If you’ve never faced anything very frightening, it’s easy to think that those who do and march on through are somehow immune to fear.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it.
Yet you cannot master something you deny. You cannot resist that which you claim doesn’t exist.
Child loss is frightening.
So frightening that those not forced to walk this road usually choose to pretend (in practice if not in words) that it simply isn’t part of the world they live in.
It’s so frightening that most bereaved parents experience a period of time we would describe as “being numb” and “shock”.
It was probably six months until my heart truly understood the fact that Dominic was not coming back.
It was frightening on so many levels-I had to face the fact I was not in control, had to face the fact my life was never going to be what I had envisioned it to be, face the fact that my surviving children would be shaped by grief in ways neither I nor they could anticipate, face the fact that I would live out my years carrying this heavy burden, and face the fact that no matter how hard I wished things were different, they were never going to be different-my child was dead.
And when the numbness began to wear off and fear creep into my heart, I had to choose: Was I going to embrace and experience this awful, devastating fear or was I going to try to deny it, distract myself from it or try to dismiss it as inconsequential?
Facing fear requires facing my own weakness.
Facing fear means becoming vulnerable-admitting that I am hurting, admitting that I cannot do this on my own, admitting that maybe, just maybe, I can’t climb this mountain without help.
Choosing vulnerability was its own challenge.
What if others mocked me? What if no one helped me? What if I just wasn’t up to the task?
I decided that NOT facing fear was not an option. As long as it lurked in the shadows I would be its prisoner.
So I turned and looked it square in the eyes. And I found, with God’s enabling help, I could master that fear.
Two verses became my touchstone:
When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone. In God—whose word I praise— in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in, for what can measly men do to me?
Psalm 56:3-4 VOICE
When I admitted my weakness, His strength was sufficient.
Choosing vulnerability and facing fear opens the door for God to show His power in and through me.
Child loss is still scary.
I’m still afraid.
But the Lord gives me strength to master the fear.
That’s the standard, isn’t it? We trust our eyes to tell us the truth. We rely on our senses to winnow out the chaff of falsehood and leave us with the meaty grain of truth.
But what if my eyes aren’t as trustworthy as I think?
What if my perception is limited and unreliable?
Living in the south means long, hot summers.
In the middle of July I would sign an affidavit that it has to be at least 100 degrees outside and not much cooler inside unless I run my air conditioner to the tune of a huge electric bill.
But if I do a little digging, I find that the average high for July and August in my part of Alabama is only 90-91 degrees.
Now, that doesn’t mean there are no days hotter, but it does mean that my sense of interminable heat is inaccurate and untrue. As a matter of fact, the average temp begins to decline mid-August when we are all panting for fall to make its appearance.
My point is this: when I am sweating in the middle of summer, I’m not in a position to give you an accurate weather report.
All I know is that I am hot.
All I know is that I think I will be hot for days and weeks to come. All I know is that a cool breeze would be welcome but it doesn’t seem to be in the offing anytime soon.
I don’t readily perceive the tiny creep toward cooler temperatures that is happening right under my nose.
It’s been the same way in my grief journey.
Four years in and I am definitely in a better mental, emotional and spiritual place than I was even a year ago.
But if you had asked me at any point during that time if I could perceive a shift toward healing, I would have said,“not really”.
I was (and am) relying on my senses to tell me where I am in this process of embracing the life I didn’t choose. Yet they are easily overwhelmed by my daily experience-crying one day, laughing the next, undone by memories again, blessed by a friend’s text or phone call-filled to the brim with input.
I have a hard time sorting it out and looking objectively at what the data suggests.
When I can take a step back, I see that my heart has healed in some measure. I have enfolded the truth that Dominic is not here into who I am and what my life will look like until I join him in heaven.
And understanding THAT helps me continue this journey.
I don’t want to be stuck in the misperception that I can “never learn to live without my son”.
I am learning how to do just that.
I don’t like it. I will NEVER like it.
But I am doing it.
Little by little, in tiny increments, every day reaching out, reaching forward and making choices that promote healing.
Trigger warning: I discuss my loss in terms of falling. If you have lost a loved one to that kind of accident, you might want to skip this post. ❤
I really don’t know how to explain it to anyone who has not had to repeatedly face their greatest fear.
It takes exactly as much courage.
Every. Single. Time.
I have had a dozen major surgeries in my life. I am always just as anxious when they start the countdown to anesthesia. Doesn’t matter what they push in my IV line-that moment when I realize I am relinquishing all control to the hands of others frightens me.
I feel like I am falling over the edge of a cliff-nothing to hold onto, no way to stop what’s coming, no way to clamber back up and change my mind or change what’s about to happen.
It’s the same every spring since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.
From the middle of March to the middle of April my body responds to cues my mind barely registers. Sights, smells, change in the length of the day, the direction of the prevailing wind-a hundred tiny stimuli make my nerves fire in chorus declaring, “It’s almost THAT day!”
There is another underlying dissonance that begs the question, “Why didn’t you see it coming?” Or, at least, “Why didn’t you spend a little more time with him on those last two visits home?”
Dominic was busy that spring-an internship with a local judge, papers and responsibilities as a journal editor along with the demanding reading load of second year Law School meant he didn’t make the 30 miles home all that often.
But there were a couple days he came our way in the month before he died.
One was to bring a friend’s car and do a bunch of work on it. That day was chilly and I popped out a few times to chit chat as they labored under the shed in the yard. I made lunch and visited with them then.
Still, I kind of felt like I shouldn’t hover over my grown son even though I really missed him and wanted badly to talk to him about something other than car parts.
The jacket he wore and dirtied that day with oil and grease and dirt and gravel grit is still hanging in what we use as a mud room.
Because they were coming back to do more repairs in a few weeks.
It is only now finally free of the last scent of him.
The next visit was on a day when I was busy, he was busy and we were all frustrated over equipment that wasn’t working properly. He brought me some medicine from the vet in town for a sick horse and spoke briefly about whether or not we’d cut some fallen limbs in a bit. Then he went to help his brother try to get the backhoe cranked. I was suffering from a severe flare in my ankle so was only able to hobble out to the spot the stupid thing had stopped for just a minute before needing to hobble back inside to put my foot up and allow it to rest.
He left early because I wasn’t up to cutting logs and neither he nor his brother could crank the infernal machine.
I remember that before he left, I made a point of turning him to face me and hugging him tight while telling him how very proud I was of him and everything he was doing and becoming. A little unusual because Dominic was the least huggable of all my children. He was no cuddler.
It was not a premonition-I was prompted by the knowledge he was going into finals and had been stressed lately.
But I am so glad I did it.
And then-poof!-time flies like time does and he and his brother were off on a Spring Break trip. They texted me faithfully to let me know they made it safely to their destination, safely to my parents’ home in Florida for a few days after that and then safely back home.
I never saw him alive again.
Spring is not my favorite season anymore.
While my heart can appreciate the promise of new life declared in every budding flower, every unfurling leaf, every newborn bird and calf and lamb, it is also aware that every living thing dies.
I’m on the edge and falling off.
I can’t stop it.
And it’s just as frightening this time as last time.
I remember as a young mother of four working hard to keep my kids safe.
Next to fed and dry (two still in diapers!) that was each day’s goal: No one got hurt.
It never occurred to me THEN to add: No one got killed.
Because the most outlandish thing I could imagine was one of them falling or touching a hot stove and us having to rush to the emergency room.
Then I became a mother of teens and one by one they acquired a driver’s license and motored away from our home.
That’s when I began to beg God to spare their lives.
One particularly frightening test was when all four went to Louisiana-my eldest driving and the rest in the van with her. I made them call me every hour and tell me they were OK. It was the first time I realized that I could lose every one of them in a single instant should they crash-all my eggs in one basket.
I was glad when that day was over. Although the irony is they were no “safer” at the end of those 24 hours than they were at the beginning.
Because what I know now, but didn’t know then is this: There is no such thing as“safe”.
Not the way we like to think of it-not the way we add labels to devices, seat belts to cars, helmets to everything from bicycles to skateboards. Of course we should absolutely take precautions!Many lives are saved by them every single day.
Life is more random than we want to admit.And there is no defense against random.
There is no way to screen for every underlying physical abnormality, no way to drive so well you can stop the drunk or inattentive driver from plowing through a stop sign, no way to anticipate every foolish choice a young person might make that ends in disaster instead of a funny story.
My first response when Dominic died driving his motorcycle was that I wanted my surviving sons to sell theirs. They did so out of respect for me. Neither of them wanted their mama to have to endure a second knock on the door and the same message delivered twice.
I receive it as a sacrifice offered in love from them.
Because it was.
Since Dominic left us almost four years ago, I have had to deal with my desperate need to keep my living children safe.
And it is a real struggle.
Each child is involved in a career that includes inherent risk. None of them are foolhardy, but they are exposed-perhaps more than many-to potential bad actors and dangerous circumstances.
How I long for those days when I could tuck everyone in, turn out the lights and sleep soundly because all my chicks were safe inside my own little coop! How I wish the only danger I thought about or knew about was a bump on the head from hitting a coffee table!
How my heart aches for one more moment of blissful ignorance!
But I can’t live in some imagined water color past. I have to live in the world as it is.
So I remind my heart that safe is an illusion-no matter where we are. Life is not living if it’s only about preserving breath and not about making a difference.