Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

I want to be everything my living children need me to be.  

I try hard to celebrate them, be available, listen closely and love them well.  

I never, ever want them to feel they are competing with their missing brother for my affection or my attention.  

But I’d be lying if I said it was always easy.  

Sometimes the happy moment so closely resembles a shared memory that includes Dominic, my heart takes my head in directions I wish it wouldn’t go.  Sometimes it’s a long awaited once-in-a-lifetime occasion and Dom’s absence is a giant, gaping hole everywhere I look.

It’s really hard to be stuck at the crossroad of being happy for a child still here while mourning and missing the child that’s gone.

brandon and fiona wedding her laughing not screenshotI’ve had to do that many, many times in the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve found a couple of things that help.  

I put something in my pocket or wear a piece of jewelry that is a token of my love for Dominic. 

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It helps me feel as if he’s represented even if no one else knows about it.  Then I lean in and take hold of the celebration as best as I can. When I feel overwhelmed, I touch my little token and/or escape to a quiet corner or bathroom for a minute or two and collect myself.

I also try to do something called “pre-grieving”. 

coffee and journal morning

I allow myself time early in the morning of an event to be alone and cry if I need to.  If the tears won’t come, I listen to music that helps my heart reach that place of release.  I journal my feelings.  I walk through the day and admit where it might be especially challenging.  I think through how I can deal with that and make a plan.

It makes a difference.  

So much has been stolen from my surviving children. 

I don’t want them robbed of their mama too.  

beach-and-family-better

 

Child Loss: Missing The Family I Thought I’d Have

I miss a lot of things since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  

I miss HIM-his deep voice, his perspective and his thump-thump-thumping down the stairs and the rhythm of who he is.

And I miss how his absence has reshaped the family I thought I’d have.  

Raising four children, investing my time, heart and energy into who they were turning out to be, I naturally projected into the years ahead.  All that love poured into them would create a legacy we’d all enjoy.  Marriages, careers, grandchildren and experience would blend together into a (if not perfectly harmonious) at least a shared future.

desimones uab family

I never imagined turning a calendar page without one of my children to turn it with me.  

Dominic’s death has touched each one of us.  His missing is as powerful a force as his presence.  We are absolutely NOT THE SAME as we would have been if he were still here nor as we were when he was still here.

When Dom first left us, I was primarily mourning him.  I still miss him like crazy.  

But a lot of my mourning during the past twelve months has been for the family I thought I would have.  I see each of my surviving children are processing Dominic’s absence in ways that influence their decisions.

In some ways it’s beautiful-I see twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings making choices with wisdom way beyond their years.  In some ways it’s brutal-they set up safeguards because they know by experience that leaving the house doesn’t always mean you return.  They have back up plans for everything.

Which wasn’t something I even thought about when I was their age.  

My husband and I expected to drift into retirement years full of energy and vigor.  Much of that has been stolen from us by child loss too.  Oh, how we long to be the fun grandparents, the traveling duo, the footloose crazy pair but it’s much more effort than we anticipated.

Sometimes we can’t muster that energy at all.  

I know some changes were inevitable.  Dominic’s death coincided with a natural progression toward an empty nest.  I’m not a helicopter mama and I’ve always said my goal was to raise children who could function well without me so I think that as much as possible, I prepared my heart for them to grow up and grow apart.

But in addition to normal changes, there’s an utterly unnatural and unwelcome transformation from nuclear family to brokenhearted family.

I am so, so thankful that we have chosen the hard path of running toward one another instead of running away.  

I’m grateful that we have grown from five left behind to a table for eight-two new spouses and a precious grandchild. 

I do not take a single second for granted because I know that seconds are not guaranteed.  

But I sure wish Dominic were here to share it with us.  

dominic at olive garden

 

 

 

My Sixth Mother’s Day as a Bereaved Mother

When it first happened all I could think about was getting through a minute, then a day and then all the decisions and days leading up to a funeral or memorial service.  

There’s no road map.  

Even when others come alongside (and many, many did!) there’s just no easy way to navigate that part of the journey.

And then I realized that in addition to all the “regular” days that absolutely, positively  break your heart, I had to forge a path through “special” days.

It was overwhelming!

Mother’s Day was especially challenging that first year.  Our loss was fresh and we’d had to acknowledge and celebrate two graduations and a wedding was about a month away.  How in the world could I honor my living children and also safeguard my broken heart?

We muddled through by having Mother’s Day at my daughter’s apartment co-hosted by some of her sweetest and most compassionate friends.  Not a lot of fanfare, but good food, good company and a quiet acknowledgment of Dom’s absence but also my living children’s presence.

It was a gift. 

This is my sixth Mother’s Day.  Every year is different.  Every year presents new challenges and every year things change.  

Since discovering there is an International Bereaved Mother’s Day my heart has taken advantage of having a day to think about and honor Dominic and then another day to think about and honor my living children.

That helps.  

I wrote this post three years ago but can’t really improve on it so I’ll share it again.  I pray that each heart who finds Mother’s Day hard will lean in and take hold of the hem of His garment. 

It’s really the only way.  

Read the rest here:  Mother’s Day as a Bereaved Mother

 

Please Don’t Ask My Kids How I Am Doing

It may seem like the easiest way to get an inside scoop on how I’m REALLY doing-but don’t do it.

Please don’t ask my kids how I’m doing.

Respect the fact that they have their own grief burden.  Respect family privacy and understand you are putting them in an impossible position.

If you want to know-to REALLY know-how I’m doing, ask me.

Life for us is no different than life for you except every decision, every event, every single thing requires more effort and energy because we carry the additional burden of death and loss.

It’s easy to assume children and young people-even adults in their 20’s and 30’s-are somehow more resilient than they really might be. 

They are often in seasons of activity that serve as cover for deeper, more difficult feelings.  Many beautiful celebrations typically mark these years.  Graduations, weddings, births are wonderful!   But they are complicated for grieving siblings as well as grieving parents.

So be a friend to my kids.  Love them.  Celebrate them.  

And please, please, please treat them as fellow grievers and not simply bystanders to their parents’ grief.

If you want to know about me, just ask.  

Me. 

Not them.  

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child Loss: A Letter to My Living Children

I never thought it possible to love you more than I already did.

But I do.

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Your brother’s untimely departure has opened my heart in a whole new way to the glory that is your presence.  It has made me drink you in like water in the desert.

No more do I take even a moment for granted.  Never again will I be “too busy” to listen to you, to hug you, to greet you on the porch when you decide to make your way back home.

Read the rest here:  A Letter To My Living Children*

Should I Let My Young Children See Me Cry?

This was not my experience-all my children were adults when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven-but so many grieving parents want to know:  Should I let my younger children see me cry?

How much is too much for them to witness, process and hear?

Do I need to shield them from the awful truth of how much this hurts?  CAN I shield them?

It depends.

May I first say that there is NO way to shield even an infant from the overflowing emotions, stress and strain of child loss in his or her family.  If we stop and think about it, we know this.  And older children may look like they aren’t paying attention, but they are.

mother and child painting

So the question is not really, “Can I shield them” but is instead, “How do I help them understand what’s happening”?

Grief in this life is inevitable. 

Allowing our children to watch us grieve helps them understand how it’s done.  When we share openly, we give them tools and models for sharing too.

I think it’s important to be honest with even the youngest among us. 

When a parent speaks of the deep pain of loss, expresses love for the missing ones and looks longingly at photos and mementos, he or she is saying to the watching child: “Love lives.  Love is important.  Love lasts even when our bodies don’t.  I will always love you just like I love your brother (or sister).”

grief only exists where love lived first

Young children will create their own script if adults don’t help them write one.

Because their minds are not fully developed, they will often connect odd bits into an unhealthy whole.  Just as some children decide they are responsible for their parents’ divorce, some surviving siblings think that a random act of disobedience resulted in the death of a sister or brother.

And if a parent is modeling secrecy or a stiff upper lip, that child may never reveal her dark and weighty secret.

We can help our children by providing a safe space where they can express themselves freely without fear of correction or being silenced.  It might get ugly.  Our grief gets ugly.  It’s part of the process.

But children should never become the burden bearers for adults.

Crying in front of your child is OK.  Screaming, yelling, blaming and violence is not. 

No child should feel threatened or unsafe in his own home.  If you are out of control, THAT is the time to go to a room and close the door.  Or call a friend to come get the kids so you have a few hours alone.  Or send them outside to play.  It is NOT the time to unload on your surviving child(ren).

I wish that grief was not part of life.

But it is.  

How I deal with it, what I say about it, when and how I express it will impact my children for good or ill.  

I want to offer them tools they can use and build resilience for what they may face in the future.  

Letting them see me-especially the grieving me-is an important part of that process.  

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief