November

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November is quickly approaching. November is my least favorite month of the year. Mike died on November 27, 2016. I used to love Thanksgiving and preparing a meal or sharing with family and friends. I loved making the turkey and all of the trimmings. Mike loved thanksgiving dinner, especially mom’s Thanksgiving dinner. I wanted to skip doing the big turkey dinner that year. I wanted to go out somewhere instead. Mike begged me to cook. He was working 8-4 that day and was so looking forward to mom’s Thanksgiving dinner after work. He wanted a fresh turkey because “they taste better” He told me he’d pay for it. I agreed and spent all day cooking and making all of the thanksgiving favorites for the family. Never did I ever dream that it would be the last day I saw my son alive. And I never got the money he owed me for the dang turkey!

For the last 4 years I have spent November just trying to numb and “get through” the month. I would work, come home drink wine to forget and go to sleep. The cycle repeated for the whole month until I got to December 2. I wasn’t totally nonfunctional. Year 1 1 wrote a daily facebook post about Mike and his life so every one could know him better. Year 2 I did random acts of kindness all month in his memory. Year 3 I collected food and monetary donations and gave Thanksgiving dinner to 14 families. I put in mashed potatoes, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, gravy some other random treats and included a gift card to purchase their turkey and perishable items. Year 4 covid hit and I had nothing left by November. I did Sober October and when my friend suggested No drink November I said “no way, huh uh, not doing November without wine”. It felt like the longest month. I would scroll on social media and read everyone’s “30 days of thankfulness” posts and cry. I truly felt like I had nothing to be thankful for. One day as I was scrolling on Facebook an add popped up that was for a “wine free work week” and I signed up. It started on November 30. December 1 is Mike’s birthday. But I signed up thinking I’d at least listen and if I wanted a glass of wine when It was over I would have one or two. The first day the coach was asking why were there and what we hoped to accomplish. I typed in the Q & A “tomorrow would be my son’s 28th birthday, but he died and I am pretty sure I can’t do the day without alcohol.” She addressed me specifically and told me I was in the right place. Right then I made a plan on how too “get through” his birthday. I had a massage from my favorite masseuse. (that was already on the schedule). I took my younger son to Mission BBQ for ribs (Mike’s favorite), I went to a grocery store and paid for a birthday cake anonymously. I purchased a birthday card a gift card. I took them to the bakery and asked if anyone was picking up a birthday cake. I asked them to put the card with it and to tell them to open it before they paid for the cake. It turns out the cake went to an 11 year old boy who was stuck at home with a family who all had covid on his birthday. His grandparents did a porch drop off of birthday cake for him. I also sent legos for him and a fruit and bakery basket from a local shop for the rest of the family for Christmas . It was the first December 1 I spent sober in 5 years. I ended up joining the coaching program. I have grown so much since last year.

This November I am going in to it prepared with a plan for the month. A plan to do things in Mike’s memory to make the month better for myself and those around me who might be struggling. I have a goal of what I want to accomplish in the month and a plan on how to get it all done. I am spending 4 days of the month on a retreat with 10 women who I consider friends, but have yet to meet in person. They have been part of my life for the last year inside the coaching program I am doing. We have shared successes and celebrations, we have supported each other through losses, and job changes, and frustrations and we have been each other’s encouragers and help when we have times when we had a failure (or as I like to think of it an opportunity to learn). This year I still have some angst over November and every time I look at the calendar or see a facebook memory pop up I have to take a deep breath, allow myself to feel the feeling and I have to process the feeling. In the past I would have grabbed a wine bottle and numbed the feelings. But I have learned it is ok to have feelings and I have learned how to sit with those feelings and process them instead of trying to numb and ignore them.

There are always going to be those days that trigger us and send us spiraling downward. It’s the reality after your child has died. But there can be laughter, and love, and good times again. There is hope. For now you might not believe me, but one day you will find yourself smiling at a memory of your child and laughing as you hear his or her voice in your head telling you exactly what you need to hear at that moment. I wish you all a peaceful November.

Supporting a grieving parent

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I can’t tell you how many times I read “you are in my prayers call if you need anything.” The truth is I probably wrote those very words many times over the years. The truth is a grieving parent has no clue what they need let alone the energy to ask for it. So I created this list of ways you can support your loved one when they are grieving the lost of their child.

  • show up. Bring a bowl of soup or a pizza.
  • Stick around wipe down the kitchen or bathroom. Just don’t clean our child’s room or wash their clothes unless we ask you to.
  • Sit with us if we can’t talk.
  • Talk about our child. Let us know he/she isn’t forgotten.
  • Call and leave a message so we know you called if we just can’t answer the phone
  • text to check in and ask how we are doing.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about our child. We haven’t forgotten. You won’t be reminding us of anything.
  • If you never met our child ask about him/her. We love to talk about our children.
  • Send pictures or videos you may have of our child.
  • Invite us out for a walk or coffee. We might not accept, but we like to be asked.
  • Know there are 2 days a year that we need a break. No matter how many years have passed the anniversary of our child’s passing and their birthday will bring strong emotional reactions. Be kind and gentle. Send us a text, a card, a message, flowers. Let us know you haven’t forgotten. Ask how we are doing.
  • Know you can’t fix us. Simply love us as we are.

What to say:

  • I am sorry.
  • I care.
  • I am here for you.
  • Tell me about your child.
  • I don’t know how you feel but I am here and I care.
  • My favorite story about your child is………….
  • Nothing just sit with us.

What not to say:

  • Time heals all wounds.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • I know just how you feel (unless you too have lost a child).
  • God needed another angel.
  • You can have other children.
  • Be thankful you have other child(ren).
  • It will get easier
  • God doesn’t give us anymore than we can handle.
  • Let me know if you need anything.
  • You are so strong.
  • I don’t know how you do it.
  • I could never do it.
  • It’s time to put this behind you.

Loving someone who has lost a child might mean you have to change plans or accept there are sometimes we simply don’t have the energy to show up at family gatherings, or we may choose to leave early when a situation is overwhelming. If we say “I need to leave or I just can’t do it today.” Just accept us as we are. Don’t try to talk us in to anything. Give us a bit of space and time then call to say check in and let us know we were missed.

Know things like family weddings, funerals, Christmas gatherings, and baby showers will always be tough. It will bring up the emotions that we might not be able to handle. It doesn’t mean we aren’t happy for you or that we don’t love you. Know we care, but if our emotions are raw and tender we might need to arrive late or leave early.

Please don’t give up on us. Just love us and know we are doing the best we can.

Spring Holidays

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Whether you observe Easter, Passover, or any other tradition if this is your first one or your 31st one without your child(ren) the day(s) will be hard in many ways. You may be thinking how different or how hard the day will be. You may be joining family and friends for the day, or planning a quiet day at home. You might have visited your child’s final resting place and decorated with flowers. However you choose to honor and do the day is up to you. You get to decide how you think about the day.

You might be feeling sad, lonely, depressed or anxious. Perhaps you are feeling content, at ease, courageous, gentle. You might be angry, guilty, tearful, or heartbroken. Whatever you are feeling is it is ok. As you feel the feelings in your body. Breathe through them. Close your eyes and just feel. Know it is ok to have those feelings. We are human and as humans we have a wide range of feelings and all of them are ok. Once you’ve identified those feelings take a deep breath. Allow your body to process that feeling and decide how you want to think about the day. Your thoughts will drive your actions.

Whatever you choose to do today is fine. If you just can’t face family and friends and choose to stay home do it. If you want to get out and be with people do it. If you’ve never been to a family gathering without your child yet I highly suggest you give yourself an out. If you show up and it is too overwhelming you can choose to leave. You get to decide what and how you spend the day.

You might be feeling like everything is different now and you don’t like it. It is ok. You don’t have to like it. Reality is that our circumstances would change eventually anyway. If our children were still living on earth they would grow up. They might go off to college or on to a job/career where they have to work holidays. Perhaps they would meet someone and choose to start their own traditions or spend time with their partners’ family. Life is constantly changing and shifting. We don’t necessarily like it, but we have no choice. We don’t have to do everything the same as we did before. If your home is the house everyone gathered at to have family dinners and you don’t feel up to having the family over you don’t have to invite them. If you choose to go away somewhere on your own to remember, reflect, and grieve for your child that is ok.

I would encourage you to take good care of your body. Drink plenty of water. Rest when you need to and eat healthy nourishing foods. Go for a walk outside in the fresh air when you can and allow nature and the sun to warm your body and clear your mind. Above all be gentle and kind to yourself.

There might be tears and heartache. You might remember years gone by and smile, and yes, even laugh at the memories. It is ok to laugh. It is ok to feel happy or joyful even. It is ok to talk about your child or your children and share funny stories of years gone by. I love to talk about Mike and the funny things he said or did. His friends and my family love to hear Mike stories. It keeps his memory alive and brings me comfort. Your child lived and loved and is. So honor their memory by sharing their story in whatever way you choose. There is no right or wrong way. You get to decide what the day looks like and what you choose to share.

I wish you a day of peace, good memories, and lots of love.

I Know Just How You Feel

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Once the memorial service is over and all your family and friends return to their homes you will find yourself trying to figure out and understand this new life you were just thrown in to. You will read all the cards and notes and listen to the messages left for you. Some of them will bring you comfort and some of them will leave you feeling annoyed and even angry. You will hear comments from well meaning family friends and coworkers that will make you say “what is that supposed to mean?”

Things like:

  • They are in a better place
  • God needed another Angel
  • At least you still have your other child(ren)
  • I know just how you feel. My (grandma, grandpa, mother, father, cat, dog……..) died
  • There is no way I could survive the loss of one of my children
  • You can have other children
  • Stay strong for your other child(ren)
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • Time heals all wounds
  • let me know if you need anything
  • I don’t know how you do it

Initially you will want to scream, yell, shout at them. “How can you say that?” But most people mean well. They just have no clue what to say to a grieving parent or how to say it. In reality I probably would have said the exact same things before Michael died. When they say they know how you feel they are trying to relate to you in any way they can. As the years go by it does become a bit easier to remember that and give them a measure of grace.

In the early days your job is just to survive. You take it one day, one moment, and sometimes one breath at a time. There is no timeline for grief. There is no roadmap or manual on how to grieve. No two parents will have the exact same journey. Do not compare yourself to anyone else. Be kind and be gentle to yourself.

I found comfort in going to a support group. Years later I still go. I found a local chapter of the Compassionate Friends and as tough as it was walking in to a group alone, once there I found people who understood my journey and my pain. We all had one thing in common. We had children who had died. We share our stories, we share our journeys and it is amazing to be with people who just get you and understand. I would encourage you to seek out a support group for grieving parents. There are in person and on line groups. I find it comforting to hear how other parents survive. I have adopted some of their ideas in my own journey. I love that on days when I’m struggling I can text, message, or call one of them and they will understand and offer me a bit of time to talk and a bit of hope that I will survive.

Time does not heal all wounds. “You don’t get over it” but somehow you get through it. The days turn in to weeks, months and then years. As time goes by it gets “softer”. You do learn to laugh again and smile at the memories. Yes, you will always have what I call “Michael days” when life is overwhelming to you. You will hear a song on the radio. You will see a text or a read a post on Facebook that throws you in to a panic. Be gentle to yourself. On those days give yourself space and time. Learn to show yourself grace and love. If you need time alone, take it. If you can’t stand being by yourself and just feel the need to be with someone call a trusted friend and go for a walk, or get a cup of coffee. And above all remember you are not going crazy. You are grieving.

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