Loving Well: Just Say His Name

I know you are afraid.

You think that speaking his name or sharing a memory or sending me a photo will add to my sorrow.

I understand.

But even when it costs me a split second of sharp pain, it is truly a gift to know that Dominic lives on in the hearts and minds of others.  It gives me courage to speak too.  It creates space where I can honor my son.

It helps keep him alive.

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” ~Banksy

I know you’re busy.  I know your life is full and bustling with so many people and activities demanding attention that you don’t have any to spare.

It is easy to forget.

He wasn’t your child. The date of his homegoing isn’t etched into the marrow of your bones, it isn’t scribed on the inside of your eyelids.

Every time the calendar screams “12” I make one more chalkmark on my heart counting the days since I saw him last.

But please remember.  Please don’t let the day slip by and not acknowledge that it is as important a milestone to me and my family as his birthday.

I know you’re scared.

Death is scary.  Even for us who trust Jesus.  And the death of a child just trashes the notion that we are in control, that we can fully protect the ones we love from all harm.

But you are frightened of what you cannot comprehend.

I am living the reality of your greatest fear.

Be brave.  Step out and welcome me in.

Give space for the longing to hear my son’s name, to know my son matters, to relive some of the happy moments and funny times and even some of the hard days.

I can sit by myself and remember him.

But sharing him with you breathes life into the recollection and speaks hope to my heart.

It fuels the fire that helps me see that even when I’m not here to carry him into the land of those still living, someone else will do it for me.

Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.






grief and sleep

Boy, do I envy my cats’ ability to fall asleep any place, any time.

I’ve lived with chronic physical pain for over a decade and there are nights when it is hard to go to sleep-when it is impossible to ignore the pain.  But I have never thought of myself as having trouble sleeping.

Until now.

When grieving a child, you are oh, so very tired.  Yet often sleep eludes you.

“He who learns must suffer.  And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”


Lying in bed, in the dark, my mind kicks in to hyper-drive.  With no external stimulation to provide distraction, images come unbidden and unwelcome to taunt me.  I work hard to guide the train of thought to a less tortuous route.

So I thought I would share some ways that help me make it through the long nights:

  • Only lie down when you are tired enough to expect that you can fall asleep.  I am physically active each day so that at least my body is ready for rest.
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages after 12 noon and don’t eat heavy foods past mid-afternoon.
  • Be selective about what you listen to, watch or read in the hours leading up to bedtime.  I try to feed my mind images and information that will help me focus on more positive themes when I close my eyes.
  • Keep a pad and pencil next to the bed to jot down last minute reminders of things you might need to remember tomorrow.  I try to think ahead and have a rough plan of action for the next day so that my mind can rest.
  • Make sure you are physically comfortable–room temperature and bed clothes appropriate to the season, pajamas in soft fabrics, well-hydrated, take analgesics as needed for physical pain, etc.
  • Make whatever concessions are needed to hold anxiety at bay.  I have a nightlight in my bathroom that casts a soft glow into my bedroom.  I keep my cell phone and home phone next to me because once you get “that call” you feel like you must be instantly accessible to loved ones.  My cat sleeps with me–purring is a great comforter.
  • When I turn out the light and turn over, I purposely focus my mind’s attention and heart’s affection on trusting God to help me drift off to sleep.

“I can lie down and go to sleep, and I will wake up again, because the Lord ·gives me strength [sustains/upholds me].”

Psalm 3:5 EXB

  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, try reciting Scripture or humming hymns and try to lull yourself back to sleep. I will sometimes do mental work like planning a project or trying to recall a childhood memory–anything that might make me tired.
  • If  you can’t go back to sleep in 30 minutes or so, get up and get on with the new day–even if it is only hours old.  There’s no use lying in bed and tossing and turning. While I may be exhausted for that day, I’m almost certain to be able to sleep better the next night.

Sleep is important.

If you find that you are unable to get more than a few hours sleep for longer than two weeks–talk to your doctor.  There is NO SHAME in asking for help. And there are many products available that are non-habit forming and suitable for short-term use.

It is impossible to do the work grief requires if you are worn out from lack of sleep in addition to carrying the pain of losing your child.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

Henry Ward Beecher

If we can help ourselves get the rest we need, we are better able to face the challenge of each new day.


Bereaved Parents and The Question of Photographs


Pictures are everywhere today–much different than when I was a child and you had to go down to the local studio to get a decent family photo. Poloroids were fun and fast, but the number of shots you could take was limited to the film in the packet.

And how many rolls of 110 or 35 mm are still rattling around somewhere in drawers or boxes, undeveloped and forgotten?

But now our phones make us instant and eager chroniclers of the everyday.

And social media gives us the opportunity to splatter our work across the Internet–all over the country and around the world.

One of the challenges facing bereaved parents is what to do about photographs–both the ones that exist and the ones yet to be taken.

I remember everything about the first formal family photograph after Dominic died.

It was two months to the day since we buried him, and his older brother was getting married.  A day we had planned for and looked forward to for a long time.  It marked a new beginning, a new life, but the spectre of death veiled my eyes and whispered in my ears.

Standing there, smiling and holding back the tears, my heart cried,”One of us is missing!” and I wanted to shout, “Don’t take the photo.  Don’t memorialize the absence of my son.”

I swallowed the words and have an album full of evidence that he wasn’t there.

Our family usually sends New Year’s cards instead of Christmas cards but I haven’t sent one in two years because they always included a family picture.  I don’t know how to send them if Dominic isn’t in the frame.

And what to do with all the pictures that already exist?

We had a video montage at his funeral and I have it tucked safely away. There are hundreds of snapshots, digital photos on computers and phones, all the images on his Facebook page and the pages of friends…

C.S. Lewis notes in A Grief Observed:

“Today I had to meet a man I haven’t seen for ten years.  And all that time I had thought I was remembering him well–how he looked and spoke and the sort of things he said.  The first five minutes of the real man shattered the image completely.  Not that he had changed.  On the contrary…I had known all these things once and recognized them the moment I met them again.  But they had all faded out of my mental picture of him, and when they were all replaced by his actual presence the total effect was quite astonishingly different from the image I had carried about with me for those ten years.  How can I hope that this will not happen to my memory of H.[his wife]?  That it is not happening already?”

And that’s the thing–the pictures aren’t my son.  

They were a moment in time, and bring a smile of remembrance, but they are only a shallow representation of the vibrant life that was Dominic.  As the months progress and his siblings and friends age, the pictures document that he is further and further out of step with our current reality.  

We are leaving him behind.

I decided early on that our walls would not become a shrine to the one child missing.  So I have incorporated photos of Dominic with those of his siblings and other family members. I do have more pictures on display than I used to–they are all I have left of my son.

It’s easy to honor his memory–but I want to honor him.  Who he was, what he represents and who he remains as part of who I am.

I don’t know how to combat the slow fade of the experience of my living, breathing son in all his complexity to the two-dimensional representation hanging on my wall.

I wish I did.


The Silent Joy of Memory

We live in a noisy world.

Music, television, voices and the hum of electricity tunnel into our brains and distract us from hard questions and painful circumstances.

We live in a busy world.

If I’m not in motion, I am getting ready to be.

It is tempting in my grief to try to stuff life full of noise and busyness so I can ignore the pain and emptiness of missing my son.

But there is quiet beauty in the unfilled space of my heart–the spot once brimming with the living essence of the son I love.

In the silence I can hear his voice and see his smile.

So I will guard the noiseless place that still belongs to Dominic and keep it as a treasure,  a comfort, and a tribute to him until we are together again.

There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What Will They Remember?

Since burying my son, I’ve thought a lot about memories.  Not only recalling specific moments or events, but the nature of memory itself.

Why can I easily relive certain events, bring to mind a joke, or a car ride to the store in great detail yet not access others except in bits and pieces?

There are all kinds of theories on how our minds make and store memories.  Lots of research being done on which synapses fire and which pathways are activated.

But can I just tell you from a mama’s heart that what makes memories–good or bad–is strong emotion.  

We remember what we passionately feel.

When we engage our hearts, we imprint our minds.

So be aware that all the fancy fixings for Christmas don’t make memories. The moments you and they will cherish are the ones bathed in love, covered with laughter, circled round with the warmth of fellowship.

Presents, menus and decorations will be forgotten by this time next year but the sweet aroma of a peace-filled home welcoming the Presence of Christ will linger for eternity.

Skip the lines and frantic last- minute preparation and spend the next few days basking in God’s love, mercy and grace.

Your soul will be filled with His peace and overflow to those you love.

And that will be a memory everyone will cherish.

Minus More Than One

No child grows up in the SAME family because the addition of another child CHANGES the family. So does the subtraction…

We all miss him.

But each in our own way.

A family isn’t just the sum of its parts.

It isn’t a simple equation that can be worked out on a chalkboard or around a dinner table-this person plus that person equals two persons.

A family is an organic mixture of personalities, relationships, strengths and weaknesses that exponentially influence one another.

I always joked that our family was a ready-made committee.  Wherever we went we brought a fully staffed, action-ready army of six that spread out and triumphed over whatever challenge we faced.

The last great task we conquered together was burying Dominic.

Our family has been diminished by more than one person.  

We have lost the unique relationship that each of us had with him, lost the added strength that those relationships wove into the fabric of our lives.  There are gaping holes everywhere.

Some people say that on earth we can only see the ugly underneath of the beautiful tapestry God is making of our lives.

That’s probably true.

But I long to get a glimpse of what loveliness is to be wrought from these threads.

A Life in Scraps


Just a few months before Dominic was killed, this hoarding homeschool mama decided that it was time to finally give up some of the thousands of pages of handwritten, color-crayoned papers stacked in the attic, the storage building and floating in corners and crevices throughout the house.

Four children and twenty-two years of teaching them at home had produced a mountain of memories.  I began to sort through the ones I deemed “most important to keep” and “everything else”.  

Several loads were taken to the dump and tossed unceremoniously onto the trash pile.

It felt like freedom.

Now it feels like regret and longing.

Because what I have left of the physical presence of my son is represented in the scraps I have kept-the clothes, the notes, the scribbled comments in the margins of his notebooks and college texts.

I hear his voice in the tweets– his wit and wisdom, cynicism and societal critique.

Sometimes I hold them and think of the boy,the teen,the man who wrote them.

Sometimes I hurry past because thinking of who he was and feeling the absence of who he would be right now is too great to bear.

I wish he had left more voice mails-

I don’t erase them anymore.