Today is Dominic’s birthday. He would have been thirty-three if he lived.
I find as the years roll by it becomes increasingly difficult to “age” the person I last saw into the person he might have become. Oh, I can guess-but that’s hardly worth doing since we all know life rarely follows a straight path.
And that’s what defies language and steals my breath. On milestone days especially, I’m not only mourning what I have lost but also what I will never know.
It would surprise my mama most of all that on this day I’m at a loss for words.
I regularly embarrassed her with my non-stop commentary as a child. I told stories about what I heard and saw (and what my young mind THOUGHT it heard or saw) to anyone who would listen.
But I realize now there are moments too sacred, wounds too deep, experiences too precious for words.
Either you are there and share it-or you’re not-and can’t imagine.
This is one of those times.
Dominic would be thirty-three years old today if he had lived.
It will be Dominic’s thirty-third birthday in a few days and even though this is the tenth (!) one I’ve had to mark without his earthly companionship, I’m no better at it.
I just do not know HOW I’m supposed to honor and celebrate him today when I really can’t imagine who he would be or what new interests he might have picked up along the way.
I do know I miss him like crazy.
And while this aging mama often has to start with her oldest to figure everyone’s current age, it doesn’t hurt any less when I skip count past Dom to my youngest son who many years ago surpassed him in earthly years.
I hate that.
Some folks are great at it.
They find a tagline or a cause or even a certain color and it becomes shorthand for remembering and honoring their missing child.
Me, not so much.
Dominic wasn’t the kind of person you could sum up in a few words or a certain favorite anything.
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 ninth 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 3285 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 nine 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.
I fell asleep last night thinking about that Friday evening nine years ago when I closed my eyes on the world I knew only to open them to a world I wish I could forget.
It’s odd how these anniversaries play out-there’s the actual date (which, if I’m honest isn’t usually nearly as hard for me) plus the litany of days that lead up to the date and reconstruct the weekend that ended in tragedy.
The Friday night/Saturday morning combination bring me to my knees even nine years later.
Only someone who has endured the doorbell or the phone call can truly understand how dozens of tiny prompts create a mental, physical and emotional response that can neither be ignored nor controlled.
Every year is different. Every year brings more recent memories that don’t include Dominic intermingled with what now feel like ancient ones.
Every year has new challenges to face with a worn out heart that sometimes simply wants to fall asleep and dream it all away.
Friday, April 11, 2014:
Julian and I went to a college honors banquet and came back to the house to find Fiona home for the weekend. I called Hector and texted with James Michael.
I turned out the light and went to sleep.
No warning shots across the bow of life rang out to let me know what was coming.
But that Friday was the last day I spent misunderstanding the awfulness of death and the absolute uncertainty of life.
I first shared this post six years ago when I was nearly two years into this journey and realized that for many of my friends and family Dominic’s death had faded into the background.
It was a date on the calendar for THEM but it was an ongoing experience for me and my family.
I was reminded of how time feels very different to the bereaved this weekend as I spent the third anniversary of my mother’s stepping into Heaven with my grandchildren.
So, so many things remind a grieving heart of the person we miss. So, so many everyday moments transport us back to THAT moment, THAT day.
You might not (I hope you don’t!) understand. It really costs little to extend grace to the grieving. But for those of us whose hearts are broken, it makes all the difference.
You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.
You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall. He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.