I’ve spent the last two days rearranging our family room.
Since my husband has retired, we no longer use it as we once did and I realized a few weeks ago that it was ridiculous to have it set up the way it’s been for decades when our needs have drastically changed.
So we decided to tackle the job of sorting/moving/dismantling books, videos (yes, we still have a few!), DVDs, CDs and random other bits and pieces of a life long lived in the same place.
For those of you who have moved often you may have been spared the detritus of papers stuck in cracks and crevices on bookcases with the promise to yourself you’ll “put them where they go when I get a chance”.
Me, not so lucky.
I’ve found treasures-scribbles of younger days from my now (very!) grown children-and sad reminders of projects begun and left hanging because we got too busy to see them through.
The one thing I celebrated in taking apart, digging through and tearing down was this: totally destroying and trashing an old, old, old television stand from back in the day when TVs were far too heavy and far too thick to mount on walls or above fireplaces.
I’d always hated that thing.
We bought it as young marrieds when our budget was tight and floor space was precious in our first small home. It did the job but it was just not my style. And at the time, I wasn’t bold enough or strong enough to speak up and advocate for a different choice.
Oh, there are wonderful memories of my two oldest kids putting on shows dressed up in fun costumes and singing along to our cassette tape playlist. We have more than one photo of that delightful era.
But there were years and years of putting up with something that no longer served our needs (because it was here, bought and paid for, and convenient) instead of ditching it and buying something that would both serve and bring delight.
So other than a long march down memory lane, what does this have to do with child loss?
I’ve learned since Dom left us that I’ll no longer stay silent when a habit, a situation, a relationship or a piece of furniture doesn’t serve my current mental, physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual circumstances.
I won’t wait for someone else to notice I’m upset or sad or happy or delighted.
I’ve learned to speak up for myself and ask for things I need. I’m learning (haven’t made the progress I’d like!) to set boundaries and tell others that they may come thus far and no closer. I’m trying harder to rid my life of what is unhelpful and unhealthy.
I’m definitely a work in progress.
And most of the work won’t have such a satisfying and concise conclusion as when I cheerfully watch the pieces of that old TV stand go up in smoke.
But I’m committed to continue dismantling the parts of my past that no longer serve my present.
I first shared this last summer when I was actively working my way through several piles of boxed up memories.
I’d love to report that I whittled it down to a manageable few but I can’t.
I’m going to pretend it was lack of time that kept me from doing a better job but truth is it was mostly lack of heart.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only bereaved parent who has boxed up things post loss and left them untouched for years.
Life kept moving at a fast pace after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve had the time to even consider going through his stuff.
Time alone was not enough to push me toward doing the hard work of deciding what to keep, what to give away and (most painfully!) what to throw away. But various circumstances forced my hand and I’ve spent much of the last year digging through stuff and digging up memories.
To be sure, not everything has a direct connection to Dominic.
During the most isolating months of the pandemic, I spent a good deal of time down at my dad’s place.
Together with my youngest son, we dug through and sorted out generations of stuff and memories.
I’ve surrounded myself in my own home with bits and pieces from these treasures that speak courage and history to my heart. They tell a tale of lives lived, love passed down and hard work, endurance and faith.
It helps to know where you come from.
Most folks want antiques that can fetch a high price or at least an envious look from those who wish they were so fortunate to have them.
I want the things that have passed through the hands and speak to the work of those I’ve loved-the worn down, worn out relics of lives well lived and hearts poured into the next generation.
I’m at my dad’s place this weekend for a family funeral.
My great-aunt, the last of seven adult siblings in my grandmother’s family left for Heaven in April. So cousins from around the country are gathering to honor our family legacy and remember, remember, remember.
It’s hit my particularly vulnerable heart (Dominic’s birthday is May 28) hard, hard, hard.
I wake up each morning in the the home where my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my mama lived. My dad still lives here. So. much. life. has transpired within these walls.
Death has been here too.
Grandpapa Cox was laid out in the living room. I remember looking down on him lying there and asking what he was doing, stiff and still in that box.
When I sat in the pew next to more than two dozen folks with whom I share DNA I thought about the hymns and prayers lifted in the little country church we’d all attended at various times. I pictured my gray-haired greatgrandmother, Mama Eva, sitting in the corner by the window-her daughters next to her. I saw my own mama’s casket centered below the pulpit, her hands holding the white rose and Dominic’s photograph.
And here we all are writing new stories while carrying chapters from the old ones with us into the future.
People say, “Let’s not wait until the next funeral to get together” but we almost always do. The most complete family photos tend to be at sad events when folks are compelled to show up and don’t dare offer feeble excuses for not coming.
We have our share of photos from the past couple days. Cousins now lined up with gray hair and laugh lines just like our parents and grandparents before us.
One thing I’ve learned from death is this: you can’t stop time no matter how badly you might wish you could.
For those of us who have experienced child loss we not only mourn what we once had and knew but what we will never have and never know. We lost a future as well as a past.
I’m thankful that most of my folks tend to live long lives and leave for Heaven at a ripe old age.
I’m so sorry that Dominic wasn’t one of them.
Today I’ll breathe and rest and digest the old memories and the new ones.
I’m thankful these good-byes aren’t final.
I’m thankful I’ll see the ones I love sooner than I might imagine.
I first shared this five years ago so it may shock some folks that while I have finally tossed most of the things in my fridge that once belonged to Dominic, I’ve got a giant bottle of hot sauce I’m still using.
Every time I add spicy flavor to chili I think of him.
I’m not looking forward to the day it runs out because it will be one more link dissolved between the living son I knew in the flesh and the memories I have to settle for now.
My parents live in another state so I call each morning just to check in and say hello.
We usually chat about what we have planned for the day, what we did the day before and share any important family updates.
Yesterday my dad mentioned that he had been to the grocery store, came home and when putting away the food he bought decided to clean out his refrigerator. He joked that he found some things from years ago tucked in the back where they’d been forgotten.
I laughed and said, “Yeah-I did that sometime last summer.”
And then my heart froze as I remembered another fridge I cleaned out three years ago.
I went on to say, “I threw out all the old stuff except what I took out of Dom’s fridge when we cleaned his apartment.”
The calendar is relentless. There’s no respect for seasons of mourning or grief anniversaries or weeks of sickness or unexpected early births of grandchildren.
The sun rises, the sun sets and another day is crossed off into history.
So somehow-without my permission-I find I’ve woken to mark the eighth anniversary (do you call such a horrible thing an anniversary?) of Dominic’s death.
It’s humbling to realize I (and my family!) are not only still standing but flourishing. It’s horrifying to comprehend I’ve continued to live and breathe for 2922 days since Dominic left us.
Most days are pretty good.
Today is hard.
When the numbness wore off (maybe around six months) I remember vaguely wondering what years down the road would feel like.
I tried to project the “me” of that moment into the future and imagine how I might deal with life changes, new circumstances, an empty nest, grandchildren (if there were any) and growing older alongside the heartache of burying a child.
But just as it’s impossible to comprehend how the addition of a child utterly transforms a family, it’s impossible to understand how the subtraction of one changes everything just as much.
We are all so very different than we would have been if Dominic were still here.
Life most likely wouldn’t be any more perfect because we would each grow and change, find common ground and find points of conflict, make new memories and drag up old hurts.
Still, none of us would carry the deep wound and traumatic injury of sudden and out-of-order death.
THATis impossible to ignore. Even eight years later it’s a red flag, a sticky note, an addendum to every family gathering and holiday.
So we carry on.
Like generations before us who have walked this world dragging loss behind them, we keep going. It shapes us but doesn’t limit us. It informs our views but isn’t the only thing that molds our opinions and frames our choices.
My faith in God’s larger and perfect plan helps me hold onto hope even as I continue to miss my son.
But today is a hard day and I don’t think that’s going to change as long as I live.
I’m getting better at remembering Dominic’s birthday in ways that honor who he is and the man he might have become. I can’t say I’ve figured out any good way to walk through the yearly unavoidable and unwelcome reminder of the day he left us.
I’m learning to allow the grief waves to simply wash over me without resisting them.
Eventually the hours tick away, the day is over and I find I’ve survived yet again.