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.
He was a drummer, a social commentator, an adrenaline junkie, a fitness fanatic, a neat freak, a bargain hunter, a mechanic, an electronics aficionado, so very funny and a loyal and fierce friend.
He could be sarcastic and cutting.
He was nearly always brutally honest. His twitter feed is full of (sometimes misspelled) witty commentary on everyday irritations and observations. I can hear his voice in my head when I read them.
Dominic was also kind and compassionate.
He was often the kid that sat next to the kid that no one else wanted to sit with. His friends from law school told me tale after tale of how he helped them with one thing or another, how he went out of his way to be there for them and how his kindness made a difference.
He was a stubborn mule too.
When he’d established a position it took a heap of convincing to get him to change his mind. More than once he simply waited the other person out, trusting exhaustion to do the work of making his case.
His thirtieth birthday is coming up in a few days. It will be the seventh one without him.
If he was still here I’d do what I do for most milestone birthdays-create a portfolio of gift cards in an amount equal to the years. I love hunting down a recipient’s favorite places to shop and filling up the envelope.
I’m still not good at figuring out what to do about birthdays down here when he’s in Heaven and probably not even marking the day.
He would hate balloons.
He’d know none of us needed any cake.
Between now and then I’m going to try to think of something.
Especially therapists that only know what child loss is supposed to look like from books and lectures.
I understand how logical it seems that a parent should be able to accept his or her child is no longer alive. After all, most of us saw our child’s lifeless body and performed whatever rituals our hearts find most comforting.
We haven’t received a phone call, text, message or new photograph. Weeks, months and years pass and no word.
Of course this child is gone.
But a mama’s heart still hopes. Somewhere deep down there is a part of me that longs for connection to this child I carried, nurtured and loved.
So sometimes my heart will play tricks on me.
It started just after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
I was the one who had to make phone calls and inform the family of his passing, repeating the awful words over and over and over. So my head got it right away.
Dominic was dead. He was not coming back. There was nothing I could do about it.
Still, I found that for the first year or year and a half, every time I went somewhere we usually went together or attended a family function or celebration where we’d all be in one room, I looked for him.
If someone came around the corner and I caught a glimpse of a shoulder-could that be him?
If voices drifted upstairs-maybe that’s Dom’s laugh down there?
A whiff of soap or shampoo on the grocery aisle-was he just ahead of me?
Ridiculous. Maybe. But very, very real.
Now these six years later that hardly ever happens. Once or twice a year, when the family is together and especially if we are together in a crowd of other people, I’ll kind of “look” for him-on the fringes, around the edges, his voice maybe mixed in with others.
I do still sit silent in the dark hours of early morning shaking my head and saying aloud, “How can Dominic really be dead?”.
But that’s not denial of the fact he is gone.
It’s acknowledgement of how hard it is to live with that truth.
When it first happened all I could think about was getting through a minute, then a day and then all the decisions and days leading up to a funeral or memorial service.
There’s no road map.
Even when others come alongside (and many, many did!) there’s just no easy way to navigate that part of the journey.
And then I realized that in addition to all the “regular” days that absolutely, positively break your heart, I had to forge a path through “special” days.
It was overwhelming!
Mother’s Day was especially challenging that first year. Our loss was fresh and we’d had to acknowledge and celebrate two graduations and a wedding was about a month away. How in the world could I honor my living children and also safeguard my broken heart?
We muddled through by having Mother’s Day at my daughter’s apartment co-hosted by some of her sweetest and most compassionate friends. Not a lot of fanfare, but good food, good company and a quiet acknowledgment of Dom’s absence but also my living children’s presence.
It was a gift.
This is my seventh Mother’s Day. Every year is different. Every year presents new challenges and every year things change.
Since discovering there is an International Bereaved Mother’s Day my heart has taken advantage of having a day to think about and honor Dominic and then another day to think about and honor my living children.
I wrote this post four years ago but can’t really improve on it so I’ll share it again. I pray that each heart who finds Mother’s Day hard will lean in and take hold of the hem of His garment.
Whether surrounded by friends or strangers, I sift through the words threatening to fly out of my mouth very carefully.
Like most of us, there’s a script in my head that doesn’t always bear sharing.
But unlike many, part of my script involves a child that lives in Heaven.
And I’m constantly weighing whether or not I should mention him even though the conversation leads my heart to a memory I very much want to speak aloud. It often makes others uncomfortable, awkward and upset when I do. So sometimes I just don’t.