Who’s Gonna Miss You Baby?

Busyness has become a national idol-we rush from commitment to commitment, signing up to fill every single minute with something, anything that makes us feel important, valuable, irreplaceable.

Of course we have job and family obligations-as we should-but we don’t feel fully accomplished until we have colored in the edges of our calendar until no white space remains.

Because we think that if we don’t show up, people will miss us.  We think that if WE don’t do this or that, it won’t get done.  We are absolutely certain that our input is critical to the success of every mission, every committee, every project.

Can I let you in on a little secret?  It’s not.

One of the inconvenient and difficult truths that has been burned in my brain since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven is this:  his absence didn’t make a bit of difference to the world at large.

It only made a difference to the hearts that loved him.

He was editor of a law journal-guess what?  It was still published.

He died days before final exams.  They happened anyway.

His apartment? Cleaned out and rented to the next in line.

His commitments? The hole closed up around the space he would have occupied or it was filled with someone else’s body and energy.

He is truly missed by those for whom his absence was inconceivable, not by those for whom his absence was an inconvenience.  

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So my take away is this:  I will not waste my time running here, there and everywhere.

I will not spend my life energy on things or projects or activities that don’t matter.

I am not going to invest the scarce resource of the rest of my life in busyness.

I will give everything I’ve got to hearts and lives and people.  I will pour myself into projects I’m passionate about, people I love and pursuits that will outlive my few years on this earth.

Because busyness does not define me.  

Love does.

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Repost: A Little Extra Grace

Each day I am reminded by sights, smells, sounds and memories that Dominic is in Heaven and not here.  

But there are moments and seasons when his absence is particularly strong-when I can’t breathe in without also breathing a prayer, “Father, let me make it through this minute, this hour, this day.”

And that’s when I need grace-from family, friends and strangers.

Read the rest here:  A Little Extra Grace

Baby Steps and Falling Forward

Sometimes I schedule a post the night before and wake up to a day that contradicts everything I just wrote.

Grief is like that.

Good day.  Bad day.  Better day. Worse day.

I can barely predict one moment to the next, much less a day or a week.

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It’s easy for me to become discouraged when I stare at my own feet-measuring paltry progress when I long for leaps and bounds.

But truth is, no life is lived primarily by giant strides.  It’s mostly baby steps and falling forward.

Got up this morning?  Step.  

Remembered to make that phone call?  Step.

Smiled at the bird outside the window? Step.

Looked at Dominic’s picture and treasured the memory instead of crying?  Step.

And when I trip over my broken heart listening to a song on the radio and tumble headlong into wracking sobs-I reach out and fall forward, still making a little progress toward learning to live through a day.

It doesn’t matter how fast or how far I’ve traveled in this Valley.

It only matters that I refuse to give up.

may not be there yet but closer than yesterday perseverance

 

 

 

 

 

Is it OK if I Laugh?

Thankfully our family has always turned to laughter as a way of making it through things that would otherwise bring us to tears.  So it wasn’t but a couple days past when we got the news of Dom’s leaving we managed a giggle here and there as his friends shared some funny stories with us.

But it felt strange to have laughter bubbling up in my throat even as I couldn’t stop its escaping my mouth.

It wasn’t the free-floating, airy expression of joy and merriment it used to be.  Instead it was a strangled, mishapen gurgling mixture of the joy I once knew and unspeakable pain I now knew.

It didn’t float airily into the atmosphere, it thudded heavy to the floor.

And then I felt like I was betraying my son.

How could I laugh just days after finding out he would never laugh again?  How could I giggle over a silly story when my own story had drifted into tragic territory?  Was there something dreadfully wrong with me?  Was I somehow defective?

No. No. No.

And No.

There is nothing wrong with laughing-even in the darkest night of child loss.

Laughter is a gift.

When we laugh our hearts and bodies are receiving strength for the work grief requires.

Laughter  has many proven benefits:

  • decreases stress hormones
  • increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease
  • triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • lowers blood pressure
  • works your abdominal muscles
  • improves cardiac health

Dominic had an amazing laughhe was always cutting up, teasing friends and family and finding the funny in every situation.  He loved to laugh.

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One of the favorite stories his classmates told me was when he dressed as a redneck client for a mock trial case.  They were petrified that when he walked into the “courtroom” he was going to ruin their strategy and chances of winning.

But he played the part to perfection and had everyone rolling in the aisles.

I am learning to embrace laughter not only for what it does for ME but for how it links my heart to his.

This Valley is a long, dark place-I’ll take any light that breaks through.

And laughter is one of the brightest.

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Surviving Grief Anniversaries

I know I’m not the only one who carries a calendar in my head that threatens to explode like a ticking timebomb.  Days that mean nothing to anyone else loom large as they approach.

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The date of his death.

The date of his funeral.

His birthday.

My birthday.

The day he should have graduated from law school

On and on and on.

How can I survive these oppressive reminders of what I thought my life would look like? How can I grab hold of something, anything that will keep my heart and mind from falling down the rabbit hole of grief into a topsy-turvy land where nothing makes sense and it’s full of unfriendly creatures that threaten to gobble me whole?

Every family,

every child that has run ahead and

every situation is unique.

What works for one person (even in the same family) won’t necessarily work for another. But there are some ways to make these days a little easier.

Here’s a list of what has helped my heart and the hearts of others walking this journey. Take what may help and toss the rest:

  • Invite friends and family to a special celebration featuring foods and/or activities that honor your missing child.  On the first anniversary of Dominic’s homegoing, his friends brought lunch and they shared stories and memories with me-many of which I hadn’t heard since he was living away from home when he left us.  I didn’t do a lot of talking, but just listening was a beautiful way to pass that day.
  • Ask folks to do a “random act of kindness” in your child’s name.  Some parents have printed out cards (like photo Christmas cards) and distributed them with a picture and brief information about their child and a way to post the RAK online (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • If you have a charitable organization or scholarship or other project that bears your child’s name, remind people of it and request donations (if appropriate). Many times friends and family long to do something tangible to show they have not forgotten either.
  • For birthdays and holidays, purchase a cake (at a local bakery) or toys/gifts for a child the same age as your own.  I went a couple of days before Dominic’s birthday and paid for a cake ordered for a little girl’s first birthday.  I left a note that said, “Children are a blessing from the Lord.  Enjoy your sweet blessing.  In honor of my son, Dominic.  Love, His Mama.”
  • Some people launch lanterns at the cemetary or another meaningful place.  Check with local regulations before you do this-you don’t want the occasion marred by a confrontation.  There are environmentally friendly lanterns available online for those concerned about that. (This is why I don’t recommend letting balloons go.)
  • Gather gift cards to give to a local Ronald McDonald House or other charitable group that provides support for families of pediatric patients.  I know one family that did this for a group that had ministered to them during their son’s illness. The response was overwhelming and it touched them as well as all the families that benefitted from the gift cards.
  • Create a quiet memorial space in your own yard honoring your child.  There are lots of ideas online to get you started.  Some parents plant a tree while others use smaller plants and stones along with a bench and special items that remind them of their missing child.
  • Some grieving parents spend the day at home, under the covers and waiting for it to pass.

Most importantly, no matter what you do or don’t do, be prepared to give yourself grace whatever the day holds.

Don’t do what you don’t feel like you can do-even if you made plans ahead of time.

Do whatever helps your heart.

Hug anyone who chooses to come alongside and bear witness to this awful anniversary.

And hold tight to the fact that even the worst day only lasts 24 hours.

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My Juggling Days Are Over

When I was a young mother, my brother used to love to sit back and wait to see how many things I could do at once.

I could hold a baby, iron a shirt and talk on the phone at the same time.  I could pick things up with my toes when I didn’t want to disturb the sleeping child in my lap and couldn’t reach the object with my hand.

Four children in six years, breastfeeding, homeschooling and taking care of all the household chores meant that I got pretty darn good at keeping multiple balls in the air at the same time.

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Those days are over.

Like so many things at this point in my life I don’t know how much of what I experience and feel is a function of getting older (definitely middle aged here!) and how much is attributable to grief following the death of Dominic.

But this I do know:  I am only able to focus on a single task, thought, desire or problem at a time. If I try to multi-task, I might as well cry, “Uncle!” from the start.

It’s a little discouraging.  

Often I feel like I’ve wasted an hour or a day or even a week. What exactly did I get done?

But it’s also a kind of freedom.  

My household isn’t nearly as busy as it once was so there’s really no need to rush from here to there or stack task on top of task.

I’m learning that taking time, talking to people for as long as they need me, doing something well even if I don’t do it quickly are all perfectly acceptable ways to spend a day.

And while I miss so much of who I was before Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I don’t miss the frantic craziness of trying to do too much in too little time.

I will receive THIS change as a gift.  

if you are always racing to the next moment

 

Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

“Stuck in grief”-it’s a theme of blog posts, psychology papers and magazine articles.  The author usually lists either a variety of “symptoms” or relates anecdotes of people who do truly odd things after a loved one dies.  “Complicated grief” is a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis.

But who gets to decide?  

What objective criteria can be applied to every situation, every person, every death to determine whether someone is truly stuck in grief?  How do you take into account the circumstances of a death, the relationship of the bereaved to the deceased, trauma surrounding the event or any of a dozen other things that influence how long and how deeply one grieves a loss?

Obviously there are certain signs that someone needs professional help, medication or intervention.  If a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, acting out in ways that harm or threaten harm to themselves or others, or is experiencing depression or uncontrollable anxiety then please, please, PLEASE get them to a doctor who can diagnose and treat them.

But for the rest of us, “normal” grief covers a wide variety of behaviors, feelings, attitudes and timelines:

Posting photos or videos of our missing child is normal.  It’s the last visual link we have to someone we can no longer see.

Mentioning my son in conversation is normal.  I mention my other children and his life is still intertwined with ours.

Crying-even years or decades after the loss-is NORMAL  Grief waves can hit with tsunami force from out of nowhere and slam me to the ground. The only thing I can do then is let them wash over and around me until they pass.

Keeping space for my son in my home, at my table, in my heart and on holidays is normal.  Some parents do this with a special candle, photo or ritual. Some do it with a stuffed animal or other item that represents their child. Some do it with words or deeds of kindness done in honor of the missing one.  No one has sat in Dominic’s space at my table in these three years.  It’s my silent witness to his ongoing influence and irreplaceable presence in our family circle.

Keeping a room exactly as it was is normal.  Boxing everything up is also normal.  Every heart is different and every heart has to decide what helps it heal.

Sleeplessness is normal.  Some parents never return to pre-loss sleep patterns.  I wake every morning at about the time the deputy came to our door.  Every now and then, if I am extremely tired, I may fall back asleep for an hour or two.  Sleeping the day away is normal, too.  Sleep may be a welcome relief to a weary heart and some parents find that when they can, they sleep a lot.  (Note:  if this continues for days or weeks, please check with your doctor about the possibility of depression.)

Anxiety is, sadly, VERY normal.  The worst has actually happened and that makes the possibility that it could happen again oh, so real.  Anxiety may well spread to things that seem to have no relationship to loss.  It’s also normal to have a “devil may care” attitude. The worst has actually happened, so what could be worse?  Might as well live life to the full.

Withdrawal is normal.  So is over-scheduling and staying busy.  Both are ways someone may try to deal with heartbreak.

You don’t have to be “stuck” in grief to still feel the pain and have it continue to affect your life.

I am and have been highly functional since the morning the deputy arrived with the news of my son’s fatal motorcycle accident.

But I am a very different “me” than I was before that doorbell rang.

Some things I can’t do anymore. Some things I do differently and some things are brand new and I have only done them since he left us.

Labels are rarely helpful when applied to people.

Every person is unique, every relationship unique and every situation unique.

And every grief journey will be unique as well.

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