It Gets Heavier Before We Grow Stronger

Oh, the weight of missing the son I love!

I thought I understood just how heavy it was the moment the deputy’s words sank deep inside and crushed my heart.

But I didn’t know the half of it.

You really can’t know how large a person’s absence is until you’ve explored the edges of the world without him or her.

When folks started coming up our long and winding drive, even though I knew full well he would not be among them, my eyes strained to see inside every car. When his friends gathered in our front yard, I couldn’t help looking through the picture window trying to make out his face among the crowd. When we walked into his now-empty apartment I thought surely he was in his bedroom, around the corner, just out out of sight.

But he was nowhere to be found. And the hole in my heart where he should be but wasn’t got bigger.

Those were just the early days.

In the weeks, months and years to follow I found everywhere I set my foot that followed a path we’d walked together, I missed him. When the next movie in a series was released, he wasn’t there to watch it with me. Family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, graduations all went on without him and my heart counted his absence.

From sunrise to sunset my heart marks all the Dominic-sized spaces in a day.

At night, dark stillness invites me to recite them.

But after more than five years, most people no longer see any tale-tell sign of this mama’s heart longing desperately for one more minute, one more hug, one more quick exchange of “I love you!”

I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of missing.

Daily exercise will do that.

And it IS a daily exercise-lifting the missing up on my shoulders or carrying it in a basket on my head like women hauling water from a well far away has taught me to bear it well.

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I still miss him.

I will always miss him.

Greater strength means I can shift the missing to make room for living. I can carry that weight and still find room to carry joy.

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Grief Coping Strategy: Derailing A Negative Train of Thought

It happens most often when things are very quiet or I’m trying to drift off to sleep.  

My mind will rehearse the moment the doorbell rang, or the phone calls I had to make, or-worse yet-imagining what, exactly, Dominic experienced when he left the road and plowed through bushes until he was thrown from his motorcycle and died.

Once my thoughts begin to follow that track, it’s so hard to derail them.

It used to be absolutely impossible.

But now (at five years into this journey) I have some default visualizations that help me break unfruitful mental cycles.

I might imagine details from my childhood-recreating a room or an experience-or recite Scripture, hymns or poems.  Sometimes I force myself to delineate my next day’s tasks precisely and in order.

I am always very careful what I watch, read or meditate on before bedtime because if I plant a seed of fear or dystopia it flowers in my dreams.

And then there are the days when responsibilities lead me down memory lane-going through photos for my daughter’s wedding, consolidating boxes to make room for my husband’s retirement, hunting a particular item for the holidays or another family celebration-and I have a hard time not sinking into despair because Dom’s just not here.

But at five years those are no longer utterly uncontrollable feelings.

I’ve learned ways of diffusing, distracting and redirecting my thoughts to help me deal with them in the moment: 

  • If possible, I stop the activity that triggered the feelings or thoughts and switch to something else.  Sometimes just turning my back makes all the difference.
  • I focus on a non-triggering detail.  Shifting my eyes often shifts my thoughts.
  • If in a group of people, I force myself to listen to the conversations around me and ignore my own thoughts.
  • If alone, I speak the feeling/thought aloud.  Breaking the silence can break the cycle.

Then, (often) I’ll have a meltdown later, but at a time when I can afford it better.

I’ve said over and over that the absolute weight of this burden has not changed but my ability to carry it has grown through practice and doing the work grief requires.

Sorrow is no longer all I feel and my son’s absence is no longer all I see.

Every time I overcome my fear, I redirect my thoughts, I face my feelings and refuse to let them paralyze me, I’m stronger.

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A Few of My Favorite Things

When I had a child, suddenly I cared about everything. When I lost a child, suddenly I cared about nothing.

~ a bereaved mother

When I read this comment, I thought about it for a moment to see if it was true for me.

And I realized that, yes, it WAS true at the very beginning.

Mind-numbing pain and soul-crushing agony pressed down so heavily that I couldn’t care about anything other than reminding myself to

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In. 

Out.

Repeat.

A bit over twenty-eight months have passed and my body, mind and spirit are stronger.

The pain is still great, but I am better able to bear it now.  

My heart is bigger because I suffer and it is softer toward those who also suffer.

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Trials make great room for consolation. There is nothing that makes man have a big heart like a great trial. I have found that those people who have no sympathy for their fellows, who never weep for the sorrows of others very seldom have any of their own. Great hearts could be made only by great troubles.

Charles Spurgeon

Now I care much more deeply about a few, select “things”.

The ones I can take with me into eternity:

People

And love

And grace

Forever in heaven with Jesus.

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Stronger?

These past days have been harder than some.  

Many, unrelated events conspired to draw my heart’s attention more pointedly to Dominic’s absence.  The hot mid-day sun keeps me inside when I’m usually outside and working hard-which keeps my hands and mind busy.

Summer used to be the time when more flexible schedules opened wide the possiblity for barbecues and lazy evenings watching fireflies and chatting in the dark.  

Now it’s just one more season where nothing will ever be the same.

So I was reminded again that though I am stonger, I still carry a heavy load.

Read more here: Stronger

Stronger

If you meet me now at the grocery store or pass me in church, I probably won’t cry.

I will most likely ask you how you are, what you’ve been doing and smile when you share the latest family news even if in the midst of the words a thousand alarms go off in my head, reminding me of Dominic.

Because I’m stronger.

There’s a common misconception about grief among those who have never experienced the loss of a close loved one.

It goes something like this:  The first few weeks, months and the first holidays celebrated without them are the hardest.  But once the bereaved make it through THOSE, things get EASIER.

I’m here to tell you that, at least for me, it’s just not true.

A better picture of how I am continuing in this grief journey is to think of it as weight lifting.   I started with a 250 pound barbell raised over my head-no warning, no training-that knocked me to my knees and threatened to press the life out of me.  But friends and family came alongside and helped me lift the heavy weight for a season.

And I survived.

Each day, I have to get out of bed and lift that weight.

  • Over time, my muscles have grown stronger.
  • Over time, I’ve become more adept at keeping my grip.
  • Over time, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to balance the bar more evenly, to situate myself more strategically beneath it and to breathe through the lifting so that I don’t become light-headed and faint.

But there are still days, still moments, when my balance is off and I can be crushed by the weight of grief.  There are times when life adds a few more pounds onto the bar and even my stronger arms are unable to lift it up and carry on.

And in those moments or on those days, the full weight of sorrow and pain and longing overwhelm me.  That’s when I understand how Paul felt when he wrote:

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.  

2 Corinthians 4: 8-10

I sit in my floor and cry out to God for mercy, cry out to Him for strength, cry out to Him for grace to rise and carry on.

I am thankful that it’s no longer every day.  I’m relieved that I can do routine things more easily.  I can smile. I can even laugh.

I am stronger.  I am more capable.

But I am never completely free of the load.