Season of Grief: How a Heart Marks the Days

It’s different for every heart.

But each of us who know child loss have a season of grief.

It’s so much more than “just” the day our child left for Heaven.

For me, it starts in November and runs through the end of May-fully half of

every.

single.

year.   

November 2013 was my 50th birthday and the kids arranged a surprise party for me at Dominic’s apartment.  My husband was home from California and we were all together for my birthday, Thanksgiving and the Iron Bowl.  So many memories, so many moments.

As the leaves begin to turn in Alabama, my heart begins the countdown.

Then that Christmas-it would be the last one where the table was full and all I have are a few fuzzy photos because we anticipated a spring season of graduations and a wedding.  Plenty of time for better pictures when we were dressed for the camera.

As we hang the lights and the nights get longer, my heart gets sadder.

January was back to routine.  Everyone busy.  James Michael and Julian would be graduating soon.  We had normal back and forth texts and messages, never knowing how precious these few recorded words would become.

As we move toward warmer weather, my heart grows cold.

February 14, 2014 was Julian’s birthday and for a couple of hours all the kids were home. We sat outside on an old trailer laughing and cutting up.  Someone suggested a photo.  Everyone demurred because we were in ragged work clothes and thought it was a waste of time.  Oh, how I wish I had that picture now!

But there’s no going back.

I saw Dominic in March a few times.  Since he lived just 25 miles away I would meet him to go to Sam’s Club and stock up on basic food stuffs.  He came out to our place to work on a friend’s car.  He and Julian met up and made a road trip for Spring Break.

It was the last time I’d see him alive.  My heart hates turning the calendar to April.

April.  What can I say about this awful, awful month? 

I will never be able to recapture any sense of hopeful anticipation as flowers bloom and leaves bud.  I don’t care when the last frost might be because try as I might, I can’t plant a garden.  When the first really beautiful day arrives, whether or not it corresponds to Dom’s death date, it only makes me fearful other young men will take their bikes out for a ride after a long, cold winter.  I wonder how many mamas wake to a knock or phone call. 

The smell of cut grass reminds me of the people that came to help us clean up before the funeral.  The sun streaming in the living room window conjures the mornings I woke and dared it to shine in the face of such tragedy.

My heart barely holds on.

And then May.  Mother’s Day-what kind of mother lets her son die?  Even though logic tells me otherwise, my heart still accuses.

Graduations, weddingsreminders that Dominic never got to finish his law degree, will never marry and that every single molecule of him is gone, gone, gone-no children, no likeness ever looking back at me again in this life. 

Finally, there’s his birthday-the one he missed by only a few short weeks.  Forever 23.  Never any older.  May 28th comes and goes.  Sometimes it’s on Memorial Day like the year he was born but often not.  So I gird my loins to face the date AND the day.

My heart hurts but breathes a sigh of relief.

This season is over.  But it will come again.

So I try, try, try to cram as much into the intervening months as possible.

The calendar is relentless.

 

Salt In The Wound

In case you are wondering, there appears to be no limit to the depth or number of struggles one may be required to endure this side of heaven.

Sure we’ve all read Job and give mental assent to overwhelming breadth of his loss. 

But, really, how can our hearts even begin to comprehend it when devastation upon devastation is given within seven verses-everything he owned and everything he loved (except his wife) was stolen or destroyed.

It’s so easy to read it and not to FEEL it.  

job and misery

I’m here to tell you I know parents who have lost more than one child.  Parents who have lost their only child.  Parents who have lost a child and then lost their living children’s love and companionship because their family fell apart.  I know bereaved parents who are homeless because they couldn’t keep a job after burying their child.

In addition, there are the everyday struggles we all have to deal with-bad bosses, financial troubles, health issues, frustrating interpersonal relationships.

Right now our family is facing the culmination of a situation that began before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  I’m not free to discuss it but it’s the kind of thing where you need legal advice.

And you want to know what’s harder than dragging my fanny through this nasty mess?

The salt it’s rubbing in the wound of my broken heart.

Because if Dominic were here, he’d be three years out of law school and ready to rock and roll.  I’d have a personal hot line to all the legal counsel a body could stand.  And if he didn’t know the answer, he would have access to the kinds of resources that could find it.

dominic at tims wedding

Instead we have to rely on strangers and hope that they have at least a smidgen of the commitment our own son would have were he able to represent our cause.

I hate so many things about this life.

I hate that the life I thought I would have-the life our whole family thought we would have-is not the one we are stuck with.  One of the things I hate most is every moment when Dominic SHOULD be here and he’s not.

I miss my son.

Not only for the free legal advice, but because his presence lent courage to my heart.

Every hard thing is harder now.

And that is definitely salt in this wound.

sun up not here

 

 

 

Family Tree

A cousin whom I haven’t seen in decades recently contacted my dad in order to complete a family tree he is working to compile.

It’s a noble task and one I fully support.

But when my dad forwarded the request to me (because I had details on my own son’s wedding and his wife’s birth date) it was an unexpected trigger.

Typing away I added mine and my husband’s birth dates and the place and date of our marriage.

hector and me 29 anniversary

Then down the line of my children.

Fiona.

fiona and cash at home (2)James Michael and his bride.  Their wedding date.

james and lillie

 

Dominic.  I have another date for him-one I never, ever thought I would live to record-the day he left this earth for his heavenly home.  My breath catches in my throat.

035Julian.

My youngest son who is now older than his brother ever got to be.

 

julian in mountainsMy second son has no descendants.  Every molecule that was Dominic is now in the grave.  No representation of his humor, his talent, his face.

His unique light has been extinguished from this world forever.

I realize that these dates will be filed away, made part of a record for those that come after without any understanding of the person they represent.

Just facts on a page.

History.

missing child from arms

 

 

Grief is a Family Affair

One of the things I absolutely LOVED about having four kids was the way they pinged off one another.  There were evenings when the comments were flying so fast I could barely keep up.  Sly looks, secret texts, funny faces and friendly punches made up most of our times together.

That’s how families are-each person is just a little “more” when surrounded by folks that love and understand him or her.  

When Dominic left us, we didn’t only lose HIS companionship, we also lost the part of each of us that was reflected back from him.

dom looking up with camera

And just as each one of us had a unique relationship with him in life,we have a unique relationship with him in death.

Sure he was brother to all his siblings.

But he was a younger brother to the older two and older brother to our youngest.  He was a middle son but a third child.  He was close to his sister who shared his love of musical instruments, bonded with his younger brother over cars and butted heads with his older brother when he felt like he was bossed around.

boys

Dominic and I were both political junkies and loved to debate policy and current events.  We listened to NPR and compared notes.

He enjoyed talking sports with his dad and trying out different guitars and sound effects pedals as they jammed to the radio.

So how we remember him, what we miss, what we long for and what we hold onto is a reflection of the different way we interacted with him.

How much and how loud we express our grief is also a combination of our relationship with him and our innate personalities. 

Sometimes that is helpful-like when one of us can sit and listen to another because we are not so emotional at the moment.  Sometimes it causes frustration or even conflict when one or more of us feels that we need to DO a certain thing to remember Dominic and one or more of us is uncomfortable doing that very thing.

We’ve got to respect our differences, embrace them, make room for them even in this Valley.  

We ALL miss him.  That’s something we can agree on. 

We ALL would give anything to have him back.

And we are ALL in this together, even in our unique expressions of the same pain.

Grief is a family affair as much as life is. 

We learn, we grow, we adapt.  

And together we survive.  

beach-and-family-better

Remembering the Missing: Four Candles

I have always loved candles.  Something in the flickering light speaks to my heart.

It’s one of my favorite parts of early evenings-watching the candles I light on every flat surface cast a soft glow and chase the darkness.

Even a small light offers hope.  

Christmas Eve is a natural time to gather with family and friends, to honor the ones no longer present, to share our love, our memories and our sorrow.

So when I ran across this post on a Compassionate Friends site, I wanted to share it.  I hope it blesses your heart like it blesses mine.  

This four candle ritual is a beautiful way to create space for tears and also invite laughter and hope into hurting hearts.  

four candles

Time and Time Again

Since Dominic ran ahead to heaven we have celebrated four graduations and a wedding.

Wednesday night was another one.  My daughter, Fiona, graduated nursing school.

We are so excited for her!

fiona grad jumping

And, as usual, our family rallied round, pitched in, showed up and made a great fuss over the accomplishment.

It was beautiful and hard all at the same time.

Because time and time again we join hands and hearts to celebrate an achievement, a milestone, a special moment or a holiday and there is always, always, always one missing.

Every photo is just slightly askew- one daughter, three two sons.

family fionas grad (2)

We’ve gotten good at closing ranks, squeezing out the space where he should be standing.  But our hearts mark the gap.

Our hearts will always mark the gap.

I am much better now at actually enjoying these things-I love the way my daughter’s friends surround and encourage her, I laughed at the antics of the children that enjoyed running from adult to adult, getting more attention than they knew what to do with.  I sat and listened with great pride as Fiona gave the closing remarks to her graduating class, drawing from a deep well of wisdom that includes heartache as well as hallelujahs.

And it was all good.  Really, truly  good.

But you have to go home eventually.

Hugging necks and saying “good-bye” is when it always hits me-I hug harder, cling longer, make sure to whisper not only “I love you” but everything I need to say-just in case.

And grown children text their mama so she knows they are safely home.

Dominic’s legacy is this:  We never miss a chance to celebrate one another.

We cling to the good and try to let go of the bad.

We love fiercely and openly and are not ashamed for one minute of our tears or our laughter.

Because you never know.

love the ones god gave you