If you’ve justjoined this awful “club” the thought of celebrating anything may make your heart shrink and your eyes fill with tears.
That’s precisely the way I felt for a very long time. Not because I didn’t think there were still oh, so many things and people worth celebrating, but because I couldn’t remember what joy felt like much less experience it.
My heart was filled to the brim with pain, sorrow, longing and fear-there just wasn’t room for anything else.
Still, I kept up the discipline of celebration even when I wasn’t feeling like celebrating.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, as I picked my way through memories and feelings and did the work grief required, I made space in that broken heart for other things.
And now I can testify that celebration is once again a gift!
I not only mark the big things-like birthdays and holidays-but also the little things-like making muffins with my grandson.
Any and every excuse for a photo or a cupcake!
Today is my oldest son’s birthday and his dad and I are here to celebrate it with him for the first time in I don’t honestly know how many years. I am happy to make him a yummy meal (or take him to a favorite restaurant) and buy a special treat to mark the day he said “hello” to the world.
And I’m more than happy to spend time with him and watch as he pours into his own son some of the love and life we’ve poured into him.
So if you aren’t “feeling it” try faking it or at least showing up.
Eventually there will be a moment when your heart once again embraces joy.
I admire those families that have holiday plans pinned down for next year by the time they box up this year’s Christmas decorations.
Somehow we’ve never perfected the art of predictable patterns and unchanging life circumstances that make such a thing even possible.
So while we try to observe some of the same traditions from year to year, they tend to be expressed a little differently each time.
Of course, the year Dominic left us EVERYTHING changed.
“Changed” isn’t even really the right word. It was more like everything just stopped. Holidays were out of place in a world where all the color had faded to gray. What heart can make merry when all it feels is sorrow and despair?
Even still, the calendar beckoned and we muddled through the first Thanksgiving and Christmas as best we could.
This will be the eighth (!) holiday season since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
My children are all adults with established careers living away from home. We’ve added to the family circle through marriage and childbirth and we’ve had to say “see you later” to my mama who joined Dom with Jesus in 2019. Of course, like so many others, Covid interrupted last year’s celebration.
The past two years have been filled with travel(some planned, some unexpected) including a trip this week out to Texas to spend time with my son’s family.
So I find myself only days away from Thanksgiving without a concrete plan for when we will actually get together around the table and what, exactly, might be on it when we do.
(Please don’t ask me about Christmas yet!)
It’s more than a little uncomfortable for this gal who loves lists and planning and decorating to choose flexibility and flying by the seat of my pants. And it’s very uncomfortable to be the point of contact for various family members who are used to me having answers instead of more questions when they call to find out when they should show up and what they should bring.
But if there’s one thing I’m learning in this life after loss it’s this: Control is an illusion. All the planning in the world can’t account for random and unexpected.
I’m going to make some phone calls today to try to figureit out.
I’m pretty sure we will have plenty to eat, plenty to say and plenty of room for whoever shows up.
I was asked a few months ago to record a short video sharing about how my son’s death impacted my faith.
It was the first time in the more than seven years since he ran ahead to Heaven I’d tried to tell the story in so few words.
And while I’ve shared much of this same material (plus even more details, thoughts and feelings!) here on the blog, I thought a few of you may want to watch this short video to gain some background you might have missed.
I DID misspeak in one instance-my eldest son was not yet in the Air Force at that time. He was out of town though when I got the news of his brother’s accident.
I will confess: I’m no better at this than the first set of holidays after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
Every. Single. Year. has brought changes and challenges on top of the empty chair round the family table.
Since Dominic left us we’ve had additions (a grandchild and various significant others) and sadly, more subtractions (my mother joined Dom in 2019). We’ve dealt with distance, deployment, healthcare and retail work schedules, a pandemic and lots of other, less easily defined tensions and difficulties.
When I ran across this quote awhile back my heart screamed, “YES!!!”
Gathering an entire family (which may include teens and young adults) for any extended length of time is a feat of scheduling, negotiation, and preference management. International treaties have been worked out in fewer steps. The sheer number of details that have to line up is mind-boggling.
There are the absolute parameters forced upon any family by distance and availability. NegotiatingTHOSEis truly a feat.
But when your family story includes profound loss, a mama often has additional hoops to jump through. Surviving siblings bring their own grief to the table and what that looks like can change over time. So something that worked one year might be rejected this season.
I wish I had some magical insight that could guide every wounded heart through these next, treacherous months.
What I can tell you is that it’s better to start earlier rather than later. Nothing falls into place without some planning. Old habits are hard to break and traditions are well-worn habits so don’t expect anyone to give them up easily.
No one can read your mind (are YOU telepathic?). Tell your friends and family what you need (even if it is that you have NOidea what you need!).
And then make space in your celebrations for times when you can grieve the absence of your child. It may be a shared moment or it may be you remember in solitude.
If you have surviving children, remember they are grieving too. They have lost a sibling, their innocence regarding death’s ability to steal even the young and the family they once knew.
Extend grace to others when you can.
Extend grace to yourself when you must.
Be honest and do the best you can.
Then remember that even these days are only twenty-four hours long. They will pass.
The sun will rise and you will, undoubtedly find out you survived. ❤
I always like to share this post around the beginning of each school year. I think it might be especially helpful THIS fall when so many are heading back to classrooms after an extraordinarily stress-filled and unpredictable eighteen months.
Siblings are often forgotten grievers. But they shouldn’t be.
They have not only lost a brother or sister but also the family they once knew and relied upon. They (if young) may not have the capacity to express or process these losses in ways adults comprehend or recognize. And if older, they may work hard at hiding grief so as not to add to their parents’ burden.
It’s so, so important for those that love bereaved siblings to pay attention, to offer support, to grant space and grace and freedom of expression. They are grieving too.
I am always afraid that Dominic will be forgotten.
I’m afraid that as time passes, things change and lives move forward, his place in hearts will be squeezed smaller and smaller until only a speck remains.
Not in my heart, of course.
Or in the hearts of those closest to him, but in general-he will become less relevant.
But he is not the only one who can be forgotten. I am just as fearful that my living children will be forgotten.
I first shared this post a couple years ago when it became obvious in our closed bereaved parents groups that many moms and dads were struggling to help their surviving children deal with grief.
One of the hardest things as a parent-any parent-is to have to stand idly by while one or more of your children are suffering.
Child loss is so very often sibling loss too. And the familiar structures kids come to depend on have shifted and sometimes disappeared as parents try to process their own grief.
This post is longer than many and more detailed than most. But I think it’s really important for parents to realize that children’s grief responses vary by age (right now) and change over time (as they get older).
Feel free to skim and only focus on what might be helpful. Skip the rest.
Grieving parents often face the additional challenge of trying to help their surviving children process the death of a sibling.
While there are many factors that influence how a particular child understands and works through his or her grief, age at time of bereavement plays a significant role.
Children’s grief can look very different than that of the adults around them. And that grief may resurface later on as the child grows and matures, even long after the death of a loved one.