Repost: It’s Been YEARS, When Should I Mention My Missing Child?

This came up in a bereaved parents’ support group and I thought it was a great question:  When you meet someone for the first time, do you tell them about your missing child?”

It’s one of those practical life skills bereaved parents have to figure out.

I remember when it dawned on me a few months after Dominic left us that I would meet people who wouldn’t know he was part of my story unless I told them.

It was a devastating thought.  

I had no idea how I would face the first time it happened.  

Read the rest here:  It’s Been YEARS, When Should I Mention My Missing Child?

Background Music

Another bereaved mom wrote that she was better able to cope now than she had been a year ago.

And thanks to Facebook memories she had proof.

Several comments down a second mom wrote something that got me thinking-when, exactly, did Dominic’s loss move from the forefront to the background?

I’m not sure I can pinpoint a day or moment when I realized that sorrow was no longer ALL I feel and Dominic’s absence no longer ALL I see.

I remember when more experienced loss moms posted and talked about grief being gentler and quieter I thought that they were out of their minds.

How in the world would this breath-robbing, heart-stopping, crippling pain ever be anything close to “gentle”?

How could the pulsating, blasting, all-consuming noise of loss become softer?

In the first days, months and even years, everything about loss was so loud it was all I could hear.

Rock concert, standing-next-to-the-giant-speakers-loud.

So loud it shook my body and made me want to cover my ears.  There was no way to block the sound, no silent corner where I could retreat and hide.  Just relentless pounding noise and pain.

But little by little, in imperceptible increments the volume decreased.

Now, missing Dominic is the background music to everything.  A quiet tune I hum in my head that keeps me company all day and invades my dreams at night.

If I take a moment and pay attention or when other things quiet down, it moves again to the forefront.

My head and heart are never free of the music Dominic brings to my life.  He is the soundtrack to my days, the lullaby as I fall asleep.

dominic at gray haven

No longer an ear-piercing scream demanding attention, grief is now mostly a quiet song in a minor key.  

Never silent.  

Always playing.  

music from dandelion

 

A Whole Series of “Lasts”

One of the things even the most uninformed person understands about loss is that the first birthday, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas and all the “firsts” after loss will be hard.

But one of the things no one tells you about is that a heart will mark the “lasts” just as much.

The last time I saw him.

The last time I spoke to him.

The last time I hugged his neck and smelled the unique fragrance that was my son.

missing child from arms

 

Every year as I approach the anniversary of the day Dominic left this life and stepped into Heaven, I also remember all the last times.

It’s hard on a heart to think about and wish that somehow I had made more of those moments.  I long to have just one more opportunity to say what needs to be said, to see his smile, hear his voice, and hug his neck.

But there’s no going back.

So part of the pain of marking the milestones is knowing there is no way to change a thing.  Not only the FACT that my son is gone, gone, gone.  But also the FACT that whatever I said or did or left unsaid or undone is utterly and undeniably carved in stone.

I don’t know why this anniversary is hitting my heart harder than last year.  Maybe it’s because I recognize how much life has happened since Dominic left us.  Maybe it’s because I think in terms of decades.  Maybe it’s because there are so many exciting family celebrations that he won’t be part of.

I have no idea.

But it’s nearly five long years since my son crossed the threshold of his family home.  It’s nearly five years since I heard that familiar deep “Hey!”.  It’s nearly five years since I waved him down the driveway and hollered, “Be careful!” as he drove back to his apartment.

I am thankful for the faithful love of my God and my family.  I am thankful for the compassionate companionship of friends.  I am thankful that I am still standing after the awful blow that I was sure would knock me so far down I’d never get up again.

But I miss him.  I miss him.  I miss him.

I will never be able to watch the early spring flowers bloom again without also remembering that it was those blossoms that heralded the good weather that lured him to take his motorcycle that night.

I will never hear Spring Break plans without counting the days between his last Spring Break trip and the day he met Jesus.

dom and julian spring break

I cannot step outside and smell the grass growing, feel the breeze blowing and hear the birds singing without my heart skipping beats and doing the math.  Today marks less than two months before the day he left us.

I understand that for others-if they remember at all-Dominic’s departure is a day circled on the calendar.

For me, it’s an entire season.

I mark every single day that led up to that day.  I remember every single conversation, meeting, text and phone call.  I remember all the things I did and regret all the things I didn’t do.

While the world is celebrating new life, I’m remembering a life that ended.

miss-you-every-day

Child Loss: At Night, It’s Still Fresh

It happens most often as I am drifting off to sleep. 

There is this one spot on the bedroom bookshelf where my eyes landed that first night-one paperback spine that instantly transports me to the moment I had to close my eyes on the day I found out my son would never come home again.

And it is fresh.  

Absolutely, positively fresh.  

Like “just happened” fresh.  

missing-someone

You’d think that nearly five years of intervening experience, nearly five years of grief work, nearly five years of trying so darn hard to learn to tuck that feeling away deep down so it can’t escape would have worked whatever magic time is supposed to work.  

it has been said that time heals all wounds rose kennedy clock

But it hasn’t.  

Oh, most days I can lock that lid down tight.  I can distract my mind, busy my hands and keep my heart from wandering too close to despair.

Darkness though. 

Shadows and silence and stillness give room for the memory to rise to the surface.  

And it does.  

My son is never coming home again.  

Fresh.  

Absolutely, positively fresh.

“Just happened” fresh.  

sometimes cant believe you are gone

 

Child Loss: Marking the Milestones

When your child is born you take notes.

You plan to mark this day as a special milestone for the rest of your life.

You absolutely, positively NEVER think you will have to mark another one:  the day he or she leaves this life and leaves you behind.

But some parents have to mark both.  The dash in the middle is shorter than we anticipated, and our child’s life ends before ours.

grieving mother at grave

So how do you do it?  How in the world do you observe the polar opposite of a birthday?

Here are some ideas (shared with permission) that parents shared recently in an online discussion sparked by one mom’s very honest admission that she just didn’t have it in her to create another video montage from the same old photos to mark yet another year without the earthly companionship of her precious son:

Don’t do anything.  That is an option. We do not have to draw a red circle around THAT day on the calendar, gather folks as if  it’s a celebration.  As one mama said, “Yes, the day they left us does not need to be ‘remembered’.”  For some parents, going to work like it’s a regular day, engaging in whatever normal activities are required, ticking the hours off on the clock until night falls and the earth turns to the next day may be the very best choice.  Another mama wrote this:  “I have friends who celebrate a ‘heaven day’ for their son.  I can’t.  I just can’t.  If it were up to me, I would probably go camp somewhere all alone, and not move a muscle for the entire day.”

Do something big (or small).  Some parents choose this day to hold an annual “Celebration of Life”.  It might take the form of a balloon release, or lantern release at home, at a park or other outdoor venue or at the cemetery.  It might be lunch or dinner out at your child’s favorite restaurant or at home with your child’s favorite menu.  Invite friends and family to join you and ask that they bring a photograph or memory and share.  One mom said that such an event kind of happened organically and spontaneously when contacted by her son’s widow:  “We went to one of [his] favorite restaurants.  Told funny stories about him, talked about how missed he is, then went o his grave and put fresh flowers.”

balloon release

Serve others.  Did your child have a special interest in a particular charity or community organization?  Maybe you can spend this day volunteering or raising awareness/money for that group.  Often having something to do helps a heart from sinking into despair.  If the group allows, maybe put up a sign saying, “Volunteering today in honor of __________” and attach appropriate photos of your child.  Some parents whose child died from cancer or suicide or violence participate in walks or fundraisers that highlight those causes.

Encourage Random Acts of Kindness (RAK).  I plan to do this one in April.  It will be five years (!) and I can barely stand it.  But so many of the comments from Dominic’s friends after he left for Heaven went something like this one, “He was always doing something for someone else.  Fixing their car or showing up when they needed an encouraging word.”  He was known for his many acts of generosity and kindness and I feel like he lives on in the hearts of others because of that.  I had cards printed ( I intentionally let his “dates” off) which I will distribute well in advance of April 12th for friends and family to leave behind when they do a RAK in memory of Dom.  Vistaprint and other online publishing companies offer reasonable prices and will guide you through the process step-by-step.

random act of kindness

Escape.  Lots of us find being at home (alone or in the company of others) too hard to bear.  Many received word of their child’s death at home and as the day creeps closer, the memories crowd every corner of mental and physical space and are inescapable.  So sometimes parents plan a trip around this time.  Go somewhere your child would have loved to go or go somewhere he or she enjoyed visiting.  Take photos and post them in honor of your child if you want to.

Focus on family.  You may not want to be alone, but the thought of being with anyone outside your closest grief circle is overwhelming.  That’s OK.  Spend time with the people who, like you, are most affected by your child’s absence.  You don’t have to do anything special.  You can make room for them to speak or not speak about their grief as they choose.  Sometimes just having another warm body in the room is enough to ward of the chill of despondency.

grieving dad

Flip the script.  For those of us who believe that this life is not all there is, the day can be one of celebration.  Our children have escaped life full of sorrow and trouble and are safe forever in the arms of Jesus, where we will also be one day.  Waiting is hard, but waiting is not forever.

Simply allow yourself to feel the full force of missing and grief.  “As far as his death day, for me, that is a day when I allow myself to fully feel and express the pain of my loss.  It is a way to (temporarily) empty myself of all this pain, so I can breathe again to face another day.  I will sit in his sweatshirt, listen to reflective music, cry a lot, talk to him, pray to God, and just allow myself to feel all the pain and emotion that everyday responsibilities cause me to stuff away.”  If you can manage it, taking the day off work and giving yourself grace and space to grieve in ways that are denied so often may be the very best way to experience the day.

Here’s a list of ways some parents honor their child on this day:  

  • Giving away stuffed toys with a card or note explaining why.
  • Taking goodies to first responders and/or nurses who were served their family during an accident or illness.
  • Handing out Bibles or books in memory of their child.
  • Making memory baskets for parent whose child will be born straight into heaven.
  • Adding to a scholarship fund or other charitable fund in honor of their child.
  • Placing balloons, flowers or other special decorations on their child’s final resting place.
  • Lighting candles, releasing butterflies, balloons or lanterns.
  • Placing a memorial advertisement in a local paper.

Do or don’t do whatever helps you make it through those twenty-four hours that represent another year of sorrow, another year of missing.  

missing child from arms

There is NO wrong way to mark or not mark this day. 

It’s up to you and your heart.  

And absolutely does not require anyone else’s permission or approval.  

dont trade authenticity for approval

 

 

Shadows and Celebrations

One of my children told me recently that every celebration and holiday over the past few years had a shadow over it. 

I know.

But I can’t help it.

I wish I could find a light bright enough to drive out the shadows.

But there isn’t.

I’m trying.  Really, truly trying.  I want to be able to join in without reserve, without that still small voice whispering, “This won’t last”, in my head.

Because that’s really the shadow, isn’t it?

Not *just* the one who is missing, the incomplete family photo, the empty chair at the dinner table-but the fact that I know, know, know what I didn’t used to know.

I know life is fleeting and death can come for anyone at any time.

I wish I could forget that lesson.

Because that is what casts the longest shadow.

you think you have forever but you don't

 

Repost: 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.

Read the rest here:  Grief is a Family Affair