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.
We’ve all been there-something traumatic or earth-shattering happens to someone we know and we mean to get in touch.
I put “write a note” or “call” on my list and then don’t do it.
Days, weeks months pass by. Now I feel awkward.
And the need to let her know I care is overshadowed by my sense of shame at not doing it sooner.
But it is NEVER too late to be a friend!
I won’t let pride stand between me and someone I love. I won’t allow fear to keep me away from a heart that needs help.
Maybe my outstretched hand will be exactly the hope someone needs to hold on to?
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 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.
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
Often this journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is dark and lonely.
I am frightened of what may lay in wait-tragedy has visited once, it could come again.
I know Jesus is my Shepherd and I never doubt His companionship. But if I’m honest, as much as I lean into that truth, it’s oh, so helpful to have a living, breathing human being walk with me.
So when a friend reaches out and takes my trembling hand it calls courage to my heart.
When we huddle together in the dark places, waiting out the storm of grief or doubt, it gives me strength to carry on.
Never, never underestimate the power of presence.
For now we see in a glass darkly, but then face to face, and now we know in part, but then we shall know fully just as we have been fully known
I Corinthians 13:12
So until then, what?
We feel our way in the dark.
Until we find each other.
We huddle together in the storm.
Wet and shivering, but together.
And maybe in the end it will be our huddling in the storm that gives us more comfort than our understanding of the storm.”
~Ken Gire, The Weathering Grace of God
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 best way to help a struggling heart is to simply be available.
Anyone can choose to be a safe space for others to share their hearts.
Anyone can make room for honest conversation, welcoming another soul to unburden itself of whatever heaviness is weighing it down.
All it takes is a listening ear and time.