Why, “Just Think About All The Good Memories,” Doesn’t Comfort My Heart

I pull out the memories like treasures from a locked strongbox.

“Handle With Care” because they are all I have left.

But they are not enough.

They will never be enough to satisfy this mama’s heart.

We are supposed to have to remember our elders, our grandparents, even, maybe our spouse at some point-but not our children.

I knew my son from before he made his entrance into the wide world.  He had already danced his way into my heart before he took his first step on solid ground.  He was part of me from the moment of conception.

I waited breathlessly to see his face for the first time.

I never expected that I would also see it for a last time.

We all have people we expect to outlive-our grandparents, our parents, elderly friends and neighbors-but not our child.

As our loved ones age, the wise among us begin to catalog and carefully store all those “lasts” or soon-to-be “lasts”.  We ask for stories to make sure we can keep telling them.  We take extra photographs, make extra phone calls and write down recipes.

I was living life forward with Dominic-just like all my kids.  We were a busy, busy family and I was never very good at scrapbooking or saving up the ordinary flotsam of everyday life.

dom age 2 sunscreen

So while I have some pictures, memorabilia and tokens of his too-short life, I don’t have nearly enough.  Oh, how I wish I had more!  Not to create a museum or a shrine but to help my poor brain remember.

When someone says, “Just think of the good memories” it triggers all kinds of emotions and not one of them is what the person intends when giving me that advice.

I feel guilty-guilty for all the things I CAN’T remember. 

Dominic is my third child and only 19 months older than his younger brother.  There are so many gaps from those early years because I was overwhelmed and tired.  Why can’t I conjure up images of him at 3 or 4? 

That hurts.

I feel incredibly sad-sad that whatever memories I DO have are all I will ever have.  I had the memories BEFORE my son wasn’t walking with me and had planned on making many more.

So focusing on memories brings little solace.

Even  at 4 1/2 years into this journey, I’m torn when I pull out the memories.

I can smile now about many of them, but it’s always bittersweet.

Because this treasure trove is as large as it will ever be. 

When You Just Don’t Feel Thankful

It’s all well and good when things are going just dandy to post a daily, “I’m thankful for [whatever]”.

It’s another thing entirely when the bottom has fallen out or your world is turned upside down or your heart is shattered and you can’t find even the tiniest spark of gratitude in your dark world.

Yet the Bible clearly states I am to “give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

thanks in all things blackboard

REALLY?????

I am absolutely NOT thankful that my son is dead.

I am not thankful my family circle is broken and my living children have to carry the weight of sibling loss for a lifetime.

I am not thankful that there will always be an empty chair at every holiday gathering regardless of how many show up around the table.

But the verse doesn’t say I have to be thankful FOR all circumstances, but instead to be thankful IN them.

Even on the morning of the dreadful news, I was filled with gratitude for the knowledge that nothing can separate me from the love of God.  

nothing-can-separate-hands

As I held the hands of two of my living children, I was oh, so thankful that they were there and that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we would walk through this together as a family.  

When the sun came up, my heart reminded me that the world was still turning and God was still on the throne.  

sunrise trees

And while it was a long, long time before these feelings were more than faint whispers against a background of screaming pain, I could still hear them.  

Now I have learned that thankfulness and brokenness can live side by side in a heart and in a life.  One does not overshadow or negate the other.

I may not be thankful for what I’m going through (frankly, I’m not) but I am thankful I’m not going through it alone.

I can come into the Presence of my God any time I choose because Jesus has made a way. I can bring my petitions before the Throne of Grace because there is no longer any veil separating me from the Father.

And I am always, always thankful for that. 

you are not alone

The Value of Veterans

I am the proud daughter of a military veteran.

I am the beaming mother of a son who currently serves.

james at pikes peak

And while others argue about why and where we send troops and fight wars, I  pray that wherever they go and whatever they do, they return home safely.

It’s fitting that we set aside a day to honor those who choose to place their lives on the line to fight for love and country and freedom.

Because they do, I can rest secure in my own bed under my own roof.

Growing up surrounded by (mostly) men in military uniform, I learned early the difference between an acceptable salute and a sloppy one, between “Attention!”  and “At ease!”, between a captain and a colonel.

I still stand a little taller and walk a little straighter whenever I’m on base.  Habits of a lifetime are hard to undo.

james and me ots

I will never, ever apologize for the life of service and sacrifice my father lived and my son is living regardless of whatever politics may scroll across our newsfeeds.

I will honor the living, honor the dead and honor the families that support them.

Don’t let this day pass by without considering the cost of the freedom we enjoy every single day and the men and women who fought and still fight to secure it.

Right, left, middle of the road-your first amendment rights are safe because they are willing to serve.

We mustn’t forget.

veterans day old fashioned image

 

The Healing Power of Fellowship

I spent last weekend with eleven other bereaved moms.

And lest you think, “How sad!”, let me just tell you we had a beautiful time together.

Sure there were tears-how can there not be when talking about the precious children we miss-but there was fun too.

Of course we had somber moments. 

Especially as we lit candles in honor of each child whose light lives on even as their physical presence is denied us.

anchor retreat lit candle

In between Bible study sessions we ate, talked, walked outside and got to know one another.

A game of “Two Truths and a Lie” revealed all kinds of surprises that had us practically falling off our chairs with uproarious laughter.

Even though most of us had never met before, knowing we shared the heartache of child loss drew us together and opened the door to meaningful conversation.

anchor retreat hope

For 72 hours we didn’t have to put our masks on or walk with one foot in the world of the spared and one foot in the world of the deeply wounded. 

We were free-gloriously free-to be real and unguarded.

One of the fun things we did was have a Mary Kay consultant come and do facials and makeup.  I think we kind of shocked her when she went around the circle asking, “So what are you primary make up concerns?” and over half of us said, “I don’t wear make up.”

Poor woman.

anchor retreat mary kay lady (2)

She had no idea that we had long passed the point of faking feelings or saying what someone expects just because they expect it.

I know it was a stretch for some of the moms to make their way to this place they’d never been to and walk into a room full of women they’d never met.

It was a stretch for me to facilitate discussions when I felt I had reached my limit for anything besides staying home for the rest of this year.

But it was worth it.

There is nothing as beautiful as broken hearts gathering together to love, uplift, encourage and listen to one another.

If you have the opportunity and are afraid, please step out. 

Take a chance and link arms with fellow grievers.

I promise you will be glad you did.

circle-of-women

 

Repost: Today’s Gift

I wrote this less than six months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

My heart had not yet fully grasped his absence and there was a lovely moment each morning when my sleepy eyes opened to a world where he was still in it.  

Read the rest here:  Today’s Gift

Why Can’t I Remember? It’s Grief Brain.

I repost this every so often because nearly every bereaved parent I know wonders, at some point, if they are going crazy.

Things that used to be second nature escape us. We can’t remember words, names, dates, how to write a check or address an envelope. Sometimes we get lost in our own neighborhood. 

It’s not early-onset dementia (for the majority of us, anyway)-it’s grief brain.  

Read the rest here:  Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing!

Four Years. Today.

I remember when the first anniversary of Dominic’s death rolled around.

I was horrified that I had survived 365 days when I was certain I would not make it 24 hours.

Here I am three years later-the fourth anniversary of that awful day.

I’m still horrified on some level-it is obscene for a mother to outlive her child-completely Unnatural.

I’m also thankful-thankful that God has given me the strength to persevere when every fiber of my mama’s heart wants to give up.

Who in their right mind would CHOOSE to carry this pain?

And I miss Dominic.

I miss his voice which is increasingly hard to conjure in my mind.  I miss his sharp wit and snarky commentary on political and social events.  Now that I finally figured out how to tweet, I wish we could exchange comments and quotes.  I miss his laugh.  

dominic at tims wedding

I miss the family I used to have.  The one that could look forward without fear of waking one morning to another member gone-poof!  The family that was only going to grow, not shrink.  A mother’s heart is absolutely ready to expand, but refuses to get smaller because a child is no longer present to receive her love.

desimones uab family

I miss my rock-solid faith in a God Who promised to bless if I only followed.  I am not calling His character into question-I believe as firmly today that He is weaving a good story out of every circumstance as I did before Dominic left us.  But I do not receive this blow as a blessing.

I can’t.

I miss the enthusiasm I used to have for everyday events.  Making things special and beautiful was the joy of my heart.  I loved, loved, loved to add thoughtful touches to a meal or a moment.  While I am just as committed to my family as I ever was, I rarely have the energy for these things anymore.

I miss the future I thought we would all have together. I am still so wounded I refuse to look much further than a month ahead unless absolutely necessary.  The old me who envisioned grandchildren and golden years is gone.

beach-and-family-better

I am utterly unprepared to declare Dominic’s “legacy”.  Of course my child influenced people.  That’s what we do-we interact and influence and leave a trail behind.

But that is completely different than making a choice about what to invest your life’s energy into-completely different than what one attributes to a person whose long life leaves behind actions, words and work that form a cohesive testimony to a personality or passion.

I am not hiding in a hole.  I do not spend days in bed or sitting, sulking and silent, shaking my fist at the sky.

Even today I will get up, get dressed and DO what needs to be done.

But I will be mindful that one of my children is beyond reach.  One piece of my heart is unavailable for me to hold.  

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

I will cry at what I’ve lost and be thankful for what I had.

I will look at pictures of Dominic and wish photos and memories were not all that is left of my third child.  

I will continue to live the life I didn’t choose.

family never gets over the death of a loved one