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

 

 

Repost: Memorial Day

Last year around this time, my eldest son received his captain’s bars and had just begun Officer Training School.

jm captain

This year, it’s even more real to me that one of my own children may be called upon to risk or give his life for the life and liberty of another.

And the number of mothers I know whose child has died in service or because of service related wounds or PTSD has grown ever larger.  

Memorial Day is not “just another holiday”.

It is a solemn occasion that merits our deepest reverence.

We must never forget:   Freedom isn’t free.

Read the rest here:  Memorial Day

Listen. Love. Repeat.

Today and tomorrow families will gather around tables and trees and television sets.

Some folks together for the first time in twelve months and maybe a few for the first time in years.

family-reunion

All the cheesy Christmas movies promise that reunion is sweet.

They roll out the fantasy that old wounds are easily patched up and the smell of turkey and apple pie casts a spell on broken hearts and broken relationships.

But that’s not usually how it goes in real life.

Instead of sweet release and precious moments, many families will experience rising tension as one person tries to bite her tongue and another fuels his anger. Politics, religion, personal lifestyle choices and old slights work to raise the temperature of the room to boiling.

And then it happens:  He storms out, she leaves in tears and another “Hap-Hap-Happy Holiday” is in the books.

angry

It doesn’t have to be that way.

It can be different.

If, instead of letting words hit our ears only long enough to form a quick rebuttal, we choose to listen-really listenwe can change everything.

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If, instead of jumping to conclusions we commit to lavish love,  we can undo the knots that form in stomachs and smooth out the furrowed brows.

If instead of making a point we choose to make a friend, we will endure fewer arguments and foster greater compassion.

Listen.

Love.

Repeat. 

As many times as it takes to wash the worry out of a room.  As often as necessary to weave a web of welcome.  

Listen.

Love.

Repeat.

love-covers-a-multitude-of-sins

 

 

 

Christmas Cards-Yes? No? Maybe?

Getting Christmas cards out on time was always a challenge in my busy household.  

So for the last years of kids at home, we transitioned to sending New Year’s greetings.  It was easier to get a family photo with everyone home for Christmas, there was no artificial deadline to send them and we could include a “thank you” or respond to news in their Christmas letters.

I haven’t sent anything for three years.  

What could I say?  

And a family photo was out of the question.

But faithful friends and relatives keep sending us theirs.  

As I was looking at them this past week, I decided to make a go of it one more time.  I sat down and pecked away at the computer keys until I composed something that felt right.

HERE’S WHAT I WROTE:

“Hello from the DeSimones!

For anyone counting, it has been three years since our last Christmas/New Year’s update.

I just could not figure out how to send greetings when our hearts were so very wounded and sore.  I’m still not sure how to do it-but am plunging ahead. 

We are learning to live with the absence of Dominic.  We are learning to carry the weight of grief and sorrow that burden our hearts.  We are managing the necessary tasks of life.  We are moving forward in careers and education.  We live and love and even laugh.

It’s not the same.

It will never be the same. 

And that’s a testimony to our enduring love for Dominic and his lasting impact on our lives.

We look forward to heaven, where everything that the enemy has stolen will be redeemed and restored. 

I’ve been reading The Jesus Storybook Bible-it is a remarkable way to re-imagine and re-engage with God’s Story.  My very favorite part is a paraphrase of Revelation 21:4:

‘And the King says, “Look! God and his children are together again.  No more running away.  Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid.  No more being sick or dying.  Because all those things are gone.  Yes, they are gone forever.  Everything sad has come untrue.  And see-I have wiped every tear from every eye!”‘

[Here I inserted updates on each of us under the title “newsy bits”]

We are thankful for each one who has encouraged us, loved us and stuck with us in this journey.

It’s our prayer that this Christmas season the Saviour will fill your hearts-hurting or happy-to overflowing with His love, grace and mercy.” 

You may not be ready to send Christmas cards. Maybe next year, or maybe never and that’s OK.

I’m sharing so that perhaps my words can help you find a way to tell your family’s story.  

Christmas for those of us missing a child we love will always be different.  It will always be tinged with sadness.

But we are stronger together.

We can hang on harder when others hang on with us.

I appreciate each person who reads this blog and takes time to comment.

Thank  you for encouraging, loving and sticking with me in this journey.  

May the God of all hope fill your hurting hearts with hope as we wait together for our faith to be made sight.

 

 

One More Time: What Broken Hearts Need From Others During Holidays

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:  Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

Repost: Surviving Christmas

February, 1992 I came home from the hospital with our fourth baby and woke up the next morning to a house full of children ages infant to six.

I thought that would be the most stressful and challenging season of my life.

I was wrong.

Read the rest here:  Surviving Christmas

Surviving Siblings and Christmas

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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.

I’ve probably had it a bit easier than many bereaved parents.  

My children were all adults when Dominic left us for Heaven.

We have strong relationships and a track record of talking things through.  So I can ask them about what is helpful to them and tell them what is hard for me.  We all acknowledge that we are finding our way in the dark and that changing circumstances make it important to keep the lines of communication open.

We are experiencing our ninth set of holidays this year and have yet to establish a pattern or routine that works every time.

But here are some things we are learning together-some things my children are teaching me about surviving siblings and Christmas:

  • Parents shouldn’t try to hide their grief.  This one is hard.  As moms and dads we want so badly to create a safe world for our children-even our adult children!  Yet we know by painful experience that it is impossible.  When I try to hide my grief (which I cannot do successfully) I’m adding stress to an already stress-filled situation.  That grief is going to escape somewhere-if not in tears, then in raised voices, impatient looks and short tempers.  Children (even very young children) know that you are sad.  Let them know by your example that it’s OK to be sad.  Share your heart (in age-appropriate ways) and by doing so, give them permission to grieve as well.
  • Don’t force your child to grieve the same way you do.  Some children find it easier to be open about emotions than others.  The outward emotional expression of grief is different in each person.  For some it looks like what we expect: tears, sadness, sorrow. For others it may look like anger or denial or an unwavering commitment to “keep everything the same”.  Some children become very anxious about the safety of other family members. Some may remain stoic-don’t force emotional responses. Do some reading/research on grief in children and be prepared for the different ways a child may express their pain.
  • Ask you child(ren) how they feel about certain events/traditions/remembrance ideas. Even young children may have strong opinions about what feels good and what feels awful.  It’s tough to find a balance among competing needs but at least knowing how different family members are experiencing the holiday gives parents an idea of how it might be accomplished.  Sometimes surviving siblings can help parents find a creative solution to the quandary of how to honor the missing child and how to bless surviving children.
  • Don’t require that your child(ren) participate in every event or gathering. This is especially helpful for older children-but parents should be sensitive to the young ones as well.  Give your child(ren) permission to say, “no” if they don’t want to be part of a particular event. Some parents want to do balloon releases or light candles at a special service for their missing child. What’s healing for the parent may not be healing for a surviving sibling. That’s OK.  Do the same for family gatherings.  Don’t force a sibling to contribute a “favorite memory” or “story” during a family memorial time.
  • Grant space and remain flexible.  Things that sound like a good idea while still far off on the calendar can feel overwhelming as the day approaches.  Sometimes no matter how much I WANT to do something, I. just. can’t.  It’s the same for surviving siblings.  Be gracious and allow for changing feelings/circumstances.  They may truly wish they could commit or participate but realize that when the day is here, they just don’t have the emotional energy to do it.
  • On the other hand, be alert if a child withdraws completely.  Withdrawal may be a silent scream for help.  The pain may have become too great to process but the child doesn’t know how to ask for help.  You are the parent.  You can’t “fix” your child.  But you can take him or her by the hand and lead them to someone who can discern the best way to give them the skills to cope with the loss of their sibling.
  • Affirm your living child(ren).  Let them know that you love them in ways that are most meaningful to them.  Every person has a unique “love language”-a preferred way to be loved.  Learning what speaks to your child(ren)’s heart helps to ensure that they don’t feel forgotten or overlooked even as you grieve the child that is missing from your family circle.
  • Express appreciation for your child(ren)’s continued support for your own grief. My kids are a vital part of my grief support system-just as I am for them.  We all love Dominic and our hearts all hurt and miss him.  I am thankful every minute of every day that they listen to me, let me cry and love me through hard moments.
  • Understand that sometimes your surviving child(ren) might need to leave the missing sibling behind or set him or her aside for an event or celebration.  It’s hard to remain in the shadow of “the one gone before”.  They may not want that special day to be referenced as “so many days/months/years since we lost ______”.  Of course our mama or daddy hearts can’t help but think of it that way!  BUT-this is THEIR day, THEIR moment.  Let them have it.  It takes nothing away from your love for the missing child to affirm and lavish love on the child you can still hold.
  • Remember, that just like for you-each year may be different.  What works one time may not work this time.  Extend, and be willing to receive, grace  

I am trying hard to love and honor and support the children still with me and also make room for Dominic, who lives in our hearts.

It’s a delicate balancing act on a spiderweb of intersecting strings-I’m still learning and it’s hard.  

But love is ALWAYS worth the cost.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

Christmas Decorating: Take Two

 

 

photo-35

Last week I wrote how my well-laid plans for setting up the Christmas tree and decorating had gone awry.

I thought I was ready to pull out the old ornaments with the old feelings and forge ahead.

I was wrong.

But yesterday, after gazing at the “lights only” tree for all these days, I decided to make another go at it.

I packed up the tear-inducing decorations and stored them safely away.  I pulled out the box of ornaments I used last year-mostly new things I bought or made since Dominic left for Heaven.

Each group of ornaments was chosen because it helps me hold on to hope.

I have hearts-stuffed, handsewn hearts, papier mache hearts, corrugated cardboard hearts.

Lots of hearts.  

hope-and-heart

Hearts to remind MY heart that it was Love that brought Jesus to earth.  It was Love that kept Him here.  It was Love that took Him to the cross even after He had begged His Father in the garden for another way.  And it was Love that broke the chains of death and raised Him from the grave.

 

That same Love is keeping Dominic safe until we are together again.

Stars to help me remember that Jesus brought Light into darkness.  They help me hold onto the FACT that His light will not be extinguished.  They speak truth to my spirit that even though this Valley is dark, it will not last forever.

star-ornamentI made some balls from little scrappy bits of fabric wrapped and glued in place. The pieces are useless alone-not big enough to do a thing.  But together they are beautiful and strong and have purpose.  

My life feels like it’s been ripped to shreds.  But even shreds are useful in God’s hands. I’m waiting to see what He plans to do with them.

In the meantime, I hold on.

Old Christmas cards turned decorations are strung together and hung as visual prayers. I save my cards from year to year and cut out the lovely and meaningful pictures and scriptures.

I made my own paper copies of the Names of Jesus and burned the edges.

I cling to the promises in each Name.  I may reach heaven through the fire of tribulation and trial but no power on earth, above the earth or under the earth can stand against His Name.  

names-of-jesus

I will be preserved.

Little drums hang as silent witness to Dominic.  His heartbeat lives on in mine. His rhythm that thrummed through our lives and is missing now still matters.  He is making a joyful noise in Heaven.

He is not silent.  

One day I will hear him again.

So tonight I sat in the soft glow of the lights AND the ornaments remembering…

Remembering years past when life was very different-untouched by tragedy and gut-wrenching loss and also remembering the promise that this is not the way it will always be.

mourning-to-dancing

 

Repost: Am I Normal?

 

grief not a disorder

There is so. much. pressure. on grieving parents during the holidays!

A constant tension between the world celebrating the “season of joy” and a heart that carries great sorrow.

Perhaps more than any other time of the year we may ask the question:

Am I Normal?

Repost: Season of Joy-Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

 

merry-christmas-tree

This was a post I wrote last year around this time.  It was my first attempt to express how hard the holidays can be for those missing someone they love.

“Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…”

Read the rest here:  Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

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