When my mother suffered a stroke, brief hospital stay and then joined Dominic in Heaven just over two years ago it brought it all back.
The crowded house, telephone calls-repeating, repeating, repeating the necessary details to friends and family-decisions and bone-tired weariness that never leads to sleep. This time, though, I had the sad advantage of experience.
I didn’t think I’d write at all that week but then this list of truly helpful things came to mind so I jotted it down. I believe if we share more openly with the nonbereaved, they will be better equipped to come alongside.
I have learned so much since that day when Dominic left us suddenly for Heaven.
Some of the things I know now are things I wish I didn’t know at all.
Many serve me well-not only in how I respond to my own pain and loss-but also how I respond to the pain and loss in the lives of those I love.
I will confess: I’m no better at this than the first set of holidays after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
Every. Single. Year. has brought changes and challenges on top of the empty chair round the family table.
Since Dominic left us we’ve had additions (a grandchild and various significant others) and sadly, more subtractions (my mother joined Dom in 2019). We’ve dealt with distance, deployment, healthcare and retail work schedules, a pandemic and lots of other, less easily defined tensions and difficulties.
When I ran across this quote awhile back my heart screamed, “YES!!!”
Gathering an entire family (which may include teens and young adults) for any extended length of time is a feat of scheduling, negotiation, and preference management. International treaties have been worked out in fewer steps. The sheer number of details that have to line up is mind-boggling.
There are the absolute parameters forced upon any family by distance and availability. NegotiatingTHOSEis truly a feat.
But when your family story includes profound loss, a mama often has additional hoops to jump through. Surviving siblings bring their own grief to the table and what that looks like can change over time. So something that worked one year might be rejected this season.
I wish I had some magical insight that could guide every wounded heart through these next, treacherous months.
What I can tell you is that it’s better to start earlier rather than later. Nothing falls into place without some planning. Old habits are hard to break and traditions are well-worn habits so don’t expect anyone to give them up easily.
No one can read your mind (are YOU telepathic?). Tell your friends and family what you need (even if it is that you have NOidea what you need!).
And then make space in your celebrations for times when you can grieve the absence of your child. It may be a shared moment or it may be you remember in solitude.
If you have surviving children, remember they are grieving too. They have lost a sibling, their innocence regarding death’s ability to steal even the young and the family they once knew.
Extend grace to others when you can.
Extend grace to yourself when you must.
Be honest and do the best you can.
Then remember that even these days are only twenty-four hours long. They will pass.
The sun will rise and you will, undoubtedly find out you survived. ❤
I’ve written before how grief impacts physical health.
It’s true that our hearts and our bodies are intricately connected and stress in one area inevitably produces effects in the other.
I thought I had made it past the “critical period” when child loss might show up in my body but I was wrong.
Christmas Eve Day landed me in the hospital with a massive GI bleed. It wasn’t the first time I’d had such an incident. They began in 2007 and this made the sixth trip to the emergency room for the same problem-third since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
But this is the first time it’s taken nine long months to rebuild the red blood cells I lost.
I’m sure age and my autoimmune disease have something to do with it. Still, I’ve been pretty puny trying to do chores around this place with insufficient oxygen flowing to my muscles and my lungs. It’s been a challenge walking up the long hill from the horse pen to the front door. It’s been hard marching up and down the stairs in the house carrying laundry and sundry other things.
Tuesday, though, I got some really good news!
I get bi-monthly infusions for my RA and it’s standard practice to run labs before to make sure my body can tolerate the onslaught of potent medicine flowing through my veins.
For the first time in nine months the results showed I had a normal blood count.
I suspected that it had finally crept up into normal range because when I had my grandson here a couple weeks ago I was able to keep up with him. But it was lovely to get empirical confirmation.
And just like bad news drags me lower since Dom left us, good news boosts me higher.
There was a time when I thought I didn’t want to keep going-the pain was too great, the burden too heavy.
Thankfully, I’m not still in that pit of despair.
I miss Dominic. I miss the family we were. I mourn the uncle and (probably) husband he would have been.
But I have people here who I love. I have a life that still has meaning and purpose.
For a long, long time I couldn’t bear to see a monthly calendar.
I didn’t want to be reminded that time refused to stand still for my broken heart and I hated there were no more “Dominic” events to scribble in on the blank squares.
Around the third year I was able to once again mark major events like birthdays, holidays and short family trips. But it was even longer before I was able to truly look forward with excitement to those things.
Seven plus years, multiple family changes, a pandemic, retirement and a grandchild have reshaped my heart so that I’m genuinely thrilled to prepare and participate in most things from family meals to “Granny Camp” (which I get to host next week!).
I’m not forgetting nor minimizing Dominic by diving into these events with gusto. In fact, I’m sure he would approve.
So I’m entering a new season of grief-one which makes room for current joys and celebrations while still holding space for Dominic.
I can be present and participate without reserve.
I am making memories with those who are still here.