Grief Lasts As Long As Love Does

I know that before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I didn’t really think a lot about grief.  

I had lost grandparents and other relatives, but no one so close to me that the thought of how I was supposed to relate to them after death made a daily difference.  

I realized when Dominic left, that all the love I ever felt for him I still felt. 

All the parts of me that belonged to him still belonged to him and the parts of him that belonged to me still belonged to me.  

grief is the last act of love angel and candle

Love doesn’t die.  Love lives as long as the person doing the loving has breath.  

Grief doesn’t replace love. 

It IS love.  

all acts of grief are normal

Fix It Or Forget It: Why Unfinished Stories Make Others Uncomfortable

Attention spans are shorter than ever.

It’s easy to understand why.  We live in a world full of sound bytes, memes, tweets and T-shirt slogans.

But life can’t be reduced to such little snippets, even if we wish it could.

Not every biography has the perfect “beginning, middle, end” arch that makes for a good and satisfying story.

Some of us can’t tie up our experiences in tidy boxes, with colorful bows and a lovely tag line that inspires thousands.

gift box with bow

We are living unfinished, messy, hard stories that keep shifting, changing and require us to face mountain after mountain and valley after valley.

And we stumble. 

A lot.

I suppose it’s tiresome for our friends to have to slow down, turn around, bend down and help us get back up over and over and over.

Many of our compassionate companions turn into personal trainers at some point:  “You can do it!  Try harder! Push farther!  You’ve got to work at it!  Don’t give up!  Come on, don’t you want to get stronger, fitter, better????”

personal trainer

The hidden message?  If I wanted to badly enough, would try hard enough, work long enough or get the right help, I could “fix” this.  I could emerge from child loss whole, healed and healthy.

And when I don’t, they get frustrated, disgusted or just plain bored and leave me lonely on the trail.  They walk away and forget-because they CAN forget.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  If you think it’s hard to watch your friend struggle with a broken heart, a shattered life, doubts and regrets, it’s harder to live it.

 

You can walk away.  I can’t.  You can go home, close the door and think of something else.  I go home, close the door and am flooded with thoughts, emotions and overwhelming grief.

mixed stages of grief

 

If I could “fix it” don’t you think I would?

But I can’t.

I will continue to have a messy, untidy, unfinished life this side of Heaven.

And I will keep climbing, struggling and stumbling.

Will you stick around and walk with me?

Or will you walk away?

walking-up-a-hill

 

 

Repost: How Can I Survive Grief Anniversaries?

There are more than you might think.  

Most folks would count the date of death and maybe the date of burial or memorial service.

But a mama’s heart counts it ALL.

Read the rest here:  How Can I Survive Grief Anniversaries?

A Whole Series of “Lasts”

One of the things even the most uninformed person understands about loss is that the first birthday, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas and all the “firsts” after loss will be hard.

But one of the things no one tells you about is that a heart will mark the “lasts” just as much.

The last time I saw him.

The last time I spoke to him.

The last time I hugged his neck and smelled the unique fragrance that was my son.

missing child from arms

 

Every year as I approach the anniversary of the day Dominic left this life and stepped into Heaven, I also remember all the last times.

It’s hard on a heart to think about and wish that somehow I had made more of those moments.  I long to have just one more opportunity to say what needs to be said, to see his smile, hear his voice, and hug his neck.

But there’s no going back.

So part of the pain of marking the milestones is knowing there is no way to change a thing.  Not only the FACT that my son is gone, gone, gone.  But also the FACT that whatever I said or did or left unsaid or undone is utterly and undeniably carved in stone.

I don’t know why this anniversary is hitting my heart harder than last year.  Maybe it’s because I recognize how much life has happened since Dominic left us.  Maybe it’s because I think in terms of decades.  Maybe it’s because there are so many exciting family celebrations that he won’t be part of.

I have no idea.

But it’s nearly five long years since my son crossed the threshold of his family home.  It’s nearly five years since I heard that familiar deep “Hey!”.  It’s nearly five years since I waved him down the driveway and hollered, “Be careful!” as he drove back to his apartment.

I am thankful for the faithful love of my God and my family.  I am thankful for the compassionate companionship of friends.  I am thankful that I am still standing after the awful blow that I was sure would knock me so far down I’d never get up again.

But I miss him.  I miss him.  I miss him.

I will never be able to watch the early spring flowers bloom again without also remembering that it was those blossoms that heralded the good weather that lured him to take his motorcycle that night.

I will never hear Spring Break plans without counting the days between his last Spring Break trip and the day he met Jesus.

dom and julian spring break

I cannot step outside and smell the grass growing, feel the breeze blowing and hear the birds singing without my heart skipping beats and doing the math.  Today marks less than two months before the day he left us.

I understand that for others-if they remember at all-Dominic’s departure is a day circled on the calendar.

For me, it’s an entire season.

I mark every single day that led up to that day.  I remember every single conversation, meeting, text and phone call.  I remember all the things I did and regret all the things I didn’t do.

While the world is celebrating new life, I’m remembering a life that ended.

miss-you-every-day

How Can I See Love?

Fairy tales and favorite movies aside, what does love really look like?

How can I see this feeling that has driven some to distraction, some to destruction and even more to dedication to another in spite of whatever obstacles life has placed in the path?

It’s not often writ large.

In fact, it’s usually tiny stitches in the tapestry of life.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

A choice to fix her breakfast before his. * Bending down to plant a kiss on that frowning face. * Lending a tool or a few dollars knowing full well you’ll never see it again. *Refusing to leave when that friend pushes away.Bearing witness to sorrow and joy and pain and celebration. * Holding a hand when a heart is barely able to hold on. *Showing up, without being asked, because presence makes a difference. * Consistency in the face of chaos. * Doing the things that need to be done even when they go unnoticed and the one you do them for is ungrateful. * Letting go when it’s time.  * Turning up the heat for him and taking off your sweater. * Cooking a favorite meal or dessert or stew. * Carefully preserving a legacy. * Folding the towels the way she likes. * Phone calls across continents. * Refusing to give up, ever, no matter how hard it gets. 

winnie the pooh feel love

If I want to see love, all I have to do is look around.  

Love is so much more than flowers or candy on a single day of the year. 

It’s a life lived in service to another. 

It’s a pouring out. 

Real love is costly-in time, in effort, in energy.

And it’s always, always brave. 

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

 

Child Loss: Helpful Tips for Interacting With Bereaved Families

I firmly believe that our friends and extended family want to reach out, want to help, want to walk alongside as we grieve the death of our child

 I am also convinced that many of them don’t because they don’t know how.  

It may seem unfair that in addition to experiencing our loss, we also have to educate others on how to help us as we experience it, but that’s just how it is.

The alternative is to feel frustrated and abandoned or worse.  

So here’s a list of helpful tips (and a great infographic!) for interacting with bereaved families:  

Express condolences and show you care. Don’t avoid me, please!  You cannot make me any sadder.  I need to hear from you.

friends hugging

Refer to my child by name.  Dominic is STILL my son.  He is still part of my story.  But because he’s no longer visible, his name often goes unspoken.  Please talk to me about him, use his name, tell me a story of how he impacted your life or a memory that makes you smile.  It makes me smile too.

Actively listen and be supportive.  It’s hard to listen to someone tell you how much they are hurting and not offer advice or think of ways to “fix” them.  I can tell you from experience that what I need most on my darkest days is for someone to say, “It IS dark.  I’m so sorry.”  Silence is OK too.  Not every quiet moment needs to be filled with chatter.

listening is a postive act

Understand that each family and family member will grieve in different ways.  You may have observed child loss before but what you saw in one family may not translate to the next.  There are no hard and fast rules for this awful journey.  The age of the child, family background and structure, manner of death-all these impact grief.  In addition, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers all bring their personalities, stage of life, beliefs and experiences to the journey.  There were five of us left behind when Dominic ran ahead.  We were each devastated but expressed it in very different ways.  Nearly five years later, those gaps have widened, not narrowed.

Fathers grieve too.  Sometimes support focuses almost exclusively on the mother.  In part because of a common notion that mothers are somehow emotionally closer to their children than dads.  In part because many men are less demonstrative and may do a good job hiding grief.  Whatever the reason, don’t assume one parent is dealing “better” with the loss than another (mother or father) just because he (or she) is not crying openly.  No one escapes this awful blow unscathed.

bereaved fathers

Don’t overlook siblings.  Surviving siblings are sometimes referred to as “forgotten grievers”.  If they are very young, people may think they are relatively unaffected by the death of a brother or sister. If they are grown and out of the home, people may figure that the siblings’ own, very full and very busy, lives keep them preoccupied.  While some of that may be true-to an extent-most surviving siblings are deeply impacted by the death of a brother or sister, regardless of age.  Not only have they lost a member of the family and changed birth order, they have also lost the family they knew, the parents they knew and a co-keeper of memories and secrets.  Bereaved parents are often overwhelmed with grief for their living children as well as the child that is missing. One of the best gifts anyone gave me was reaching out to my surviving children.  It helped my heart to know that they had friends who were supporting and loving them well.

kids cartoon

Be yourself.  People often feel awkward and stiff when approaching a bereaved parent or family member.  That’s perfectly understandable.  The bereaved seem so fragile (are so fragile!) that folks are afraid the wrong word or touch might shatter them into a thousand pieces.  But what your friend or family needs right now is the you they’ve always known and loved.  If you are a hugger, hug!  If you are a storyteller, tell stories (appropriate ones, ones of the missing child).  If you are a cook and cleaner, then cook and clean.  Our family was blessed by our friends doing exactly what they had always done-come alongside in their own special way.  So much had changed in our world that familiar touchstones, familiar routines and familiar faces were a real comfort.

Keep in mind words matter.  Now is not the time to try to satisfy your curiosity about exactly “what happened”.  Loud joking is rarely welcome.  Many bereaved families find it hard to laugh in the first days, weeks, months because it feels like betrayal.  Don’t offer platitudes intended to help them “look on the bright side” or consider that “it could be worse”.  There is nothing worse than burying your child.  Nothing.  Listen and take direction from the person you are comforting.  Follow his or her lead.  And if something less than helpful slips out, own it and apologize.

pencil-drawing-bereaved-mother

It’s never too late to reach out.  NEVER.  Sometimes people stay away at first for lots of reasons.  Or they show up for the memorial service and then fade into the background.  After a bit, even if they want to reach out, they may feel embarrassed by the long absence.  Don’t be.  So many people stop calling, visiting and texting within the first weeks that your outstretched hand of friendship will be a welcome beacon of hope.  If you need to, apologize for your absence.  Be honest.  Admit you were scared or whatever.

Then show up. 

Stick around.

You don’t have to be perfect.  

Just be present.  

bereaved families infographic

Repost: What is Safe?

I remember as a  young mother of four working hard to keep my kids safe. 

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

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.

Read the rest here:  What is Safe?