Child Loss: Setting Aside Time To Grieve Helps My Heart Hold On

One of the commitments I made out loud and in my heart the day Dominic left us was this:  I was not going to let his death tear my family apart.  

I was not going to let him become the sainted brother that stood apart and above his siblings.  

I was going to continue to give as much of my time, effort, love and presence to each of the three I had left as I had done when there were four on earth beside me.

I’ve been more or less successful in keeping this promise.

I have no doubt that if you asked my living children, they could give you examples when I’ve failed.  Some days are just too much.  Some events are too hard to attend.

Some moments I am overwhelmed

and undone

and there’s no way to hide it.  

But I’ve learned a few things that help me be present, attentive and joyful for the beautiful things that are happening around me.

One of those is to set aside time whenever possible to “pre-grieve” an upcoming celebration or gathering.

hand-coffee-roosevelt

I allow my heart to feel all the things it needs to feel.  I journal the questions and comments and (sometimes) anger that would otherwise overflow and ruin a moment.  I write to Dominic and tell him how much I miss him, how much I wish he were here and how very hard it is to mark another happy occasion without him.

I mentally rehearse walking in, greeting people, making small talk. 

I think ahead to any big moments that might tap emotions I need to hold in check.  I even plan an “escape route” should I need it. Just knowing it exists has always been enough so far. 

Sometimes I find a song that suits my mood.  

I cry.  

And then I choose a token I can wear or slip in my pocket to remind me that I’ve got this.

I can show up and smile (honestly) because I’ve already loosed the dam of grief and let the stored up torrent flow over the spillway.

engagement party group shot (2)

I’ve learned the hard way that memories are precious.  I don’t want the ones I’m making now to always be tainted by sorrow and loss.  

Dominic is never far from my thoughts and always in my heart.  

I’m not abandoning nor forgetting him.

I honor him by honoring his siblings.  

Love lives.  

happy birthday balloons no words

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worse For Wear, I Don’t Care

I have never been one of those women who lied about her age.

My weight…well, you will have to threaten me with something that matters to get THAT number out of my lips.

But I’ve noticed this year more than others since Dominic left us that the wear and tear of years and tears and life and loss are showing up on my face as well as my hips.

I am definitely the worse for wear.

My daughter is getting married in May and for the first time in my life I am religious about applying under eye cream and moisturizing lotion to my face each morning and night.

who wants to look young

I don’t want to be the sore thumb in the family pictures!

I’m not sure it’s working.  I’m not sure anything can erase or roll back the marks that life and love and loss have etched on my face.

I’m not sure I want to.

Because each wrinkle, each line, each saggy, baggy skin flap says, “I loved, I lived and I am surviving-even though it’s hard.”

Before Dom left I was camera shy.  I still am, a bit.  But I’m trying hard to suck up my pride and my insecurity and let those flashes pop.  Memories are made one day at a time and photos help preserve them.

engagement party group shot (2)

So whether I’m at my best, at my worst or somewhere in between, I won’t say no to a Kodak moment.

I wish I had more of them from “before”.

Dominic and family at PRSSA banquet

I wish I hadn’t’ been so darned particular about what I looked like, what I was wearing and whether or not my wrinkles or big butt showed.

Worse for wear?

Who cares?

This one wasn’t made to last.  

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 MSG

New Year’s Eve and Auld Lang Syne

There is something about the song, “Auld Lang Syne” that strikes a chord in the hardest heart.  

You don’t have to understand the words to understand the meaning behind them.  

“Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?”

Every new year since Dominic left us my heart screams, “NO!” in answer to that question.  We CAN’T forget!

But we do.  No matter how carefully I mine the memories, I find the details beginning to escape me. 

I have boxes of photographs but even nearly five years out I find some of them too hard to look through.  When I see the innocent laughing eyes in pictures of six year old Dominic it breaks my heart.  Why oh why was I worried about so many things other than simply experiencing life in the moment?

But then I bring my heart back to reality and sternly tell myself that I had no idea what the future held.

And that’s really the crux of it, isn’t it? 

We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  We plot and plan and hope and dream but in the end we have very little control over how our story ultimately plays out.

So we are left each New Year’s Eve with some good memories, some not so good ones and some we cling to like gold from a treasure chest because they are all we have.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?

Never. 

As long as this heart beats. 

I will not forget.   

Why, “Just Think About All The Good Memories,” Doesn’t Comfort My Heart

I pull out the memories like treasures from a locked strongbox.

“Handle With Care” because they are all I have left.

But they are not enough.

They will never be enough to satisfy this mama’s heart.

We are supposed to have to remember our elders, our grandparents, even, maybe our spouse at some point-but not our children.

I knew my son from before he made his entrance into the wide world.  He had already danced his way into my heart before he took his first step on solid ground.  He was part of me from the moment of conception.

I waited breathlessly to see his face for the first time.

I never expected that I would also see it for a last time.

We all have people we expect to outlive-our grandparents, our parents, elderly friends and neighbors-but not our child.

As our loved ones age, the wise among us begin to catalog and carefully store all those “lasts” or soon-to-be “lasts”.  We ask for stories to make sure we can keep telling them.  We take extra photographs, make extra phone calls and write down recipes.

I was living life forward with Dominic-just like all my kids.  We were a busy, busy family and I was never very good at scrapbooking or saving up the ordinary flotsam of everyday life.

dom age 2 sunscreen

So while I have some pictures, memorabilia and tokens of his too-short life, I don’t have nearly enough.  Oh, how I wish I had more!  Not to create a museum or a shrine but to help my poor brain remember.

When someone says, “Just think of the good memories” it triggers all kinds of emotions and not one of them is what the person intends when giving me that advice.

I feel guilty-guilty for all the things I CAN’T remember. 

Dominic is my third child and only 19 months older than his younger brother.  There are so many gaps from those early years because I was overwhelmed and tired.  Why can’t I conjure up images of him at 3 or 4? 

That hurts.

I feel incredibly sad-sad that whatever memories I DO have are all I will ever have.  I had the memories BEFORE my son wasn’t walking with me and had planned on making many more.

So focusing on memories brings little solace.

Even  at 4 1/2 years into this journey, I’m torn when I pull out the memories.

I can smile now about many of them, but it’s always bittersweet.

Because this treasure trove is as large as it will ever be. 

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