(Almost) All Together

Our family has never been the “go somewhere for the holidays” sort.  We tend to stick close to home, to what’s familiar, to routine and regular bedtimes.

But lately life has thrown us a number of curveballs. And we are learning to swing at them instead of just letting them lob past us.

So just after Christmas, the four of us that were together in Alabama took a drive down to Florida to spend time with our oldest son and his wife in their new home.

We spent New Year’s Eve on a windy dog beach enjoying waves and walks and friendly strangers whose mutts came over to sniff ours.

Seafood  and people watching at a nearby restaurant sitting outside in the breezy cool topped off a lovely day.

I’m learning to live with Dominic’s absence.

I’m (almost) used to photographs of my three surviving children documenting adventures that don’t include his smiling face and raucous antics.  I’m trying to recapture the joy of his life and not dwell as much on the fact and circumstances of his death.

I can look forward a little further on a calendar.  I can plan a bit more.  My heart finds some satisfaction again in hosting friends and family for special occasions or no occasion at all.

In a word, I’m “better”.  

Not healed-never healed (past tense)-until heaven.

But oh, so thankful for the days I have to spend with the family I have left.

I don’t know if Dominic can see us from where he is, but if he can’t, we’ll have lots to tell him when we get there.  

One day closer.  

 

 

Listen. Love. Repeat.

Today and tomorrow families will gather around tables and trees and television sets.

Some folks together for the first time in twelve months and maybe a few for the first time in years.

family-reunion

All the cheesy Christmas movies promise that reunion is sweet.

They roll out the fantasy that old wounds are easily patched up and the smell of turkey and apple pie casts a spell on broken hearts and broken relationships.

But that’s not usually how it goes in real life.

Instead of sweet release and precious moments, many families will experience rising tension as one person tries to bite her tongue and another fuels his anger. Politics, religion, personal lifestyle choices and old slights work to raise the temperature of the room to boiling.

And then it happens:  He storms out, she leaves in tears and another “Hap-Hap-Happy Holiday” is in the books.

angry

It doesn’t have to be that way.

It can be different.

If, instead of letting words hit our ears only long enough to form a quick rebuttal, we choose to listen-really listenwe can change everything.

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If, instead of jumping to conclusions we commit to lavish love,  we can undo the knots that form in stomachs and smooth out the furrowed brows.

If instead of making a point we choose to make a friend, we will endure fewer arguments and foster greater compassion.

Listen.

Love.

Repeat. 

As many times as it takes to wash the worry out of a room.  As often as necessary to weave a web of welcome.  

Listen.

Love.

Repeat.

love-covers-a-multitude-of-sins

 

 

 

What Does Healing Look Like?

band aid and heart

As I continue to walk this Valley, my heart asks the question, “What does healing look like?”

Fewer tears?  Check.

More laughter? Check.

Better able to function? Check.

I’m definitely not as fragile as I was in the days and weeks and first months after Dominic left us.

I can do what life requires without falling apart (most of the time).

If you run into me out and about, I make small talk and answer questions about my family without breaking down.

So, from the outside looking in it seems the gaping wound of loss has healed pretty well.

But if I lift the lid of my heart ever so slightly, I’m amazed at how much it still hurts.  I’m astonished by the depth of pain and sorrow just under the facade of OK.

I cannot claim to have reached some higher plane of healing or restoration yet. I’m not sure I will this side of heaven.

And the pain of loss has tainted the joy I feel in what remains.

Instead of brilliant technicolor, my life is now lived in sepia tones that warn what joy I have could be stolen at any moment.

The lesson I’ve had stamped with fire on my heart is this:  Love is the only thing that matters in the end.

love-god-love-people.jpg

Love God.

Love people.

So the path to healing means I lean in and love Him and love the people He has given me with everything I’ve got.

Because love endures forever.

graphic-his-faithful-love-endures-forever

 

 

Repost: Season of Joy-Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

 

merry-christmas-tree

This was a post I wrote last year around this time.  It was my first attempt to express how hard the holidays can be for those missing someone they love.

“Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…”

Read the rest here:  Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Repost: Grief and Holidays: What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

The election’s over and whether we like the outcome or not, the calendar pages still turn. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming fast.  For some of us carrying the pain of loss, the holidays are a treacherous time.  

I’m reposting this link in the hopes it might help make things a little easier:

its hurting again

“I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it.  I didn’t ask for this to be my life.”

Read the rest here:  Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

Repost: Thankful But Broken

Autumn-Leaves-32

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

My birthday sometimes falls on the day itself, and I have often been able to celebrate with extended family and friends-a full table of food and a full house of fellowship.

I love the colors of fall, the scents of cinnamon and pumpkin, the freedom from gift-giving pressures that lets me focus on the people in my life.

Read the rest here:  Thankful But Broken

Speak Your Peace-You May Not Get Another Chance

Just a couple of days before Dominic left us, I and another one of my kids had a fuss.

He was frustrated and stressed and I was vulnerable and stressed and a few stray words ended up hurting my feelings.

I said, “I can’t talk anymore now”,  and hung up the phone in tears.

He was sorry and I was sorry and we immediately exchanged texts and let the feelings cool so we could resume our conversation the next day.

He sent me flowers.

flower-arrangement

They were still beautiful when he came home to bury his brother.

Our family observes a rule:  Don’t part in the heat of anger.

We may not be over our pain and the reason for the dispute may be legitimate, but NOTHING trumps relationship.

I am so very thankful for that rule.  Because one burden I don’t have to carry is that I might have left Dominic wondering if everything was OK between us.

It was.

So I say to you:

  • Speak your peace.
  • Say you’re sorry.
  • Move TOWARD the people you love and not away from them.

I pray every time I hear a siren that the person they are going to rescue will be alright.  I pray that the family that loves that person will get another chance.  I pray that the call that’s made is, “Come to the hospital to see me” and not “Come to the morgue”.

But you never know-you have NO guarantee that the last time you see or speak to someone you care about won’t be the LAST time.

And then you cannot undo the horror of regret that they might have left this world wondering if you loved them.

“I love you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want to stay angry with you.  Please forgive me.”

Say it loud, say it often, say it NOW.

 

 

 

Holiday Planning Helps for Grieving Parents

As much as I hate the mashup of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas that assaults my senses every time I walk into a store, it IS a reminder that, like it or not, the holidays are coming.

displays-before-halloween

I wrote these posts a few weeks back so that grieving parents and their families could begin to think about and make plans for year-end celebrations.

I know it’s hard-it continues to be hard for me as I approach the third (!) set of holidays without one of my children at the table.

But it is harder without a plan. 

So here are links to the posts.  I pray they are a small help for heartbroken mamas and daddies:

thanksgiving-day-4-wallpaper

 

 

Grief and Holiday Plans: Working Out the Details

 

 

family-reunion

 

Grief, Holidays and Hard Conversations

 

 

 

its hurting again

 

 

 

Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

 

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Practical Ideas for Dealing with the Holidays after Child Loss

Confluence

Like most parents who have buried a child, a line is drawn through my life.

April 12, 2014 changed everything.

Whenever I hear a date or a memory drifts across my mind, I think, “that was so many days, months or years BEFORE or AFTER Dominic left us”.  I can plot events on a calendar like I’m making a history timeline.

Put this one here and that one there. It seems so simple and straightforward 

But daily life is much more complex.  

I live in a world where “before” and “after” run together in a mighty torrent.  And I can’t control the way they mix and churn.

river-rapids

These past few days I’ve been pet sitting for my eldest son, James Michael,  and my daughter-in-law while both are out of town for work training.

They just moved from North Carolina to Florida and are still unpacking.

packing-boxes

So while I’m here I’ve been helping to put things away and clear the boxes.  I decided that working in the office was a good place to start-I figured I couldn’t do much damage by putting books on shelves and pens in cups.

None of these things belonged to Dominic.

But as I opened the boxes I was flooded with memories.  

I found a scrapbook my daughter made for JM’s high school graduation-filled with photos of my three boys-years upon years of adventures, goofy faces, travel and achievement.

Another box held my son’s old Bible with a couple of church bulletins tucked inside.  I was tossed back to the time when we all sat in the same pew, strong voices blending in worship, hands together in service-when I could not have imagined we would be one less-I only dreamed then of adding to the family, not taking away.

There was the graduation program from Auburn School of Veterinary Medicine.

james-michael-grad-auburn

Just weeks after burying Dominic we were celebrating the culmination of four years’ hard work.  It was supposed to be a rip-roaring party, but it was a quiet dinner instead.  

And then onto the mementos marking James Michael’s transitions since then:  from single to married; from sheriff’s deputy to Air Force captain; from West Virginia to North Carolina to Florida.

All important events that were missing Dominic.

Celebrations and achievements that were a bit smaller because we are fewer.

Even as nostalgia swept over me, excitement also filled my heart because James Michael and his wife were beginning a new chapter.

I was happy to be helpful.  

Encouraged that I could be of use in this season where many times I feel useless.

And I thought about rivers-rivers of time, of memories, of experience and of dreams.

Confluence:   a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point, especially of two rivers of equal strength.

This is where I find myself right now-swimming, drifting, sometimes drowning in the rivers

of “what was”

and “what is yet to be”

as they join in the “right now”.

 

 

 

Subtitles

My husband is the child of immigrants.  And even thirty years after coming to America, my in-laws preferred their native Italian to English.

italian-village

So when we would be in a crowded room, comments flying, I struggled to keep up with what was being said because I didn’t speak the same language.

As the years went by and our relationship deepened, I realized they had the same struggle when I would try to communicate complex truth in English.  It wasn’t their heart language and some things just didn’t translate well.

Sometimes feelings got hurt because what one of us thought we were saying was not what the other person heard.

Subtitles would have been useful.

The other day in an attempt to keep my unwell body in a chair, I pulled up Amazon and picked a movie.  It was in French with subtitles.

I thought, “I’ll try it.”

But as the movie went on, I realized that I was unable to give full attention to either the action of the movie or the subtitles that interpreted the dialogue.

It took way more effort than I was willing to commit to what was supposed to be a relaxing couple of hours.

So I turned it off.

Today someone in a bereaved parents group to which I belong asked if anyone else found holidays exhausting.

The comments were a resounding “yes”!

The more I thought about it the more I realized that a big part of what makes it so exhausting is a communication gap.

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I am not the same as I was before burying a child.  

My family is not the same.  

Nothing is the same.

Some of the “not the same” is the gap between my understanding of how I have changed and the lack of understanding by others about how I have changed.

Many friends, extended family members and acquaintances continue to relate to me as if I’m the “old” me. That creates tension and requires energy to deal with-I either have to overlook it, try to help them understand or figure out how to deal with it some other way.

We’re just not speaking the same language anymore.

Sometimes I think subtitles would be helpful.

But even then it would still be exhausting.   

 

 

 

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