Three years ago today I sat in a back bedroom with my laptop trying to summarize a whole life into a few paragraphs.
It wasn’t any easier doing that for my mama who lived a long life than it was for my son who (by most standards) lived a short one.
Ain’t nothing easy about death.
Ain’t nothing easy about walking away from a hospital room or a morgue or an accident site knowing that whatever wasn’t said will never be said. Nothing easy about facing final arrangements, making phone calls, writing obituaries, finding photos for a slide show, wrapping up a life into a few words and a few songs and a few pictures.
My heart is used to the dull thumping pain of sorrow.
It’s grown accustomed to setting aside despair and doing what has to be done.
I know how to forge ahead and keep living and plan as if my world hasn’t imploded, making calendars and clocks and seasons and holidays irrelevant.
Ninety miles an hour-that’s how fast my mind can go from here to there.
From what’s in front of me to what’s behind me.
From laughter to swallowing sobs.
We sit in a living room surrounded by toys and playing with children, talking about life and love and plans and people. The little brown face that turns his eyes to mine looks so much like Dominic I have to suck in my breath.
It’s my mama’s birthday-the third one we will celebrate without her here to blow out the candles.
It’s also the third anniversary (do you call it that?) of the day Papa had to call an ambulance to rush her to the hospital.
She never came home.
These past two years have been hard. Mama’s death plunged me back into deep grief for her and for Dominic. It tapped the wound that had begun to scar over a bit and the feelings I’d learned to push down bubbled back to the surface.
I’ve just now begun to sleep through the night again most nights. For much of the past two years I’ve been waking two or three times in the dark to vividly awful dreams-my family in peril and no way to help them is the theme over and over and over.
I know other motherless daughters.
Somehow knowing Mama isn’t available on the other end of the phone or sitting in her chair, waiting for me to come through the door at the farm, makes me supremely vulnerable.
One less generation between me and whatever the world might throw at me.
I know she is healthy and whole, happy and full of joy in Heaven. I know she’s reunited with her own mama, her siblings and Dominic.
On good days, that’s enough to make the missing bearable.
But on days like today, when we should be celebrating another year together but can’t, it doesn’t help all that much.
I miss her.
I miss Dominic.
I miss the me that used to be ignorant of what death steals from the living.
Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mama. We’ll be there soon. ❤
There are all kinds of ways child loss plays with your head.
One of the most common and often repeated questions among bereaved parents (especially those who have lost their only child , all their children or a child before or at birth) is this: Am I still a mama (or daddy)?
Short answer: YES. Absolutely!
The fact that your child has taken up residence in Heaven and is no longer here to hold and love and parent on earth changes NOTHING about your status.
I was planning my daughter’s wedding and juggling a number of other pressing responsibilities. I managed to keep my composure most days when talking with caterers, family members and vendors but all that pent up stress kept me from falling asleep when I finally put my head down at night.
I had just begun to settle back into a decent sleep pattern when my mother suffered a stroke and died a few days later in September.
That threw me right back into the sleepless cycle that plagued me for years after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven in 2014. I couldn’t fall asleep or when I fell asleep I couldn’t stay asleep. What sleep I managed to get was filled with terrible and terribly vivid dreams.
I’m not sure I will ever enjoy the blissfully ignorant and pleasant slumber I knew as a young girl.
My heart won’t let me.
For the first couple of weeks after Dominic left us, I couldn’t fall asleep.
It was impossible to close my eyes without a dozen awful scenes flashing behind the lids.
It’s been five plus years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
And while I’ve grown stronger and better able to carry the load of grief, the missing never ends.
I cannot become accustomed to photos that don’t include one of my children. I can’t set aside the sense that someone is absent from the table. It still seems unreal and unnatural for there not to be presents under the tree with Dom’s name on them. It is absolutely impossible for me to tick off the current ages of my kids without a pause for the age Dominic should be, but isn’t.
Now missing Dominic on one side of life is bookended by missing my mama on the other.
Sure, it’s perfectly natural and orderly for our parents to leave this life before us.
But it isn’t painless.
As a matter of fact, it is very, very painful.
I miss the generational space between me and eternity. I miss Mama’s voice, her silly stories, her peculiar habits and stubborn nature. I miss seeing her in the chair that was her daily perch these past two years. I miss the way she piddled with her food always declaring, “I eat everything on my plate” when she knew good and well she didn’t.
Our circle is smaller this year.
When we gather for opening presents and enjoying the Christmas feast there will be two people absent.
My heart will always mark the space where Mama and Dominic SHOULD be.
I started writing because of Dominic and my family. I keep writing because of Dominic and my family and all the beautiful souls I’ve met along this journey-many who have never lost a child but whose hearts grieve for someone or something else.
I thought I’d share what I read at my sweet mama’s funeral yesterday-it was made easier and richer by all those who have walked with me so far in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Your comments, your messages, your thoughts and insights helped me express the most important lesson I’m learning in grief: Love Lives Forever.
When we walk through the graveyard or read an obituary, we almost always look for those two dates that bookend a life-for Mama it is September 23, 1938 and September 27, 2019.
Lots of sermons have been preached about that dash in between-about that what we do or don’t do, who we love or don’t love, how we use the years we are given as either a blessing or something else.
And that is very, very true.
We tend to think that the last date-the date when breath leaves the body and the soul escapes the trials of this world to enter the glory of Heaven-as the end. We can hardly help it because our relationship to the one we love changes so dramatically.
I can’t hug Mama anymore, I can’t hear her laugh, I can’t call her up and tell her, “I love you” or greet her in the morning with a “Hi Girlie!”.
It creates a giant void for me and an unfathomably huge void for Papa. We are going to have to find a way to live with that empty space in our hearts and in our lives.
It takes lots and lots of work, lots and lots of tears and lots and lots of time. There’s no shortcut through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
My Mama lost HER mother suddenly, to a stroke, when she was just ten years old. So she lived with that giant hole in her heart for over 71 years. She could have allowed the pain to make her cold and bitter, closed off and unavailable. It certainly would have been an understandable response to a traumatic loss.
But she didn’t.
Without exception, every person who has called, written or come by to pay respects to Patty Hart describes her as gracious, lovely, kind, generous, welcoming, cheerful and bright.
Mama chose love.
In just the past few weeks, before this last hospitalization, I got to see Mama begin to pour that love into a new generation. She had two visits from her great-grandson. One due to Hurricane Dorian (they had to evacuate) and one that was scheduled to give her the chance to meet him.
I won’t fib and say that having overnight visitors in the house was easy for her or Papa with all her medical conditions, but you’d never know it by the grin on her face when I put that chubby little stinker in her lap.
For a few minutes, she was Nanny again-singing, cooing, laughing and making eyes at him. She even got to be the first one to see him turn over. That tickled her!
Truth is, that last date isn’t the end. There’s no period after Patricia Ann Landrum Hart’s life. Of course she lives on in Heaven with Jesus, her mama and my Dominic.
But even here, on earth, love lives forever.
It lives in the lives she touched and will continue to touch through her friends and family as they honor her legacy of love.
Our circle is broken today. Death is awful and it’s hard. It’s a reminder the world is not as God intended it to be and we walk a broken road toward the promises of redemption and restoration.
But the chains of love forged in our hearts are never severed.