Many people don’t realize, as someone who has had a child leave this earth, how many occasions that should be filled with joy, are now a painful stab to our hearts.
Our thoughts are constantly going to who is absent. It is like a slap in the face that our child should be a part of this celebration, sometimes smack dab in the middle of it, which makes the event even more difficult. That is what I mean by “bittersweet”.
For instance, we have two daughters. The oldest, Becca, was married in 2001, and her sister was her maid of honor. Five and a half years ago, Becca died. This month, the other daughter is getting married. There have been many tears shed (from both of us) that her sister has not been with us to help plan and be part of the wedding shower, the wedding preparations, and will not be there to be her matron of honor.
What is supposed to be one of the happiest days of a woman’s life, is now also one of the most painful. Bittersweet.
Every time a new grandchild is born (and we just had number five, our first grandson, born February 1st, and exactly one month later on March 1st, another granddaughter was born). While we were ecstatic at these new blessings, there is a deeply painful reminder their Aunt Becca will never have the joy of holding them, watching them grow, being part of their lives, and these children will never know their Aunt Becca or hear her contagious laugh. Bittersweet.
A graduation is the same way, especially if your child should have been one of those getting a diploma and having a party. You are happy for those who have reached that milestone of accomplishment, but there is the glaring reminder of our child who is not there and should be. Bittersweet.
I don’t have to go on. We all know what it is like now.
Sometimes we can avoid the event altogether and just not go. But what if we can’t? Obviously, I am not going to stay home when my daughter is in her beautiful gown and is given to a man who loves her deeply and she becomes his wife.
Painful reminders of our child not being here because of celebration events, is literally a never-ending battle we will be facing until our own departure from this earth.
So the question is, how do we deal with it?
Here are four suggestions that I hope will help.
- Before the event, find someone you can talk to about the turmoil you are feeling. Someone who will allow you to grieve without judgment, and even grieve with you. Because let’s face it, that is what we are doing. We are grieving the loss of our child… again… (and again, and again, and again…). That is NORMAL!!! It will help to find someone who will validate that grief and allow you to get it out.
- During the event, if painful thoughts threaten to leak out of your eyes (and you don’t want them to), distract yourself. Go in with a plan of what you will start thinking about instead.
- Is it a wedding? Study every detail of the bride’s dress, her veil, her hair, etc.
- Is it a shower? Start making guesses at how much each gift cost, or guess what is in the wrapped packages and see if you are right.
- Is it a graduation? Start counting. Count how many in the audience are wearing the school colors.
3. Excuse yourself, and have a good cry! Sometimes that is just the best thing to do. Lean into your grief. Lynn Breeden, founder of Mourning to Dancing had this to say recently, at the Hope & Healing Virtual Summit.
I remember going to a concert once, when I was away from home, and I was by myself, with just other friends and people that (acquaintances, not close friends), and we went to a concert, just to kind of pass the time. And…and I thought it was going to be safe, you know. We…we assume that. And this was only three or four years ago, so it was twenty-some years into this process.
And what I didn’t know was, this man who was doing the concert had lost a child. And so, as he’s doing this concert, I… realized that he’s leading in, and a lot of his music that he wrote was about this loss of a child. And so, a long story short, I…hear him, and I’m trying really hard to talk to myself, “You can do this. This is okay. You don’t have to, you know, make a spectacle …you don’t have to cry, you just kind of…” and then he went to a song that was incredibly heartfelt for me, and then you have to make the decision, “Am I going to stay here and blubber and cry in this concert, or am I going to walk out?” And I walked out, and I had a good cry.
4. Just let people around you know, so they can share that sacred moment with you, of remembering your child and how much you love and miss him or her. Once again, I want to share what someone said at the GPS Hope & Healing Virtual Summit. This comes from Kathi Wilson.
So, there is … an element of embracing where your heart is, and sometimes I refer to it as surfing the waves of grief. Because there’s this ebb and flow, and sometimes, years after a loss, we could be in the midst of something crazily fun. And something will trigger a memory, and there will be a wave of grief wash over you. And you can … tell people that are around you, ”Wow. I just remembered… this picture, and this is what I’m feeling at this moment.”
And then you’re being real. You’re being true. And then the people that you’re relating with, have a bond with you, over that moment in time, which you could have shut down, but instead, you said, “This is part of my life. This is part of my story. And we’re together now. Let me share it with you.”
Not putting prayer in the list doesn’t mean I don’t think it is important. To me, that is a given. But having God in our lives does not take a giant eraser and remove that pain of no longer having our child here with us to share in all of these things they were supposed to be a part of with us.
We need tools to help us, because like I said, unfortunately, we will be dealing with these kinds of bittersweet situations for the rest of our lives.
May God give you the comfort, peace, wisdom, hope and light that you need, each and every day, and each and every event you find yourself facing.
Let’s help each other out. Do you have any other ideas, or is there something you have done that helped you get through one of those bittersweet events? Please share it below.
In my book, Come Grieve Through Our Eyes, I talk about how even the word “family” is bittersweet, and share what other bereaved parents have to say about it. To have that chapter sent to you, along with the two pages about family from My Grief Journey: A Coloring Book and Journal, just fill in the information below and submit.