Can We Talk?

Joan Rivers was famous for opening her comedic routine with the question, “Can we talk?”

She would launch into a hilarious rendering of topics that were usually off-limits in polite conversation but which everyone secretly wanted to share.  It actually helped bring some things into the light that had been hiding in shadows for far too long.

So, I’m going to take a cue from her and ask, “Can we talk?”

Can we talk about my missing son and quit pretending that just because he’s no longer present in the body, he’s not still part of my life?

Can we say his name without also looking down or away like his death is a shameful secret?

Can we share stories and memories and laughter and tears just as naturally about HIM as we do about anyone else?

Can we make a way to represent him at holidays, birthdays and special occasions?  It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture-even a photo or place setting or ornament will do.

Can we stop acting surprised that I still get upset when other people’s kids reach milestones my son will never attain?

Can we talk about your feelings as well as mine without devolving into a shouting match or a flurry of accusations about who should be feeling what by now?

Can we make space for tears?

Can we make space for solitude?

Can we make space in our conversations and celebrations that allows joy and sadness to dwell together?

Can we continue to honor the light and life that was (and is!) my son?

Because if we can do this, it will make all the difference. 

best way you can help me

 

 

Surviving Grief Anniversaries

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.

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The date of his death.

The date of his funeral.

His birthday.

My birthday.

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 family,

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 cemetary 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.

track record for bad days is 100

 

I Get It-I Really DO Get It.

I write a lot about what bereaved parents (me!) wish others knew or understood about child loss and this Valley we are walking.  And I am thankful for every person outside the child loss community who chooses to read and heed what I write.

But I want to take a minute to tell those of you who are not part of this awful “club” that I get it-I really do get itwhen you need to put distance between yourself and me or other people walking a broken road.

We all love to think that life is a never-ending ascent toward bigger, better and more enjoyable moments.

Our children are born and we think only of their future, not their future deaths. We plan for retirement never imagining that some dreadful disease may keep us from enjoying that nest egg we so carefully set aside.

So when my son died-or your friend’s daughter died-it was an affront to the way you want to think about how the world works.  It’s an unavoidable reminder that we are not in control, no matter how many plans we make.

Trust me, if I could, I’d run away from it too.  

I’d turn down the other aisle in the grocery store to avoid coming face-to-face with tears. I’d take me out of my own Facebook newsfeed so that the sad posts of recycled photos didn’t upset my morning coffee.  I’d change my pew or enter the sanctuary from another door to make sure I didn’t run into me and have to say something when I had no idea what to say.

I’d let days, weeks, months slip by between phone calls and then convince myself that really, I wasn’t ignoring my friend, I was “giving her space”.

I really, really do get it.

I am a reminder that no one is immune to tragedy.  I am a walking, talking advertisement for the unpredictability of life.  

My life is your worst nightmare.

And who wants to face that?

losing a child is unimagineable every persons worst nightmare

 

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Bereaved Parent’s Wish List

This list is adapted from a friend’s Facebook post (with permission) and a list published by Children’s Hospital of Colorado.

BEREAVED PARENT’S WISH LIST:

1. I wish my child hadn’t died. I wish I had my child back.

2. I wish you wouldn’t be afraid to speak my child’s name. My child lived and was very important to me. I need to hear that my child was important to you also.

Read the rest here:  Bereaved Parent’s Wish List

Bereaved Parents Month Post: What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know

I wrote this post December, 2015.  It hadn’t been long since I joined an online community of bereaved parents and began to see that I wasn’t the only one who had friends and family that misunderstood child loss.

I was spending a lot of time in my life trying to help others comprehend, just a little, what it felt like to bury a child.

Trying to give them a tiny taste of how this pain is so, so different than any other I had experienced.  Begging them to toss the popular ideas bandied around that grief followed “stages” and was “predictable”.

I re-share every so often because it seems to help, a little.  I’m re-sharing today in  honor of Bereaved Parents Month. ❤

People say“I can’t imagine.

But then they do.

They think that missing a dead child is like missing your kid at college or on the mission field but harder and longer.

That’s not it at all.

What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know

The Empty Chair

Most people realize that the “big” holidays are painful for bereaved parents-Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day-that makes sense.  

But what most people don’t know is that every single red-letter day-even the obscure ones-can be hard on parents missing a child.

Because any day that marks a departure from routine leaves gaps where I can dwell a little longer on the fact that Dominic is NOT here.

Any day off that lends itself to a family BBQ or celebration or just extra time around the table because we aren’t in a rush highlights that empty chair.  

ask me about the empty chair

 

Dispelling Marriage Myths Surrounding Child Loss

Today my husband and I celebrate 33 years of marriage.  

Our thirtieth anniversary was a mere two months after we buried our son.

Here’s the last “before” anniversary photo (2013)-unfeigned smiles, genuine joy, excitement to have made it that far:

hector and me 29 anniversary

This is us on our thirtieth anniversary, at our oldest son’s wedding -holding one another up as best we could:

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This is us last Christmas:  

beach hector and me and boys in sand

We are definitely the worse for wear, but we are still here.

Together.

There are a lot of myths floating around about what happens to a marriage on the other side of child loss.  The one tossed out most often cites a “study” reporting 90 percent of marriages fail after the death of a child.  

It’s just not true.

But the danger is that if you believe it is true, you may stop trying.  You may stop reaching out across the painful abyss that threatens to keep you apart forever.  You may decide that living alone with your broken heart is better than living alongside someone who may be broken in very different ways than you are.

It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The truth is that child loss is no more likely to destroy a marriage than a list of other terrible life events-even though child loss is the most terrible.

A child’s death shakes a marriage to its foundations and reveals the weak spots. And EVERY marriage has weak spots.

So the challenge in this season of marriage-like every season of marriage-is to turn toward one another instead of away.  Choose to do the work necessary to make it:

  • Do the best you can to take care of your own emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual health so that you can come together stronger and better able to help one another.
  • Assume the best and not the worst about your spouse.
  • Allow for different grieving styles and different ways of honoring your missing child.
  • Get help from others.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to carry your load of grief as well as his or her own.

It takes energy and commitment right when we don’t have any to spare. But at least in this, we have a choice.

I have already lost so much over which I had no control.  

I will fight for what I CAN hold onto as hard as I know how.

wedding rings