I know I’m not the only one who carries a calendar in my head that threatens to explode like a ticking timebomb. Days that mean nothing to anyone else loom large as they approach.
The date of his death.
The date of his funeral.
The day he should have graduated from law school
On and on and on.
How can I survive these oppressive reminders of what I thought my life would look like? How can I grab hold of something, anything that will keep my heart and mind from falling down the rabbit hole of grief into a topsy-turvy land where nothing makes sense and it’s full of unfriendly creatures that threaten to gobble me whole?
every child that has run ahead and
every situation is unique.
What works for one person (even in the same family) won’t necessarily work for another. But there are some ways to make these days a little easier.
Here’s a list of what has helped my heart and the hearts of others walking this journey. Take what may help and toss the rest:
- Invite friends and family to a special celebration featuring foods and/or activities that honor your missing child. On the first anniversary of Dominic’s homegoing, his friends brought lunch and they shared stories and memories with me-many of which I hadn’t heard since he was living away from home when he left us. I didn’t do a lot of talking, but just listening was a beautiful way to pass that day.
- Ask folks to do a “random act of kindness” in your child’s name. Some parents have printed out cards (like photo Christmas cards) and distributed them with a picture and brief information about their child and a way to post the RAK online (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
- If you have a charitable organization or scholarship or other project that bears your child’s name, remind people of it and request donations (if appropriate). Many times friends and family long to do something tangible to show they have not forgotten either.
- For birthdays and holidays, purchase a cake (at a local bakery) or toys/gifts for a child the same age as your own. I went a couple of days before Dominic’s birthday and paid for a cake ordered for a little girl’s first birthday. I left a note that said, “Children are a blessing from the Lord. Enjoy your sweet blessing. In honor of my son, Dominic. Love, His Mama.”
- Some people launch lanterns at the cemetery or another meaningful place. Check with local regulations before you do this-you don’t want the occasion marred by a confrontation. There are environmentally friendly lanterns available online for those concerned about that. (This is why I don’t recommend letting balloons go.)
- Gather gift cards to give to a local Ronald McDonald House or other charitable group that provides support for families of pediatric patients. I know one family that did this for a group that had ministered to them during their son’s illness. The response was overwhelming and it touched them as well as all the families that benefitted from the gift cards.
- Create a quiet memorial space in your own yard honoring your child. There are lots of ideas online to get you started. Some parents plant a tree while others use smaller plants and stones along with a bench and special items that remind them of their missing child.
- Some grieving parents spend the day at home, under the covers and waiting for it to pass.
Most importantly, no matter what you do or don’t do, be prepared to give yourself grace whatever the day holds.
Don’t do what you don’t feel like you can do-even if you made plans ahead of time.
Do whatever helps your heart.
Hug anyone who chooses to come alongside and bear witness to this awful anniversary.
And hold tight to the fact that even the worst day only lasts 24 hours.