How and Why I Keep Writing: A Shepherd’s Heart

I am still utterly amazed that since November 2015 I have managed a blog post every day.

At first, I was writing because I wanted to make public the things I was learning in this Valley and to honor my missing son.  

dominic at tims wedding

He had been in Heaven a year and a half by then and it was clear to this mama’s heart that (1) people (including ME before it WAS me!) had absolutely NO IDEA what life after child loss was like once the funeral was over;  (2) one way to redeem this pain was to share how God had been faithful even as I struggled; and (3) I just didn’t see too many honest portrayals of life after loss for Christ followers (which is not to say they didn’t/don’t exist but I hadn’t found them).

So I wrote.  

Then I realized (much to my surprise!) that there were mamas (and a few daddies) hanging on by such a tenuous thread to hope that my meager attempt at redeeming this pain was strengthening their grasp.

Then it became a ministry.

Shepherding is in my blood. 

I’ve been a shepherd my whole adult life-first to my own children and then to other children through various home school groups and activities.  Then God granted a desire of my heart when He allowed me to become  a “real” shepherd 20 years ago to a flock/herd of sheep and goats.

goat and mel on porch (2)

I’ve learned so, so much.  

I’ve learned that consistency is key. 

My herd depends on my faithful feeding and my peaceful presence.  They love routine and hate change.  They respond immediately to my voice and run straight to me when they are afraid.

They will endure nearly anything as long as they are assured it is from my loving hand.  

I am not able to shepherd every heart that reads this blog. 

But I hope that a bit of my shepherd’s love and care and compassion is present in each post.  

My desire is that consistency helps the hearts that congregate here every morning.  I long for my words to feed hope to you from time to time.  I pray that routine gives you something to look forward to even on the hard day.  I pray that I faithfully point you to the Shepherd of your soul who can provide shelter no matter where you are or what is chasing you.

sheperd

I pray that together we can endure and persevere and finish strong and well.  

I continue to write because I love you. 

I continue to write because if a single post reaches a single heart on the verge of giving up and helps that heart hold onto hope, then it is worth every minute I spend thinking about, composing and producing these posts.  

And, frankly, many of you have ministered hope to MY heart.  

hope holds a breaking heart together

Dom left for Heaven about when my nest became empty.  Thirty years of raising children and twenty-plus years of homeschooling came to an end right when my heart was dealt this grievous blow.

All the energy and time I had poured into shepherding my children was suddenly available for a new adventure at the very moment when adventure was the last thing on my mind.  

Sharing has turned survival into something beautiful.   

I am so thankful for that.

And I am oh, so grateful for each of you.

thank you

 

 

 

Post # 1000: Thelifeididntchoose By the Numbers

This is one of my favorite photos of my son Dominic-the inspiration for this blog.  I love it because he was doing something he loved.  He was traveling in Brazil and went mountain climbing on his 21st birthday.

It’s pure Dom-shorts and sleeveless shirt (he was always warm-natured) and what you can’t see in this photo is he was in flip-flops-hardly appropriate footwear for the mountains.

Strong, fearless, brave and adventurous-God I miss him!

Until the day my pain is redeemed and my heart restored, I’ll keep sharing the life I didn’t choose.

I am thankful for every reader who now carries a tiny bit of my son in his or her heart too.  ❤

I rarely pay attention to all the statistics offered by WordPress when I log into my account.

I can see how many views a post has received, where my readers are and how they got to the post-whether via Facebook, Pinterest, search engines, etc.

Sometime last week I did notice a tiny number at the top of the list of published posts and realized I was creeping close to having made 1000 posts.

It floored me.

When I started writing in September, 2015 I envisioned a once-in-a-while update on my grief journey primarily for family and friends.  I had started blogs in the past but never had the mojo nor the commitment to keep them up much longer than a few months.

And then I discovered that writing for a bigger audience than myself and God was helpful and freeing.  I found out that putting words out in public forced me to refine my thoughts and dig deeper than I was otherwise willing to go.  I found out, like Flannery O’Conner, that often I don’t really know what I think until I write it down.

i-write-because-i-dont-know

I made a commitment in November, 2015 to write every day and thought it would only last a month. 

But it’s lasted now for nearly two and a half years!

Sometimes I’m too exhausted to produce fresh material so I will repost an old entry.  Sometimes I recycle a post because it was well-received and I feel like it needs to be put out there again.

Most days I write something fresh that reflects where I am right now.

I decided early on that writing here was going to be a way to honor Dominic, my family, my journey and God so I would not monetize it in any way.  I plan to stick to that commitment.

Free of any commercial expectations or limitations I can write what I want, when I want, how I want.

owning-our-story-and-loving-ourselves-through-the-process

Interacting with readers and with others on Facebook sent me in new directions and challenged me to explore the corners of my experience and try to put it into words that might help others feel less alone and misunderstood.

The result so far is one thousand posts! 

I can hardly believe it.  

So here are a few statistics for Post # 1000 that I find fascinating:  

wordpress and gears

Number of countries where at least one person has accessed a post:  189including Iraq. The Palestinian Territories, The People’s Republic of China and Uzbekistan! There is even a fairly large group that accesses daily posts from South Africa.

Obviously I knew in my head that the Internet has no borders, but this has really proven it to me in a very practical and surprising way!

Total number of views:  (at the time of writing) 794, 980

Total number of visitors:  492, 058

Several posts have been shared thousands and tens of thousands of times which is another fascinating and surprising statistic that I find hard to grasp.

There have been a few moments when choosing to be so public has been painful. 

Sometimes I’ve gotten comments that try to pick a fight over theological positions that I consider tangential to the central tenets of Christianity.  Sometimes I’ve had to ward off people who really just want to rant and rave in their grief-I’m truly sorry for their pain but I’m in no position to be an endless source of support and affirmation.

Once or twice my material has been stolen and circulated by others and that hurts because it is a record of MY journey and a tribute to MY son.

But all in all I have been blessed.

Blessed by the folks who take time to comment on the blog or comment on the public Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child Facebook Page.  I’ve been blessed by people who let me know that they look for the post every morning and that it gives them strength to get up and go on.

Mostly I’ve been blessed by knowing that I am doing the work that God prepared in advance for me to do.

Dominic’s death was no surprise to the Lord.

He knows the end from the beginning.  I am so thankful that I don’t.  But I can see how He was preparing me for decades to be able to put this journey into words and share it with others.

I don’t like my subject.

I would give anything-literally ANYTHING– for the calling on my heart to be something else.

But until He tells me to stop or I run out of words, I’ll be here.

I hope you’ll continue to join me.

heart baloon girl

 

 

 

Four Years. Today.

I remember when the first anniversary of Dominic’s death rolled around.

I was horrified that I had survived 365 days when I was certain I would not make it 24 hours.

Here I am three years later-the fourth anniversary of that awful day.

I’m still horrified on some level-it is obscene for a mother to outlive her child-completely Unnatural.

I’m also thankful-thankful that God has given me the strength to persevere when every fiber of my mama’s heart wants to give up.

Who in their right mind would CHOOSE to carry this pain?

And I miss Dominic.

I miss his voice which is increasingly hard to conjure in my mind.  I miss his sharp wit and snarky commentary on political and social events.  Now that I finally figured out how to tweet, I wish we could exchange comments and quotes.  I miss his laugh.  

dominic at tims wedding

I miss the family I used to have.  The one that could look forward without fear of waking one morning to another member gone-poof!  The family that was only going to grow, not shrink.  A mother’s heart is absolutely ready to expand, but refuses to get smaller because a child is no longer present to receive her love.

desimones uab family

I miss my rock-solid faith in a God Who promised to bless if I only followed.  I am not calling His character into question-I believe as firmly today that He is weaving a good story out of every circumstance as I did before Dominic left us.  But I do not receive this blow as a blessing.

I can’t.

I miss the enthusiasm I used to have for everyday events.  Making things special and beautiful was the joy of my heart.  I loved, loved, loved to add thoughtful touches to a meal or a moment.  While I am just as committed to my family as I ever was, I rarely have the energy for these things anymore.

I miss the future I thought we would all have together. I am still so wounded I refuse to look much further than a month ahead unless absolutely necessary.  The old me who envisioned grandchildren and golden years is gone.

beach-and-family-better

I am utterly unprepared to declare Dominic’s “legacy”.  Of course my child influenced people.  That’s what we do-we interact and influence and leave a trail behind.

But that is completely different than making a choice about what to invest your life’s energy into-completely different than what one attributes to a person whose long life leaves behind actions, words and work that form a cohesive testimony to a personality or passion.

I am not hiding in a hole.  I do not spend days in bed or sitting, sulking and silent, shaking my fist at the sky.

Even today I will get up, get dressed and DO what needs to be done.

But I will be mindful that one of my children is beyond reach.  One piece of my heart is unavailable for me to hold.  

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

I will cry at what I’ve lost and be thankful for what I had.

I will look at pictures of Dominic and wish photos and memories were not all that is left of my third child.  

I will continue to live the life I didn’t choose.

family never gets over the death of a loved one

Relentless

woman-grieving-loss
re·lent·less
adjective
opressively constant; incessant.
Synonyms:  persistent, continuing, nonstop, never-ending, unabating, interminable, incessant, unceasing, endless, unremitting, unrelenting, unrelieved.
please be aware i am trying

Wise Choices in Grief

I had no choice in child loss.  

When Dominic first left us, it felt like I would never get to choose anything again-it felt like I would always be at the mercy of life just happening TO me. 

But in these months and years since, I’ve found that I DO have choices.

I have many, many choices every. single. day. 

I can choose bitterness or I can choose love.

heart and wood

I can choose blame or I can choose grace.

I can choose to isolate my wounded heart or I can choose to integrate my experience into who I am and invite others to join me on the journey.

I can choose to live in the past-which isn’t really living at all-or I can choose to face each new day and see what it has to offer.

I can choose to elevate my missing child so high that his siblings have no hope of measuring up or I can choose to remember the good AND the bad of who he was and how he walked in the world.

I can choose to complain about how others don’t understand or I can choose to educate them on what child loss feels like, how it impacts all aspects of my life and how it will be part of my experience until the day I join my son.

I can choose to be ashamed of my tears or I can choose to display them proudly as testimony of the love I have for my son.

never ashamed of tears dickens

I can choose to be upset that others fail to mention his name or I can choose to mention it myself, making him as natural a part of the conversation as my living children.

I can choose to ignore the way grief impacts my ability to do all the things I once did or I can choose to make wise accommodations for my limitations.

I can choose to close my heart to love and laughter or I can choose to honor Dominic by loving and laughing anyway.

I choose life. 

Because as long as I breathe, I carry the light of Dominic’s life with mine.

dom looking up with camera

Transforming Pain

I have had my share of pain in life-physical, emotional and psychological. 

Some of it I’ve brought on myself and some of it has been thrust upon me.  

None of it was pleasant.

But by far the most excruciating pain I have endured is the death of my son.  If someone could have induced this pain for five minutes as a preview before Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I would have sworn I couldn’t have withstood it for five minutes more.

Yet here I am not just minutes or months but years later.  Still standing.

How?  By the grace of God and by choosing to transform that pain into something besides just pain.

I cannot ignore the pain.  It has changed me. But I won’t let it dominate me. 

Instead I let is goad me into being a better me than I might have been if my heart were whole and unbroken.

I am gentler, more eager to listen to hurting hearts.  I am less likely to judge others and more likely to lend a helping hand.  I am committed to walk gently through this life and to cause as little harm as possible and bring as much joy as is mine to give.

I definitely walk with a limp. 

But I won’t let it stop me from walking. 

 

 

 

Let Me Know You Remember

As families gather around tables and in backyards to celebrate fall birthdays, Thanksgiving and (soon!) Christmas, my heart longs even harder to hear Dominic’s name.  

Of course I remember him-he’s my son-and of course others do too. 

But it is especially helpful this time of year to have friends and family speak of him aloud.  

may cry if you mention their name

Of course I may cry. 

I cry often anyway. 

But if I cry because you remind me of the good friend Dominic was to you or because of a special memory you shared with him, they are tears of joy as much as tears of longing.

let them know you know they lived