either speak life or death to a struggling heart.

And I so want to speak life and courage to everyone I meet.

Before I lost Dominic, I know that I, like others who had never experienced the death of a child, undoubtedly said and did things that were hurtful instead of helpful.

I painfully remember sharing at a Thanksgiving women’s gathering and, meaning to encourage the ladies, said something like, “I think we are able to better face the big disappointments or trials in life, but find the daily drip, drip, drip of unfulfilled expectations to be a greater challenge.”  A bereaved mom in attendance set me straight (in a very kind and gracious manner!).

That exchange has come often to my mind in these months after burying my son. I wish I could go back and have a do-over.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: Some Things Hurt