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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.

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.