Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Sleeping in the Stars

Last week, as I was driving home from work, a song came on my playlist that almost forced me to the side of the road. It's not a new one, but if I had heard it prior I certainly was not paying attention. From the first two lines, the tears started coming and by the chorus I was full on ugly crying while driving north on 95. 
I've listened to this beautiful song by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill more times than I'd like to admit over the past week. It keeps drawing me in and forms a sort of soundtrack as memories of my life with Joe race through my mind. I realized tonight that it feels especially poignant now with the calendar turning to our son's 12th birthday. With such a big marker approaching, I have no doubt that it's the music video that my mind creates as I listen that has brought me back to listening over and over again.
While I was driving to a meeting tonight, listening to the song and bawling (again) it fully clicked for me. The deep pain I've been feeling this week is a natural extension of being a first hand witness to our incredible son growing up without his dad. It has sucked from the moment Joe died and as Domani creeps closer and closer to adulthood, more and more is revealed of what is missing for both of us, but especially for him. 
There is something about Domani's birthday this year that is hitting different. Looking at him I feel like he has gone from little boy to young man almost overnight. Every 3 months he needs new shoes and I can barely keep up with everything he eats. He can keep up in adult conversations and has taken on new levels of responsibility all around. Sometimes it is awe inspiring, sometimes bittersweet and every once in awhile it is downright gut wrenching. But it is a time that his dad would have loved to be here to walk him through. And Joe would have been so good at it.
Instead, with each year that passes, I work to fill in the gaps - all the while seeing more and more of "Joe" in him. 
His technical know how.
His curiosity. 
His kindness.
His sense of humor. 
His thoughtfulness.
His looks.
His compassion.
His memory.
If you knew Joe, it is impossible to be around Domani and not see "Joe" things pop up in some way.  I have found that the similarities are comforting and painful all at the same time and I have realized that I am grappling with the nuances of that dichotomy on a regular basis.
I more often remember with a smile than tears and I do my best to name for Domani the parts of him that remind me of his dad. I know that is a gift for him - maybe not the kind of gift he expects to receive for his 12th birthday - but a gift nonetheless.
As for  me, I'll probably listen to this song a bunch more times. It's a lovely reminder of the bond the two of us shared and the many ways that Joe is still carried forward in our lives today.

September 2022 in OCNJ

When God calls me homeAnd my soul is laid to restThat won't mean I'm goneDarling heaven knowsI'll love you just the sameSo, don't you feel aloneYou may cry a tear or two and that's okayJust know I'll never be too far away
I'll be sleeping in the starsShining through the darkWatching, smiling, singing out in the silenceEverywhere you are I'll be sleeping in the stars
Some steps that we takeLeave an everlasting markEven death can't take awaySo, if you're missing meJust look inside your heartAnd let the memories play
You may cry a tear or two and that's okayLook up and know I'm not that far away
I'll be sleeping in the starsShining through the darkWatching, smiling, singing out in the silenceEverywhere you are I'll be sleeping in the stars
I'll be sleeping in the starsShining through the darkWatching, smiling, singing out in the silenceEverywhere you are I'll be sleeping in the starsEverywhere you are I'll be sleeping in the stars

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Happy Birthday to Me...Still Without Him (but with so much else carried forward)

It's been ten years since my first birthday after Joe died. When March 8th rolled around in 2012, it had only been three months since that awful day. My grief overwhelmed every aspect of my life and I felt like no measure of joy would ever return. I had an 18 month old son and was facing the prospect of raising him alone - something that was obviously never the plan. I felt helpless and like no one could possibly understand.  It was the hardest birthday of my life to date. 

Don't get me wrong. I had plenty of family, friends, and co-workers who supported me. There was evidence of the legacy of love that Joe left all around, but I still felt lost and painfully alone. So, I returned to the thing that has often brought me comfort. Unsure of what else to do to work my way out of the grief box I was in, I started writing. This time, though, I didn't take to writing in a private journal as I had done since I was young. I took a leap and started this blog. Unsure if anyone would read it (aside from my own parents and Joe's mom), but sure that I needed it, I wrote my first post with tears in my eyes and a knot in the pit of my stomach. 

In the ten years since, I have written and published 160 posts since that very first one. Each post, whether it was about my grief or not, helped me keep moving forward. Over the years, I've attended (and eventually led) grief support groups. I've consumed media of all kinds from books to music to art and have had countless conversations with friends and strangers alike about life and death. Last year, I completed a certificate class in End of Life care. I've been on a path that I never would have predicted, but one that has both challenged me and brought me peace and comfort.

Last night, I found myself having an intense yet beautiful conversation with my son about death. He had some burning questions on his mind and wanted to talk.

That moment, which could have been extremely awkward and painful, made me thankful for all of the open talks we had about death in my family growing up. For my own father who hasn't shied away from letting us know that he has song and scripture suggestions written in the back of his Bible. For my G-Mom who shared openly with me about her own grieving after my grandfather died and who carefully wrote each of us a heartfelt note which we received after she died. For my good friends who held me accountable for finalizing my own will and life insurance and end of life wishes when no on else our age was even considering such things. 

It doesn't mean that death sucks any less, but at least all of these positive influences and all of this grappling has helped me land in a place where I can acknowledge death as a natural part of life.

It has taken time and a lot of work on my part to find my way out of that painful grief box, but over these last ten years I've seen how grief is indeed a journey and moving forward in it doesn’t mean we forget our people. We find ways to honor them that also honor the continued living of our own lives. We move from painful ambushes of grief to sweet rememberings. We learn how to carry our love with us through the years.
Joe is still present in our lives - in some obvious ways and in some ways that are only visible to those who know Whether it's a song, which at one time brought overwhelming sadness, but now warms my heart and reminds me of my beloved Joe or a son who at 11 years old embodies mannerisms and habits that can only be traced back to his dad, there is progress. It's a progress that likely won't be complete until my own death, but I'm thankful for each step that allows me to breathe a little deeper and live a little more freely.

I expect this year to be a quiet birthday. I'll get up early to take in the sunrise on a walk around my neighborhood. I'll have a full day of work with a scheduled break to enjoy a birthday lunch with my sister. I'll attend some meetings in the evening and then do something fun with my not-so-little-anymore guy. And I'll be thankful that I get to celebrate another birthday - even if it is still without Joe.

From my 30th birthday
One of my favorite birthday photos with Joe