They’d crossed over to that continent where grieving parents lived. It looked the same as the rest of the world, but wasn’t. Colors bled pale. Music was just notes. Books no longer transported or comforted, not fully. Never again. Food was nutrition, little more. Breaths were sighs. And they knew something the rest didn’t. They knew how lucky the rest of the world was.
― Louise Penny
It was absolutely this way for more than the first three years.
I’m the kind of person who thinks a lot about what makes people tick.
I always assume the person in front of meis the sum of his or her experiences.
We all are, really.
No one wakes up one day and just “is”. We become, over time, as our innate nature interacts with the world around us. First our parents and siblings influence us and then school, friends, life experience either gently molds us or pounds us into shape.
Often we get so used to our own way of doing and being we never give it much thought. It’s just “how we are”. We work around our faults and try to use our strengths to our advantage.
Most of us are pretty good at it.
Then something earth shattering comes along and suddenly the cracks are exposed and we haven’t the energy to cover them over.
Grieving hearts can be overwhelmed by all the seemingly unrelated issues that crop up after child loss. They lament that the pain and sorrow they bear missing their child is more than enough of a burden. Why, oh why are all these other things demanding attention at the same time?
How we grieve is informed by so manythings!
Not only by our relationship with the one we miss but also our relationship withprevious losses, ourselves and others.
Here are some often overlooked things that affect our grief:
Relationship with the one we miss. I think most of us realize this intuitively but we might be afraid to look deeper than the most recent memories and feelings. Dominic was almost 24 when he was killed in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident. At first my reaction to his death was mostly about losing him as a young adult. Over time I mourned losing him as a younger middle child who came along when I wasn’t taking as many photos of babies and toddlers (I have far fewer of him than his older siblings!). I mourned not making as much of his high school graduation and being not long out of major surgery for his college graduation. I mourned not making videos of his amazing drum playing because, you know, there’s always next time. My relationship with Dominic was complicated as all relationships are. I’m still discovering sore spots, having to think about, feel them and forgive myself or him for that specific pain. It takes time and willingness to explore my heart even when it hurts.
Relationship to previous losses. We’ve all suffered loss in our lifetimes. It might not have been due to death, but something or someone was taken from us, left us or is missing. And we’ve observed how others in our family have dealt (or not dealt) with loss. How we processed previous loss-what we learned or didn’t learn-in the course of living through it impacts how we approach child loss. I suffered numerous smaller losses before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. One of the most profound was the decade prior to his leaving when my health declined in ways I could neither control nor anticipate. Over and over I was forced to accept that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t MAKE something happen (or not happen). I had already surrendered, for the most part, to the worldview that I was not in control. It didn’t stop my heart from crying out nor stop my mind from trying to find a reason for this awful tragedy, but it helped me get past the initial disbelief that it could happen at all.
Relationship to ourselves. Some of us are masters of ignoring inner voices and prodding. Some folks never have a conversation with themselves, question their own motives or examine their own behavior. They walk through life and experience it moment by moment, day by day without looking too far ahead or looking over their shoulder at what they might leave in their wake. I’d love to have a day like that. Because I’m precisely the opposite. I will replay a conversation a dozen times trying to figure out where it went wrong or what I could have said differently. I am never free of a long list of self-imposed “Do’s and Don’t’s”. Even while grieving, I had expectations regarding what was allowed and what was out of bounds. It took time for me to give my heart permission to do whatever was necessary as long as it didn’t harm me or others. The less introspective may need help setting boundaries around their words and behavior so they don’t damage other hearts and relationships in unbridled grief.
Relationship to others. One of the most shocking realizations in child loss is that although others are in your immediate grief circle (spouse, other children, grandparents) no one has precisely the same relationship with the missing child. And every relationship within a family is impacted by the space left behind. Families are reshaped as much by the subtraction of a member as by the addition of a new baby or spouse. It changes everything. So even in this intimate setting, misunderstandings happen. Each person is working through their own grief. As they do, they will change. And the cycle begins anew. The husband I knew and the children I knew BEFORE Dom left have been reshaped as much by this experience as I have. I tend to want to relate to the people they were before and not to the people they are NOW. The gap between the two can be difficult to navigate. We continue to learn to live together in our new reality-changing and (hopefully) growing together. We talk more about important things, hide less behind false fronts and work harder at keeping short accounts.
Child loss shook me to the core.
It rattled every loose thought and feeling so hard they fell out and I was forced to deal with them. It ripped away any facade I’d managed to construct around poor coping techniques and suddenly I had to find new ones. Excuses that served to kick relationship problems down the road weren’t enough anymore.
I remember the first summer after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
The days stretched interminably before me. I woke with a sigh and not a few tears as I realized I had to wait out another cycle of the sun before sleep (if it came!) would grant respite from the memories, the feelings, the ache in my heart.
Sometimes it was nearly unbearable.
But then I had a moment when I realized no day lasts forever. No matter how hard, no matter how long it seemed, it would end.
Even the worst day of my life only lasted twenty-four hours.
I had survived THAT day. I could survive any day.
I don’t know just when I figured it out, but somewhere in this Valley it dawned on me-NO day lasts forever.
Many feel like they do.
The day I got the news stretched impossibly long in front of me as calls were made and people came to be wtih us.
Of course the moment when the last breath leaves a body is noted and duly recorded because the law requires such. I can pull out Dominic’s death certificate (what an ugly thing to have to say about my child!) and it reads: Time of Death: 1:10 a.m. April 12, 2014.
But I didn’t know about it until 4: 15 that morning when the deputy rang the bell.
This whole coronavirus shake up is messing with my world.
I’m a creature of habit.
I get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, do most chores on the same day of the week and pretty much find myself walking in the same worn out cow paths.
But with my husband working from home, my son having to do the shopping and various and sundry interruptions to my otherwise predictable routine, I’m finding it difficult to keep up on my writing.
So for those of you following the Scripture posts, more are coming-I promise.
They take a significant amount of time, energy and research to write and I’m not able to find that every single day like I used to. I don’t want to slop through them, so it may be a day or two before I get another one up.
Until then, I will probably be reposting a few old entries.
A year ago I was in the same city under very different circumstances.
My first grandson had been born at just over 28 weeks because his mama developed HELLP syndrome and was in mortal danger. Both he and she were in the hospital while we held our collective breath, begging for them to be OK.
We were filled with quiet but uneasy joy knowing as we do how death can come to steal it away.
This Sunday, family and friends gathered to watch this little guy grab his first birthday cake with gusto and smear his mama and daddy with blue icing.
You’d never know he got such a tentative start in life just by looking at him.
Grateful is too small a word for how we feel.
Last week was a roller coaster.
My first grandchild-a boy-was born prematurely on Saturday after several days of heart stopping, breath robbing drama as his mama went back and forth to the hospital three times in as many days.
My son, his father, is deployed overseas and paddling as fast as he can to get home.
It rolls around every four years in man’s attempt to keep the calendar in tune with the cosmos.
It’s really a rather rough alignment but it’s the best we can do.
Truth is that each year there’s about one-quarter of a day unaccounted for even though our minds and bodies don’t notice so we tack on a whole day every four years and act like we catch up.
Most of us plod along as if the Monday (or Saturday, this year) is just another day in a series. For some it’s a bonus work day (maybe a bit extra in the check this month?). For many it’s only a date.
But for the tiny portion of the population who were born or married on this date, it’s a celebration.
Once every four years they get to mark-on the very day-what most of us take for granted. Friends and families can gather and honor a life or a marriage without trying to figure out whether to do it the day before or the day after.
This is the second Leap Day that’s rolled around since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and it got me thinking about that little extra time each year or each month or each day holds that I hardly notice.
What if I took those moments (or hours) and wove them into something more meaningful than playing a game on my phone, watching another show on Hulu or scrolling through social media?
What if I choose to redeem those scraps of time that I normally toss away like they don’t matter?
In five minutes I can write a card, text or message to a friend.
In ten minutes I can call and set up a lunch or coffee date.
In thirty minutes I can preheat the oven and toss a storebought pie inside to take to my elderly neighbor.
So many opportunities to let someone know they are not forgotten nor unimportant.
February twenty-ninth didn’t really feel all that “extra” to me since I mostly did what I do every Saturday.
But it did make me think about how I spend my time.