I Don’t Have to Choose Between Sorrow and Celebration

Our family is looking forward to Spring and also dreading it.  

This year we will welcome a new baby (my first grandchild) and also celebrate my daughter’s wedding to a wonderful man. 

Our family is growing again!

brandon and fiona engagement

But we will also mark the fifth year anniversary of Dominic leaving for Heaven and another birthday that he won’t be here to greet.

dom on mountaintop

I’m pretty sure tears will be shed on each of these days and they will be salty-sweet, sad and happy, sorrowful and celebratory-all at once.  

There are no more hard lines in my life that separate events into distinct categories where only a single set of emotions is appropriate.  Instead my heart’s a watercolor mosaic where one feeling washes into another, darker colors make the lighter ones brighter.

My daughter recently wrote her own blog post, Guest Books & Memory Tables: A Sibling’s Perspective on Love and Loss.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Even Hobby Lobby reminds me that if I’m remembering anyone at my wedding it should be the family legends of generations past, not current. Somewhere in my carefully- packed boxes of wedding decorations, sits frames and mementos for mine and my fiance’s grandparents and my forever-frozen-in-time 23 year old brother.

I highly recommend you read the whole thing.  She’s done a beautiful job sharing from a sibling’s perspective.

Her wedding day will be full of great joy and celebration and also some sorrow as we take pictures of the whole family minus one.

 

you should be here

I might be laughing one minute and crying the next.  

And that’s OK.  

No need to fake it.  

It’s ALL part of life. 

sorrow and celebration can coexist authentically

Shadows and Celebrations

One of my children told me recently that every celebration and holiday over the past few years had a shadow over it. 

I know.

But I can’t help it.

I wish I could find a light bright enough to drive out the shadows.

But there isn’t.

I’m trying.  Really, truly trying.  I want to be able to join in without reserve, without that still small voice whispering, “This won’t last”, in my head.

Because that’s really the shadow, isn’t it?

Not *just* the one who is missing, the incomplete family photo, the empty chair at the dinner table-but the fact that I know, know, know what I didn’t used to know.

I know life is fleeting and death can come for anyone at any time.

I wish I could forget that lesson.

Because that is what casts the longest shadow.

you think you have forever but you don't

 

Repost: Be Free to Celebrate [Or Not!]

Often bereaved parents dread the major holiday season that starts in November and lasts through January.  We brace ourselves for THOSE days because they loom large on the calendar and give fair warning.

But the year is chock full of minor holidays and other celebrations that require just as much emotional energy as the “big” ones.

If I’m not careful, they will slip up on me and drain me dry.

So here’s how I try to approach them.

It helps my heart.

Maybe it will help yours too.  ❤

One of the most challenging things that faced me immediately after Dominic’s funeral was that we had two college graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, his birthday, a wedding and my own thirtieth wedding anniversary within two months.

Thankfully we had some amazing friends and family that stepped up and filled in the gaps.

Read the rest here:  Be Free to Celebrate [or Not!]

Repost: Graduations and Weddings and Trips, Oh My!

Almost anyone you ask anticipates that Thanksgiving and Christmas, two family-centered holidays, are difficult days and seasons  for bereaved parents.

And they are.  

Especially for families that enjoyed special times around the table, unhurried visits reminiscing about years past and traditions that reinforce the unique heritage of their shared history.

But this time of year is also challenging for me and many other parents who have lost a child.

Read the rest here:  Graduations and Weddings and Trips, Oh My!

Time and Time Again

Since Dominic ran ahead to heaven we have celebrated four graduations and a wedding.

Wednesday night was another one.  My daughter, Fiona, graduated nursing school.

We are so excited for her!

fiona grad jumping

And, as usual, our family rallied round, pitched in, showed up and made a great fuss over the accomplishment.

It was beautiful and hard all at the same time.

Because time and time again we join hands and hearts to celebrate an achievement, a milestone, a special moment or a holiday and there is always, always, always one missing.

Every photo is just slightly askew- one daughter, three two sons.

family fionas grad (2)

We’ve gotten good at closing ranks, squeezing out the space where he should be standing.  But our hearts mark the gap.

Our hearts will always mark the gap.

I am much better now at actually enjoying these things-I love the way my daughter’s friends surround and encourage her, I laughed at the antics of the children that enjoyed running from adult to adult, getting more attention than they knew what to do with.  I sat and listened with great pride as Fiona gave the closing remarks to her graduating class, drawing from a deep well of wisdom that includes heartache as well as hallelujahs.

And it was all good.  Really, truly  good.

But you have to go home eventually.

Hugging necks and saying “good-bye” is when it always hits me-I hug harder, cling longer, make sure to whisper not only “I love you” but everything I need to say-just in case.

And grown children text their mama so she knows they are safely home.

Dominic’s legacy is this:  We never miss a chance to celebrate one another.

We cling to the good and try to let go of the bad.

We love fiercely and openly and are not ashamed for one minute of our tears or our laughter.

Because you never know.

love the ones god gave you

 

Be Free to Celebrate [or Not!]

One of the most challenging things that faced me immediately after Dominic’s funeral was that we had two college graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, his birthday, a wedding and my own thirtieth wedding anniversary within two months.

Thankfully we had some amazing friends and family that stepped up and filled in the gaps.

How do you celebrate when your heart is broken?  

How do you make merry when you can barely make it out of bed?

How do you NOT cheat your living children when you’ve buried their sibling?

In the three years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven we have marked the occasions above as well as Christmases, Thanksgivings, my father’s 80th birthday, my husband’s 65th birthday, my daughter’s graduation with a master’s degree and receiving Dominic’s posthumous diploma from the University of Alabama School of Law.

In between these mountain tops were multiple hills of accomplishment that required more or less recognition and affirmation.

So the question comes up:  “How should I celebrate [fill in the blank] now that my child is gone?”

The short answer is:  However best suits your broken heart, the wishes of your immediate grieving circle and your circumstances.  

And you owe no one else an explanation of why you make that choice.

Now, I’ll warn you that not all the choices you make will be received well by others who might be impacted by your decision.  Extended family, no matter how much they may want to understand, often won’t.

I get that-traditions are hard to turn loose.  Family habits are hard to change.  If everyone is used to getting together to open Christmas presents it can seem selfish when one person says they just can’t do it.

But no one but a grieving parent can truly understand that the most random things can trigger uncontrollable anxiety and overwhelming sorrow.  And no one but a grieving parent can know how much energy it takes to JUST SHOW UP.

Every single time my son SHOULD be here with us but ISN’T, is another stark and undeniable reminder that he is gone, gone, gone.

So this is how I make the decision about how to celebrate [or not!] any particular holiday or occasion:  I ask my husband and children first what will best meet their needs, feed their souls, help them face the day with minimal stress and/or sorrow.

Then I stack that against the expectations of others that may be involved.

Where they overlap, we join in.  Where they don’t, we politely decline.  And if there is a way to bend standing traditions to accommodate our grief, I will often propose a compromise.

I try to be thoughtful and plan ahead.  

I try to let anyone else involved know as far in advance that we will either be participating (or not) so they can make their own plans. But I reserve the right to back out last minute if I wake up and find out I simply can. not. face. the. day.

So far I’ve realized that having a plan takes a great deal of stress out of the system.  Being honest with extended family and friends is so much better than trying to fake it and finding out halfway through the meal I just can’t.

Choosing to stay home is kinder than making a scene and ruining the gathering for everyone.

Sometimes my suggestions have been met with resistance.

That’s just going to be part of this life.  

I’m learning to stand up and speak my truth even when others don’t understand or like it.  I work at being kind but I won’t be bowled over by someone else’s lack of compassion.

So much of life this side of loss is outside our control.  We do not have to live up to others’ expectations of how or when or where we celebrate [or don’t!] birthdays, holidays or other special occasions.

None of us chose to be bereaved parents.

No one but us has to carry this heavy burden.

If we are going to do it well, we will have to make choices about the battles we fight and the additional burdens we allow others to place upon us.

It’s OK to say, “No.”  It’s OK to do things differently.  It’s OK to not do them at all.  

Be free!

authenticity brene