Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

I want to be everything my living children need me to be.  

I try hard to celebrate them, be available, listen closely and love them well.  

I never, ever want them to feel they are competing with their missing brother for my affection or my attention.  

But I’d be lying if I said it was always easy.  

Sometimes the happy moment so closely resembles a shared memory that includes Dominic, my heart takes my head in directions I wish it wouldn’t go.  Sometimes it’s a long awaited once-in-a-lifetime occasion and Dom’s absence is a giant, gaping hole everywhere I look.

It’s really hard to be stuck at the crossroad of being happy for a child still here while mourning and missing the child that’s gone.

brandon and fiona wedding her laughing not screenshotI’ve had to do that many, many times in the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve found a couple of things that help.  

I put something in my pocket or wear a piece of jewelry that is a token of my love for Dominic. 

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It helps me feel as if he’s represented even if no one else knows about it.  Then I lean in and take hold of the celebration as best as I can. When I feel overwhelmed, I touch my little token and/or escape to a quiet corner or bathroom for a minute or two and collect myself.

I also try to do something called “pre-grieving”. 

coffee and journal morning

I allow myself time early in the morning of an event to be alone and cry if I need to.  If the tears won’t come, I listen to music that helps my heart reach that place of release.  I journal my feelings.  I walk through the day and admit where it might be especially challenging.  I think through how I can deal with that and make a plan.

It makes a difference.  

So much has been stolen from my surviving children. 

I don’t want them robbed of their mama too.  

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2019: Father’s Day For Bereaved Fathers

Fathers are often overlooked grievers.  

They shouldn’t be.  

Dads aren’t bystanders in the shattered world of child loss-they are participants as parents of a son or daughter whom they love just as much as any mother.  

So just like Mother’s Day is hard for moms, Father’s Day is hard for them.  

Read the rest here:  Father’s Day for Bereaved Fathers

*I wanted to get this out early enough to help friends and family of a bereaved father understand a little better how they can encourage him as Father’s Day approaches.*

Priceless

Circumstances have made me thoughtful lately.  

My grandson’s premature birth, my daughter’s wedding and our personal season of unwelcome milestones have reminded me that life is short.  

And then a Facebook friend shared this meme:  

a rich life has nothing to do with money

My heart cried, “Yes!”

It’s so, so true.  

What we will value most in our vulnerable moments and in our last moments won’t be anything we bought at a store (or online).  

It will be relationships. 

The people we love and who love us are the true treasure of a life well-lived.  

They are priceless.  

life approved by others award

Grief is a Family Affair

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

There is definitely a time and place for professional counseling.  Many, many families benefit from having a trained individual, outside the immediate grief circle, guide them in exploring feelings, developing coping strategies and learning to live life this side of loss.

But there is also something to be said for arranging casual open-ended activities with surviving siblings, parents and even grandparents where space and a more relaxed atmosphere often leads to honest sharing.

This graphic has lots of excellent suggestions for how to craft such a space.

Not all will be suitable for every family, but every family should be able to find a few that fit.

I’ll add these guidelines that may help your family make the best choice for YOU:

  • Don’t force it.  If you make an offer of an activity and it drops with a thud to the ground, let it go.  You might be able to do it another time.
  • Don’t make it (what my kids like to say!) a “mandatory option”.  There must be no guilt or coercion invading this space.  If one or more of your family members consistently refuse to join in, consider asking a close family friend to take that individual out alone and see what might be going on.
  • If you choose a movie or other story-themed activity, LOOK UP THE PLOT!  I can’t tell you how many times we were sideswiped by a death scene or some other heavy emotional plot twist.  There may be a time when your family is prepared to experience those things together (we can now) but it may not be yet.
  • Mix and match more structured activities with open-ended ones like walks outside, watching the sunset, sitting on the beach, hanging at the pool, playing a game (not too competitive-that will sometimes bring out hidden anger).
  • If you have a family with a broad range of ages you might have to do some things with the littles and some with the older kids.  You can always add one or two activities a month or quarter where everyone (or as many as are available) gets together.
  • If your children, spouse, parent or other close griever begins to talk-let them.  If tears flow-that’s progress!  If ugly feelings are expressed, listen.  Try not to be defensive.  Try to hear the hurt behind the words.  It’s OK to set ground rules like using “I” statements and not blaming.  But don’t shut them out or shut them down.  

These are just ideas.  

Google is your friend and your phone is probably already in your hand or pocket-use it.

Find things that fit YOUR family. 

The only way through is through.  

You have to feel and deal to heal. 

selfcare for families

Child Loss by Addiction

We talk about a lot of things as if they didn’t reflect a real person and a real life.  

Addiction is one of them.  And let me just tell you, every single number is a life and behind every single life is a family.  

Statistics are easy to toss around until one of those numbers represents YOUR child.

My son was killed in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident.  One of the 76 individuals who died on a motorcycle in Alabama in 2014.  If you look it up, you’ll find tables printed with clean edges and comparative data one year to the next.

But if you look at me-and hold up a photo from BEFORE-you’ll see grief etched into a mama’s face that can’t be measured, sifted or weighed.  

My son was not an addict.  He was a health nut.  But he liked his motorcycle and never saw the contradiction between spending hours at the gym then putting that beautiful body on a fast moving, unprotected engine-on-wheels.  A helmet was not enough to protect him that night.  

Addicts don’t start out wanting the life so many of them end up living.  They take a puff or a pill or a drink and think it’s all in fun.  They have no way to know that the one moment of weakness or even purposeful exploration may result in a lifetime of struggle.

Once caught in the cycle of craving and crawling out and caving again they may or may not eventually find the light.  They may or may not become sober for the rest of their days.  They may or may not have the inner strength, the outside support, the medical intervention and inpatient treatment they need to conquer this demon.

And it is a demon.  

Addiction is never a choice even when the first indulgence into drugs or alcohol is.  

no idea of the battle addiction quote

Parents living with addicted children do everything they can to guide them to help.  They try tough love, abundant grace, boundaries, threats and rewards.  Some even move their families to try to escape habitual influences on their child-hoping against hope that a new place and new friends will create a safe space where addiction can’t flourish.

It rarely works.  In the end, addiction takes too many of our children.  Addiction kills.

And the wreckage left the other side of those deaths is enormous.  It’s messy and ugly and hard to sort through.  

The one thing NO parent of an addicted child needs is someone else’s misguided advice on how they could have “saved” his or her child.  They don’t need quips about “seeing it coming”.  They don’t need anyone to heap shame on them because of the choices their child made and the disease that robbed them of choice in the end.

So when we talk about addiction and numbers and treatment and responsibility and especially death, we need to remember that every single statistic is a person. 

Every single person has a family.

And that family is devastated.  

Speak gently.  Extend grace.  Offer love.  

They already know shame.  

shame for being human

I Know Why My Story Scares You

At first all I could feel was pain.

Pain of abandonment, of being misunderstood, of being pushed to the outside edges of groups that used to welcome me with open arms.

But as time passed, I began to understand.

My story scares you.  You are utterly afraid that if child loss can happen to ME, it can happen to YOU.

You’re right.

It CAN happen to you.

And no one wants to be reminded that the one thing every parent fears is not nearly as impossible nor as predictable as we would hope it is.

From the minute we take that baby home from the hospital, safely tucked in the approved and properly installed car seat, we assume we can control the future.  We think that if we eat right, get regular check ups, cover outlets and sharp corners, remove choking hazards and stuff that little mouth full of organic and healthful treats, it’s all good.

Except no one can account for random.  No one can see undetected and unsuspected genetic defects.  No one can predict or protect against every way a child might leave this life before his or her parents.

But we absolutely, positively do not want to think about that.

I don’t blame you.

I didn’t either.

So I understand why you distance yourself from me.  I get why even my presence in a room is sometimes uncomfortable.  I am not upset that you don’t add my name to the invitation list when the occasion is happy and you are afraid I might cast a shadow over the celebration.

I’m a walking advertisement for your worst nightmare.

You can afford to ignore it-and me.

I don’t have that luxury.

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

 

How Can It Be Five Years??!!

We all experience it from time to time-that moment when your head comprehends that life has kept going but your heart refuses to keep pace.  

So today, I’m looking at a calendar that assures me it has been five years since that deputy knocked on my door. 

It’s a fact.  

My heart says, “It cannot be true.  It cannot be that long since I saw my living, breathing son cross the threshold of our family home.  It cannot be that long since I made the phone calls that still echo in my ears.  It can. not. possibly. be. that. long.”

And yet it is.  

If folks ask me how I’m doing, how my family is doing, I usually say we are OK.

Because, all things considered, we ARE. 

beach-and-family-better

None of us find daily life unmanageable.  None of us have fallen prey to addiction or unhealthy coping mechanisms.  None of us sit inside all day, moping and mourning the loss of a life we couldn’t hold onto even if we had seen it slipping away in time to take a firmer grip.

But we are absolutely, utterly, profoundly CHANGED.  

I often think back to old Star Trek episodes that showed crew members transporting to the surface of an unknown planet.  Their bodies were broken down into the tiniest component molecules and reassembled somewhere else.

I think that’s what this life is like. 

We’ve all been disassembled and reassembled. 

But instead of everything falling back into place, there are missing bits here and there, gaps too small for others to see but very, very real to us.  Connections lost.  Memories without proper context.

dont recognize myself without one of my sons

Feelings floating free of any anchor, bubbling up at the most inconvenient moments.  

And we all just plain MISS HIM.

We miss Hector Dominic DeSimone and who he is, what he brought to the table and car rides and family gatherings.

We miss who we were before we knew loss that burrows deep in your bones.  We miss the unmitigated joy and celebration we could toss around like confetti at the slightest provocation.

So today, unlike most days, we will give in to the sorrow.  We will remember that morning.  We won’t brush away the tears or the sad memories.  

He is worth every second and every heartache.

He is never forgotten.  

He is always, always on our minds.  

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