Recently I was challenged by someone close to me to examine the impact on my heart of spending so much time in community with those whose loss was fresher and more raw than my own.
They were being neither judgmental nor argumentative.
They were coming from a genuine place of concern, grace and love.
So I took the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate whether or not I need to continue writing in this space, spend time reading and responding to posts in bereaved parents’ groups and ruminating on how grief has changed over time (now seven plus years!).
It was an excellent exercise.
I looked back over social media posts and blog posts from the half-decade and more since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. I could trace progress from breath-robbing, body-wracking, all-consuming sorrow to a gentler, muted and tender missing that made room for joy and beauty alongside the ever-present tangible absence of one of my children.
I also noted a transition from “spilling my guts” to “trail guide”.
I’m no longer primarily using this space to release feelings and thoughts I’m not comfortable tossing out in day-to-day conversation. Instead, I’m mostly thinking about and sharing what I’ve learned along the way-pointing out the pitfalls and (hopefully!) encouraging hearts to keep on keeping on.
I’ve given myself permission to repost earlier entries (please note dates when you click through) that represent more raw emotions without making apology for either the lack of time or energy to write something new or the angst I once felt.
I’m also choosing to limit my online interaction to an hour in the morning and maybe an hour in the evening.
I absolutely desire to speak encouragement, grace and hope to hearts that are struggling but still need to guard my own from overload.
And as for friends, family or strangers who think, “Goodness, gracious! She needs to MOVE ON!”.
I say, “How can I hide or hoard this hard-won wisdom and experience?”
This is my ministry.
I didn’t ask for it, but it’s mine.
I won’t run away.
So until the Lord tells me definitively He has another path for my life I’ll be here.
It was one of the things I shared with Dominic since both of us were Political Science majors and had aspirations of a legal career.
In recent years I’ve found it healthier to eschew most newscasts and instead selectively choose printed news stories based on interest, relevance and headlines.
Yesterday I was blindsided by what seemed innocuous enough, “Gas Prices Expected to Rise in Wake of Cyber-attack on Pipeline”. Curiosity led me to click and read the article.
Everything was just fine until I read this line, “Gas prices will soon reach levels not seen since 2014.” That’s when it hit me.
So. much. life. has been lived between Dominic’s leaving and this moment.
Of course I’m always aware to some degree that time is passing and he is drifting further and further behind relative to my family’s everyday experience. But I’m not often required to stop, take stock and really count the days and ways he hasn’t been part of all the things that fit between his last breath and my most recent one.
2014. My goodness that’s working it’s way to a decade!
And when you consider that college degrees are (ideally!) completed in four years, babies are in the womb for nine months before making an appearance, jobs can be won and lost in a week and retirement declared in thirty days-well, seven plus years is a very, very long time.
Sweet Ryker has only been part of our lives for just over two years.
My mama joined Dominic in heaven eighteen months ago.
The pandemic has forced uncomfortable changes and choices for more than twelve months.
My husband’s official retirement date was half a year ago.
And that’s just a few of the bigger changes since Dom left for Heaven!
I am thankful (didn’t think I’d ever really mean that) to have survived and, in many ways, thrived, since burying one of my children.
It’s been hard.
But I don’t want to rush my precious family into further grief and pain.
Even so I’m prone to sit, bewildered, that time refuses to stand still in light of the giant loss we’ve all suffered.
And sometimes even headlines remind my heart of that.
Seven years and most days I accept that it’s real like I accept the Theory of Relativity-factually true but I don’t really understand how it fits in my life.
When I pause and focus on, ”Dominic is gone” it’s just as shocking today as the very first day.
Even therapists get it wrong sometimes.
Especially therapists that only know what child loss is supposed to look like from books and lectures.
I understand how logical it seems that a parent should be able to accept his or her child is no longer alive. After all, most of us saw our child’s lifeless body and performed whatever rituals our hearts find most comforting.
I absolutely understand how it feels to be frozen between “I want to DO something” and “I have no idea WHAT to do”.
It’s where most of us find ourselves when we hear of a loved one compelled to walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
It seems pushy to force help on a fragile heart and yet it feels cowardly to stand by while that same heart struggles to complete all the tasks necessary surrounding death.
So what can a caring friend or family member do? Start by showing up.
I remember the morning I got the news and as the sun was coming up, a truck pulled down our lane. It was Robbie-our “adopted” son. As soon as my oldest son (who was in WV at the time) got the call, he called Robbie. Because he knew I would be able to bear Robbie’s presence and accept Robbie’s help.
I cannot describe the relief I felt when he came to the door-another shoulder to help carry this burden until we could gather all our family together to lift it in unison.
And after him came a couple we had known since the kids were little.
Both rushed to our doorstep to offer companionship, practical aid, listening ears and simple reassurance that though this was NOT a dream-oh, how I wanted it to be a dream!–I was not going to walk this Valley alone.
They stayed until my husband, son and parents had made it here. I will never, ever, ever forget that gift of unconditional love and time offered just when I needed it most.
So here we are a year later and the headlines still proclaim, “Just wait! It’s going to get better!”
In some ways things ARE better-there are vaccines, treatments and protocols that can chip away at the virus. Toilet paper is back on the shelves. Working from home is working out for a number of folks who love the flexibility.
In many ways we are still in a holding pattern. Waiting for life as we once knew it to once more be available.
Young people have lost important opportunities and are anxious to not lose more. Old people have lost precious time with children and grandchildren and are oh, so aware that every passing day is one less to spend with them and build memories.
So we’re still practicing this whole waiting thing. And it’s hard.
It’s hard to wait.
It’s harder to rest patiently for something you desperately want .
That’s why children shake the presents under the Christmas tree and grown-ups dip into their savings.
It’s also why we so often doubt that God has things under control.
When circumstances require sacrifice I want the Lord to step in and fix them. I want my omnipotent God to use a little of that power to make my life more bearable. And when He doesn’t, I’m more likely to call His character into question than to doubt my own motives.
I’ve just had the privilege of a house full of family for the first time in over a year. My son, wife and his son (our only grandchild!) came for an extended visit and it has been wonderful!
But after such a long stretch of only us older, predictable (read boring) and relatively quiet folks rattling around this place, the vibrant, noisy, slightly chaotic frenzy of a nearly two-year-old has been a little challenging.
I’ve really had to work hard on centering my focus and being present in the moment. And I don’t mind telling you, I’ve missed the mark several times now.
I know better-I know I have absolutely, positively GOT to set aside some quiet time each day but I’ve let my “to do” list rob me of it.
So here I am, preaching to myself. Again.
One of the commitments I made out loud and in my heart the day Dominic left us was this: I was not going to let his death tear my family apart.
I was not going to let him become the sainted brother that stood apart and above his siblings.
I was going to continue to give as much of my time, effort, love and presence to each of the three I had left as I had done when there were four on earth beside me.
I’ve been more or less successful in keeping this promise.