When your child is born you take notes.
You plan to mark this day as a special milestone for the rest of your life.
You absolutely, positively NEVER think you will have to mark another one: the day he or she leaves this life and leaves you behind.
But some parents have to mark both. The dash in the middle is shorter than we anticipated, and our child’s life ends before ours.
So how do you do it? How in the world do you observe the polar opposite of a birthday?
Here are some ideas (shared with permission) that parents shared recently in an online discussion sparked by one mom’s very honest admission that she just didn’t have it in her to create another video montage from the same old photos to mark yet another year without the earthly companionship of her precious son:
Don’t do anything. That is an option. We do not have to draw a red circle around THAT day on the calendar, gather folks as if it’s a celebration. As one mama said, “Yes, the day they left us does not need to be ‘remembered’.” For some parents, going to work like it’s a regular day, engaging in whatever normal activities are required, ticking the hours off on the clock until night falls and the earth turns to the next day may be the very best choice. Another mama wrote this: “I have friends who celebrate a ‘heaven day’ for their son. I can’t. I just can’t. If it were up to me, I would probably go camp somewhere all alone, and not move a muscle for the entire day.”
Do something big (or small). Some parents choose this day to hold an annual “Celebration of Life”. It might take the form of a balloon release, or lantern release at home, at a park or other outdoor venue or at the cemetery. It might be lunch or dinner out at your child’s favorite restaurant or at home with your child’s favorite menu. Invite friends and family to join you and ask that they bring a photograph or memory and share. One mom said that such an event kind of happened organically and spontaneously when contacted by her son’s widow: “We went to one of [his] favorite restaurants. Told funny stories about him, talked about how missed he is, then went o his grave and put fresh flowers.”
Serve others. Did your child have a special interest in a particular charity or community organization? Maybe you can spend this day volunteering or raising awareness/money for that group. Often having something to do helps a heart from sinking into despair. If the group allows, maybe put up a sign saying, “Volunteering today in honor of __________” and attach appropriate photos of your child. Some parents whose child died from cancer or suicide or violence participate in walks or fundraisers that highlight those causes.
Encourage Random Acts of Kindness (RAK). I plan to do this one in April. It will be seven years (!) and I can barely stand it. But so many of the comments from Dominic’s friends after he left for Heaven went something like this one, “He was always doing something for someone else. Fixing their car or showing up when they needed an encouraging word.” He was known for his many acts of generosity and kindness and I feel like he lives on in the hearts of others because of that. I had cards printed ( I intentionally let his “dates” off) which I will distribute well in advance of April 12th for friends and family to leave behind when they do a RAK in memory of Dom. Vistaprint and other online publishing companies offer reasonable prices and will guide you through the process step-by-step.
Escape. Lots of us find being at home (alone or in the company of others) too hard to bear. Many received word of their child’s death at home and as the day creeps closer, the memories crowd every corner of mental and physical space and are inescapable. So sometimes parents plan a trip around this time. Go somewhere your child would have loved to go or go somewhere he or she enjoyed visiting. Take photos and post them in honor of your child if you want to.
Focus on family. You may not want to be alone, but the thought of being with anyone outside your closest grief circle is overwhelming. That’s OK. Spend time with the people who, like you, are most affected by your child’s absence. You don’t have to do anything special. You can make room for them to speak or not speak about their grief as they choose. Sometimes just having another warm body in the room is enough to ward of the chill of despondency.
Flip the script. For those of us who believe that this life is not all there is, the day can be one of celebration. Our children have escaped life full of sorrow and trouble and are safe forever in the arms of Jesus, where we will also be one day. Waiting is hard, but waiting is not forever.
Simply allow yourself to feel the full force of missing and grief. “As far as his death day, for me, that is a day when I allow myself to fully feel and express the pain of my loss. It is a way to (temporarily) empty myself of all this pain, so I can breathe again to face another day. I will sit in his sweatshirt, listen to reflective music, cry a lot, talk to him, pray to God, and just allow myself to feel all the pain and emotion that everyday responsibilities cause me to stuff away.” If you can manage it, taking the day off work and giving yourself grace and space to grieve in ways that are denied so often may be the very best way to experience the day.
Here’s a list of ways some parents honor their child on this day:
- Giving away stuffed toys with a card or note explaining why.
- Taking goodies to first responders and/or nurses who were served their family during an accident or illness.
- Handing out Bibles or books in memory of their child.
- Making memory baskets for parent whose child will be born straight into heaven.
- Adding to a scholarship fund or other charitable fund in honor of their child.
- Placing balloons, flowers or other special decorations on their child’s final resting place.
- Lighting candles, releasing butterflies, balloons or lanterns.
- Placing a memorial advertisement in a local paper.
Do or don’t do whatever helps you make it through those twenty-four hours that represent another year of sorrow, another year of missing.
There is NO wrong way to mark or not mark this day.
It’s up to you and your heart.
And absolutely does not require anyone else’s permission or approval.