Mind the Gap

My youngest son worked hard to retrieve some precious digital photos from an old laptop.

Being very kind, he didn’t tell me that we might have lost them until he was certain he had figured out a way to get them back.

So he and I had a trip down memory lane the other evening.

It was a bumpy ride.

Because for every sweet remembrance there was an equally painful realization that Dominic would never again be lined up alongside the rest of us in family pictures.

The British have a saying, “mind the gap” used to warn rail passengers to pay attention to the space between the train door and the platform.  It’s a dangerous opening that one must step over to avoid tripping, or worse.

I was reminded of that when I looked at those old pictures-my children are stair steps-averaging two years apart in age.

But now there will always be a gap between my second and fourth child-a space that threatens to undo me every time we line up for a picture.

I cannot forget that Dominic SHOULD be there.  I will never, ever be OK with the fact that he is missing.

To be honest, I miss him most when the rest of us are all together.  The space where he should be is highlighted because all the others are filled in.

No one else may notice, but I have to step carefully to keep from falling into a dark hole.

Mind the gap.

Be careful.

Don’t fall.

us at matts sunscreen

 

Not Funny Anymore

Dominic had a habit of managing to travel on his birthday and often into the summer months.  

He’d jump at every opportunity to go here, there and everywhere.

He had the heart of an adventurer and life on our little farm in the middle of rural Alabama didn’t often offer the excitement his heart craved.

So just after his first year in Law School, he chose to study abroad for a short semester in the spring of 2013.

The rest of us gathered for the traditional Father’s Day photo with my husband and I thought it would be funny (and probably irritate Dom a bit) if I held up a photo of him as a two-year-old since he wasn’t there.

all of us on Fathers day except dom 2013 sunscreen

 

It WAS funny at the time.

And he saw it half way around the world and thought so too.

It popped up in my Facebook memories yesterday.

It’s not funny anymore.  

Those broad smiles have been wiped right off our faces.  

Because the ONLY way we can include Dominic in ANY family pictures anymore is with a photograph.

And while we’ve yet to have as many years between us as in the picture I held up that day, they’re coming (if we live and the Lord tarries).  

I hate that.

grief is great

Nothing New Between Us

Why are the photographs of him as a little boy so incredibly hard to look at? Something is over. Now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memories, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone. So it is with all the memories of him. They all lead into blackness. All I can do is remember him, I cannot experience him. Nothing new can happen between us.

~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

 

dominic and siblings little children at nannys

Death is never welcome.  

It is always a reminder that I live in a broken world where sickness and time, accidents and sinful choices press the life out of bodies and I am left behind to mourn.

But when people die at a ripe old age, I look back fondly on what they’ve done, where they’ve been, the legacy of work and love and family they leave behind.

No one lives forever.

In the back of my mind I can make room for that fact, even though I don’t like to bring it out and consider it very often.  Those that are much older than me will (all things being equal) leave this world before us.

I joined them. 

There is part of their lives I know nothing about.  And there will be part of mine they will not share.

But my child?

I have known my child since before he entered the light of this world!  I felt him in my womb.  I experienced who he was before anyone else met him.

I never, ever expected for my life to outlast his!

I always thought there would be new experiences between us, new memories to tuck away, new adventures to look forward to.  

Out of order death is unexpected, unnatural, unbelievable.  

“Nothing new between us.”  

Breaks my heart every time. 

handprint on my heart

 

 

You Should Be Here-Another Birthday Without You

Our family has never been one for formal portraits.  

Growing up, my dad was an avid recorder of moments with both still and moving pictures, so we just didn’t do the whole “go down to the portrait studio” thing.

I did have a couple made of my first two children when the local department stores used to run specials.

There’s only one of Dominic taken just before Julian was born.

But adding a fourth child to our busy household put an end to that.  

I’ve got piles of snapshots, video and online photos, but not many fancy, well-lit, well composed formal portraits of any of us.

Of course, there are no new images of Dominic since 2014-he’s frozen in time-and that hurts my heart.

Barreling on to the fourth anniversary of his leaving, I decided to do something about that.  I needed a new way of seeing him-a way that both honored who he is and also honored the sorrow I carry because he is no longer here with me.  

So a beautiful and talented bereaved mom friend, Brenda Ehly, Artistic Remedies By Brenda , created this likeness of Dominic.

dom pastel arctic filter (2)

I love it.  

And I love her for making it.  She captured more than a replica of his face, she captured his smile, his warmth, his energy.

Today is his birthday.  

He would have been 28.  

Like I said last year:  I will never get used to waking to a sunrise that is supposed to mark another year of fellowship and enjoyment of my third child but instead is a reminder that the life that was Dominic is no more on this earth.

But this year I have a new and very special picture to hang in his honor.  

It helps my heart.  

Lots of bereaved parents refer to their child as “forever ___”.  I’ve never felt comfortable with that.

I don’t know if it’s because I can’t imagine Dominic’s growth stifled and stilled or if it’s because I defiantly insist on counting the years even though he is now outside time with Jesus.

So here I am.

Another birthday without him.  Another May 28th when he SHOULD be here but he’s not.  Another holiday weekend that used to include so much more than a cookout.

No quibbling over dessert because birthday boy got to choose.

The past eight months have been a whirlwind for lots of reasons.  It started with my mama’s fall, her hospitalization and recovery in August through November,  slid into the holidays and fast-forwarded to spring.  It included two bereaved parents events as well as two other ten day trips away from home.

I’m tired.

And when I’m tired I’m much more vulnerable to being overwhelmed by grief.

So I sit here, rain falling, tears falling and just wishing Dominic wasn’t dead.

On good days I can look past my missing and grab hold of the beauty of his life.

But not today.

 

Zoom Out: Choosing to Let Our Real Selves Be Seen

Don’t you just LOVE photo filters?  They can transform a not-so-great picture into a work of art.

And with our phones attached to our hips like another appendage, we are one photo-snapping generation!

But when we choose what to make public-what to plaster across our favorite social media platform-most of us are as cautious as museum curators in deciding which pictures to include and which just don’t make the cut.

We are all about personal branding (even if we don’t realize or admit it!)

Of course this is nothing new-Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes that there “is nothing new under the sun”.  It’s simply that what was once reserved for the rich, famous or infamous is now available to every Tom, Dick and Harry-and their kids.

I know when I want to share a moment on my little farm or show off some newly completed craft project, I’m very careful to zoom in and crop out the messy edges of my home, my property, my life.

It’s truly not that I’m trying to “be somebody I’m not” it’s more about trying to only let people see part of who I really am.

roosevelt in box on table spring 2017
The cute, cropped, curated photo.

Because who wants all the ragged and untidy borders of their life exposed to the masses?

I’m afraid there would be too much ‘splainin’ to do (like Ricky used to say to Lucy) if people saw it all.

  • I might have to own up to my less-than-perfect housekeeping or my procrastination that means I still have piles of junk on my porch nearly four years after Dom left us.
  • Someone might freak out that my cats are allowed on the kitchen table (where we don’t eat) because it is too hard to keep them off.
  • People may whisper that they just can’t understand how I live with piles of books stacked everywhere and random animal supplies in baskets by the door so they’re handy to grab on my way outside.

But when I edit the life I expose to others, I’m also limiting my opportunity to make genuine connections.

Because if the people around me think I’ve got it all together, then they can be afraid to admit that they do not. 

struggle with insecurity highlight reel

If the folks that follow me on Facebook think my life is all giggles and glitter, then they might be reticent to reveal that theirs is shadows and sorrow.  If all I ever do is talk about, post and promote the high points of this journey, then who will want to tell me that they are in a valley and can’t see sunlight or maybe that they’ve even forgotten what sunlight looks like.

So I’m going to zoom out. 

Stop cropping. 

Quit editing. 

Be real.

That doesn’t mean you won’t see funny photos or hopeful posts or encouraging memes on my timeline.

But it does mean that I’ll be out there-big hips, messy house, piled up books and all.

roosevelt in box on table spring 2017 zoom out
The REST of the story.

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

 

But I Had All That BEFORE!

I absolutely understand that when people say things like, “Just think of all the wonderful memories you have” or “He brought you so much joy” they mean well.

Because it’s true-I have beautiful memories of Dominic.  And he DID bring me great joy.

But I had those things BEFORE he was beyond my reach.

Childhood memories, photographs, mementoes from school and athletic teams-they were already displayed on the walls and shelves of my home.

But there were things I had then that I don’t have now:

  • his physical presence;
  • his laughter ringing down the hallway;
  • his text messages telling his absent-minded mama that there were storms headed her way;
  • his level-headed relationship advice;
  • and his tech-savvy, “I can fix it” help when I crashed my computer or other electronic device.

I don’t have a hundred different uniquely Dominic parts of my life anymore.

And I miss every one of them.  

missing from me