When we cleaned out Dominic’s apartment two weeks after he left us, I couldn’t throw away a thing.
Even though it meant boxing it up, carting it down the stairs and loading and unloading it onto our trailer, I DIDN’T CARE.
If it was his, if his hands had touched it, his body worn it or he had placed it in the cabinet or fridge, it was coming with me.
The only thing I left in that space was the empty echo of his fading presence.
I brought all the rest home.
Because these things aren’t just things.They represent some portion of my son-his personality, his preferences, his history and his hopes.
Many are the minutiae that make up a life:
scraps of paper tucked inside his briefcase as reminders
a dry cleaning ticket in his wallet
a legal pad on the table where he was taking notes to study for an exam
receipts from recent purchases strewn on the kitchen counter
shaving cream, hair products, favorite soap
clothes and ties and shoes
a fridge full of food he’d chosen for himself
the good coffee
containers saved from food I’d sent home with him
Of course there were the larger items most folks would think of bringing home if not keeping-furniture, computers, his car, television and stereo.
We put the delicate and temperature sensitive things inside the house.
The rest was placed in a storage building on our property. Every time I opened the door to the building for several years it smelled of Dominic.
I loved it and hated it in one breath.
I’m using his furniture in our living room. His television set is downstairs in the family room. Some of his other things live in his siblings’ homes.
We’ve all found ways to touch what he touched last.
I am slowly getting better at getting rid of some of Dominic’s things.
Just yesterday my husband replaced faucets in the bathroom my boys used growing up. In the process we pulled out stuff from under the deep cabinets.
Tucked in the back were some old bottles of hair gel and other half-used, dried up products that once belonged to my fashion conscious son who was always trying to tame his curly hair.
I grabbed them and tossed them into a plastic trash bag as we prepared to put replace things underneath. I almost pulled them back out.
Sighing, I tied up the bag and took it straight to the big curbside garbage can before I could change my mind.
These things aren’t *just* things.
Every time I get rid of something that was Dominic’s I feel like I’m erasing a little bit more ofHIM. I feel like I’m losing one more touchstone to help my mind hold onto memories that might slip away without it.
They are a tangible connection that I can see, smell and touch to a child with whom I can no longer do any of those things.
I suspect I will always keep at least a tiny stash to pull out on heavy days or birthdays or just days when my heart needs reminding.
Today is a day when we honor those who gave the last full measure in service to our country and our country’s wars.
It is a day to honor, remember and mark with solemn gratitude the sacrifice of a life poured out.
You don’t have to agree with the reasons for a war to honor the individuals who died fighting it.
War is far from glorious. It’s ugly and dirty and awful. For those that fight it and those on whose land it is fought.
But in this world where nation invades nation and the wicked often rule it’s sometimes necessary.
Every soldier is a mother’s child. Every soldier leaves someone behind.
In war after war, families across America have been devastated by the deaths of their sons and daughters, many taken in the prime of life, at the dawn of adulthood.
Almost every family and community has a story of burying a promising young soul that was sure to make a difference but who never got that chance.
My father served and my son is now serving.
And to all the mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters gave the last full measure for their home and country, I say:
“Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for the love poured into the child that became the brave man or brave woman who would put his or her life on the line for what they believed in. Your toil bore much fruit that continues to bless others today.”
You have given up what no one has the right to ask of you.
You live with both the honor of your child’s legacy and the horror of your child’s absence.
And if your child survived the battlefield but could not survive the scars of war, I am so very sorry.
I understand the pain of missing the child you love, I hear your heart and I am praying for you.
As we gather with our families and enjoy freedom purchased with the blood of sons and daughters, may we REMEMBER.
May we honor the ones who gave everything they had.
And may we remember the families left behind who can never forget.
The strongest love anyone can have is this. He will die to save his friends.
I especially love them as the days get shorter and we creep toward the longest night of the year.
I love them more since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
Every time I light a candle, I remind my heart that even the smallest light can chase the darkness.
When hundreds, thousands and even millions of candles are lighted together, it does more than chases darkness, it undoes it.
This Sunday, December 8, 2019 is the Worldwide Candle Lighting Memorial Service (WCL) sponsored by The Compassionate Friends (TCF).
Millions of parents and others will light a candle at 7:00 PM local time for one hour to honor sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and grandchildren gone too soon.
As the earth turns, a wave of light will sweep across the globe one time zone after another.
It’s natural for parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers to mark the light and life of one they miss.
It’s less natural for friends and extended family members to do so.
One of the greatest fears of every bereaved parent is that his or her child will cease to be remembered or that the light and life of a son or daughter will simply fade as time goes on.
Year-end holidays accentuate the place where our children should be but aren’t. Merry making and picture taking emphasize the gap between grieving hearts and those untouched by death of a close loved one.
That’s why TCF has chosen THISweek for the annual WCL.
If you want a simple way to bless someone you know who lost a child, grandchild or sibling, a single candle and a quick picture or post on social media will do it.
My heart is always encouraged and strengthened when others take time to remember Dominic.
Buy a candle.
Set an alarm on your phone.
Light up the night with us.
Together we will remember. Together we will chase the darkness. Together we will declare that our children are out of reach but not forgotten.
I’ve written before about how I choose to leave some things just as Dominic left them-even over five years later.
It’s my way of maintaining physical space in our home that represents the space in my heart where only he can fit.
It’s also more than that.
As time progresses, nearly every other tangible evidence that Dominic existed is being worn away.
Sure there are photographs-but even they are growing old while he is not. No fresh adventures captured on phone or film. No new Facebook or Twitter posts. No new anything.
And as he becomes less relevant to other people’s lives, the gap between my experience and their’s grows ever larger.
Because he is just as relevant to my life as he ever was.
I have four children. Dominic is third of four, second of three boys. He is Uncle Dominic to my new grandson although Ryker won’t meet him in this life. He is my encouragement to keep doing hard things because he never allowed difficulty or pain to stop him from doing them.
His absence looms large. Every. single. day.
And sometimes, when it seems the world has forgotten him, when all the bits and pieces of who he was in life and how he touched others are floating away in the ocean of human activity, it looms larger.
So on those days I’m a little weepy.
On those days I may talk of him more.
On those days I might have to pull out the old photos and post them online.
For one reason or another, the tiny life budding in a belly never gets to see the light of day. Never takes a first breath. Never cries. Never opens his or her eyes to the mama waiting to meet her precious one.
So many mamas have experienced the excitement of watching the pregnancy test show positive only to endure days, weeks or months later, the sadness of saying good-bye to a little one they never got to meet.
Statistics tell us that one in four women will become part of this group during their lifetime.
But what statistics can never tell you about anything is why so, so many of the women who survive pregnancy and infant loss don’t talk about it.
Many think they can’t talk about it or shouldn’t talk about it because often the experience is so very personal.
It may be the pregnancy was never announced. It could be that the culture in which a mama lives doesn’t recognize life at conception so, really, what was lost? Perhaps many women in her family have had similar experiences and THEY didn’t “make a big deal” out of it, so why should she?
Then there’s guilt.
So, so much information is shoved into mothers’ faces about what they should and shouldn’t do to promote a healthy pregnancy and birth. Eat this, don’t eat that. Take this, don’t take that. Exercise-but not too strenuously. Drink water. Don’t drink alcohol or too much caffeine.
It’s easy to blame yourself when a baby stops growing.
Some brave mamas carry a baby for months and to the point of birth-see that precious bundle on an ultrasound, hear the heartbeat, watch and feel those legs kick-yet never hear a cry or hold a warm infant in their arms.
That’s a kind of awful no heart should have to bear.
And yet, that loss too is often unacknowledged.
How do you celebrate a life that was lived only inside the comfort and safety of the womb? How do you share a photo of your precious baby when the only one you have (if you have any) is of him wrapped in a blanket, eyes closed, your eyes crying?
If a second pregnancy follows any kind of pregnancy or infant loss, friends and family almost always pounce on the opportunity to push a mama’s heart forward fast and furious to the future of her “rainbow child” making it even less likely her missing baby is acknowledged or remembered.
But she never forgets.
A mama’s heart never lets go of the life that lived inside her.
That tiny baby-one week, one month, full term-is her son or daughter.
Counted among the others.
Just as precious.
I’m remembering with you, my sweet friends. Tonight I will light a candle along with millions who also remember, to honor the baby I never held. May the multiplied voices and hearts joined together help others hear the message that our child matters.