Bereaved Parent Holiday Survival Tips: Surviving Siblings and Christmas

How do I honor the child for whom memories are all I have and love well the children with whom I am still making memories?

That’s a question I ask myself often.

And it is especially difficult to answer for celebrations and holidays, special events and birthdays.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/12/16/surviving-siblings-and-christmas/

Holidays are Coming, Ready or Not!

We’ve reached the peak of Hallowthankmas in the stores.

I‘ve never liked smashing one holiday on top of another which seems, in my mind, to rob each of their respective unique characteristics.

I’m also particularly frustrated that Halloween-a “holiday” mocking death and focused on fear (for many)-occupies way more space in mass retailers’ aisles than Thanksgiving.

But I can no more hold back the onslaught of merchandising than I can the days marching resolutely toward end of year holidays even if I choose not to join the commercial bandwagon.

So here we are.

There are forty-eight days until Thanksgiving and seventy-five days until Christmas.

Only a short time left to figure out how to honor the missing and love the living through some of the most difficult days of the year for bereaved hearts.

I’ve written many posts about what helps, what hurts, how and when to have hard conversations with extended family members about making space for brokenness at the table and in our celebrations.

I’ll be reposting those over the next couple of weeks since I firmly believe it takes forethought and planning if we want Thanksgiving and Christmas to look more like a Hallmark movie and less like a disaster film.

In the meantime I want to share some questions that are helping me sift through my own expectations, hopes and preferences for what our holidays might look like this year:

  • What is TRULY important to you, your family and/or close friends with whom you celebrate?
  • Do you love to make an elaborate meal, bake tons of cookies, pull out all the old family recipes that call for less-than-healthy ingredients? Is decorating your thing? Does it just not feel like Christmas if you miss driving around looking at lights?
  • Are you fresh on this journey and need a way to skip traditions all together? Maybe you want to spend the holidays away from home or at home with a single candle lit in honor of your child.
  • Do you have to consider younger children (either surviving siblings or grandchildren) that might pressure you to keep things “normal” for their sake?
  • Have you asked your surviving children what’s important to THEM? Don’t assume their silence equals assent.

The first year after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, lots of things had changed in addition to his absence. One son got married and moved out of state, my mother’s health was in decline, my husband was working out of town and my house felt so, so empty.

We chose to put up a very small tree with limited ornaments consisting of family photos and hearts. We gave gifts but asked that others not give us any. We joined extended family for a meal but not for opening presents.

That’s what was right for US for that year.

Each year since has been slightly different.

I have to ask those questions of myself and of my family over and over, recalibrate, shift our focus or change our choices depending on how life has reshaped our circumstances in the past twelve months.

If this is the first holiday season since your child left you might want to ignore it altogether. That’s OK. But at the least you may have to tell friends and family that’s your plan.

So grab some paper and find a quiet spot to think.

Then write without editing your thoughts, feelings or ideas.

Save the page so you can reflect on it and make the decisions right for YOUR family THIS year.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting ideas from other bereaved parents that might help you navigate this particularly challenging part of the journey.

It may seem impossible.

But you’ve faced the impossible before.

So What SHOULD I Say or Do For My Grieving Friends or Family?

I have learned so much since that day when Dominic left us suddenly for Heaven.

Some of the things I know now are things I wish I didn’t know at all.

I’ve learned some things that serve me well-not only in how I respond to my own pain and loss-but also how I respond to the pain and loss in the lives of those I love.

I’ve had to practice them this week since my mama was desperately ill and then joined Dominic and Jesus.

It reminded me how hard it is for those who have not walked this Valley of the Shadow of Death to really comprehend how their words and actions either truly support or subtly (or not so subtly!) wound already hurting hearts.

So here’s a short list of things things to say and do that actually HELP grieving friends and family:

  • Not everyone leaves earth quickly. Some are ill for a long time. It’s natural for friends to want to stop by home or hospital to see a sick loved one and show support for the family. Please call ahead to see if it’s convenient. If it’s not, then don’t come. Respect that while it may feel like a reunion to you and others gathered in the living room or the waiting room it’s a very sober and frightening and stress-filled time for the family. Loud laughing and back-slapping are unwelcome reminders that the person in the bed can do neither.
  • Please don’t impose your desire to help on the family’s unwillingness to accept it. Offer-that’s wonderful and appreciated-but there may be circumstances you don’t know about that just make it hard or impossible for them to let you do what you would like to do. It’s really, really hard to use the limited energy available to politely turn down an offer.
  • When you stop by to pay respects, don’t overstay your welcome. You’ll probably never notice that the family is working hard to extend hospitality and make small talk. It’s exhausting. You are not the only people “stopping by for a minute” while the family is trying to take care of funeral details. They are deciding on what clothes their loved one will be buried in, what photos to include in a memorial slide show, what will be served at dinner after the service, who will sing or speak or play a piano solo. There’s just no energy left for small talk. Express condolences, leave the dessert or congealed salad and leave them to the little bit of quiet they may enjoy before the next few days of crazy.
  • Take time to write notes of remembrance if you can. Facebook comments, text messages, emails, written notes or cards are wonderful! These can be gathered together, printed and saved as a beautiful tribute.
  • If you haven’t played an active role in the deceased’s life or the life of their family recently, don’t show up and insist on “inner circle” privileges now that they are gone. This is not the time to force reconciliation or expect a family reunion type celebration. While that may be the ultimate outcome of this traumatic and life-altering event, respect those that have maintained relationship over the years.
  • Instead of asking, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, instead say, “How may I serve you in the weeks and months to come?”. Grievers may not have an immediate answer, but ask again in a week or so after others have drifted away. Also consider asking if specific things may be helpful.
  • Don’t wander around the house. Respect the family’s privacy.
  • Don’t ask personal questions such as “How did he die?” or “What happened?”. If the bereaved want you to know, they will tell you.

Be attentive to body language.

Allow grievers to lead.

Don’t ignore comments that indicate it’s time to go.

Accept that what you may want to do and what is truly helpful may be two different things.

Fewer words are almost always better than idle chatter.

Give grace.

Most Shared Posts: Grief and Holidays-What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family


I know it is hard.
  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/03/grief-and-holidayswhat-the-bereaved-need-from-friends-and-family/

Repost: When You Feel Like You Can’t Breathe-Setting Living Children Free

I wrote this last year just before my son deployed for a lengthy overseas assignment.

So much has happened in the months since then including the birth of HIS son, way too early but mercifully safe and sound.

This tiny fella is now a round little six-month-old.

I returned yesterday from another quick visit with his now-larger family at my parents’ home halfway between my little farm and my son’s house.

I had forgotten all about my musings from a year ago but they are still the cry of my heart:

A couple weeks ago I walked away from my son’s house, after kissing him goodbye and prayed under my breath that it won’t be the last time I see his bright eyes and lively smile.

Because when you’ve mistakenly waved a cheery “see you later” to your child, ignorant that it’s the LAST time, your heart never takes these moments for granted again.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/09/19/when-you-feel-like-you-cant-breathe-setting-living-children-free/

No Shame In Being Human

Everyone struggles.

Everyone makes mistakes.

Everyone wishes, at one time or another, that he or she had done better, spoken more softly or loved more fiercely.

But we are human and can’t get it right all the time.

So if you, like me, have had a less-than-stellar recent record dealing with those you love, those you meet and those you pass on the street or in your car, accept this truth:

You are absolutely, positively NOT perfect.

And that’s OK.

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start over.

If apologies are in order, make them.

If hugs can set things straight, hug away.

And if only time can soften a heart then be prepared to wait.

Take The Picture!

Can I just let you in on a little secret?

Everyone knows about your wrinkles, your less-than-perfect figure and your lopsided smile.

So refusing to stand still for a picture ( unless you feel you “look your best”) when someone begs you to join in is not really effective in curating your photographic legacy for generations to come.

What will happen instead is that those who long to have photographic evidence of your sense of humor, your sense of style, your silly antics and serious moments will instead have a giant hole in the family album.

I just finished a week-long adventure that included two dogs, four cats, five adults and one infant crammed into a house that hasn’t seen that much action in a decade.

My son’s family had to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Dorian (which, thankfully, didn’t do near the damage to their area as anticipated!) and came north to my parents’ place. I drove south to meet them.

It was an opportunity to make pictures we will treasure for years to come even if many of them aren’t even near “perfect”.

My mom (on oxygen and in her nightshirt), my dad (sometimes sweaty from outdoor work), me (absolutely NOT dressing up or wearing makeup) and the baby had fun snapping candid and not-so-candid photos.

I’m not sure if many or any of them will ever make it to the boxes we used to use for Kodak moments since our phones are our photo storage units, but I know we will look back on them fondly and enjoy reliving the moments when we gathered round the TV wondering if or when Dorian might make its way up the coast of Florida.

I think I’ll print some out for my mama whose memory is failing her but whose smile shone bright when holding her great-grandson.

So go ahead, take that picture!

You never know when it might be all you’ve got left of someone you love.