Comment from a grieving mother:wed “Jody, our second son got engaged to a young lady we adore. Celebration? Wrong! We waited until the door closed and we both began to sob like the very first day our son passed away. Why would such a wonderful thing bring such sobbing, almost heart stopping pain?

“The wedding plans (I am a designer) swirl around me and while I hear myself talk colors and flowers, I feel like I’m bleeding to death. I am braced at all angles and don’t know how to actually face that wonderful day without one son. They talk about the family photos, I gag at that thought. Only one son will stand up there with his brother. One is missing. Please talk about that.”

A future is born with our child. We imagine their first steps, first birthdays, first day of school. We imagine them learning how to drive, their high school graduation, perhaps college. In our mind’s eye, we see their wedding and ultimately, the birth of their own children, our grandchildren. We have perpetuated life, and we have all of those wonderful celebrations and rites of passage to look forward to when we bring that child home.

Then something goes horribly wrong. Our dreams are shattered with a diagnosis, with a discovered failing on our part to make a perfect body. (We, of course, will assume the blame for any abnormality). Or we get a few of those celebrations under our belt (enough to believe in “happy endings”) but then are blind-sighted with a medical surprise or an accident, a murder, a suicide. The future is not only ripped away from our child, but from us as well.

We grieve. We hurt every day. We can barely function. And then the first family event looms, as it will – an obligation to attend (or even to plan!) a graduation, a child’s birthday party, a holiday gathering. How can the world go on without our child? How can we set our grief aside for a day to “celebrate life” when the very life we cared so much about has ended? How can anyone even expect this of us?

The hardest notion to come to grips with, in the aftermath of a child’s death, is that every life is precious and deserves to be celebrated. One child’s death should not claim another child’s wedding day. One child’s timeline has ended, but the world does, indeed, move on. Our greatest challenge is to live in this parallel world where we coast along with it, even though our own purpose in life has been forever altered.

Holidays were hard for our family, yes. Daniel’s birthday came and went. Sometimes I went to church on that day, sometimes I celebrated and mourned alone; later I called daughters who had grown up and formed families of their own – a rite of passage denied my oldest child, who will now forever be the youngest, having died at age 16.

One of my most challenging days, as the years went by, was my daughter’s graduation from the Chicago Police Academy. It had been Daniel’s dream to become a police officer, which I believe truly motivated his younger sister to pursue that occupation. But how could I get through that day, feeling it should have been Daniel to first walk across the platform at Navy Pier?

After Brook gave the graduation speech (she was top of her class), after the bagpipes and drums played (which also hit my heart hard in remembrance of Danny Boy), we sat down to lunch. Brook removed her police hat and set it on the seat beside her. Inside the plastic lining, I noticed a photograph of Daniel and a copy of the police prayer (in his handwriting) that he always kept in his wallet. In her way, Brook had brought him along with her on her most special day.

Our grief is private, yes, but it is also shared. We forget that because we are all taught by Western Society that death is a final parting and that we should “move on” and not speak of it after the few weeks granted to us to grieve. But a parent’s grief for a dead child never ends. It only moves deeper into our hearts, further below the tissue and the surface. The same is true for siblings; we can never know the depth of their pain because there are no words for them to express it when all the well-meaning people around them will discourage it, anyway.

The very thing that would have hurt Daniel far more than his lost arm, his lost leg, his broken neck, and the internal injuries he suffered in that god-awful car crash would have been my never-ending pain on his behalf. Or Brook’s pain at his absence. I believe we are still connected in spirit, and so I want to now experience joy again, and to be his channel to those events, too.

The answer to your question, dear reader (dear mother), is that you will be shocked at the strength of your grief, of your reactions, to those first family obligations and celebrations. But you will eventually find a way to bring your child with you into the future. Attend the gathering and try to wring out every joy you can, and then come home and light a candle and share the experience as best you can.

We are here for you and you are here for other parents as they enter our community in search of encouragement as well as understanding. By our example and our sharing of these questions and experiences, we form a bridge for the newly bereaved as well as for those who have suffered for many years with the same feelings or anxieties. Thank you for your question, and for sharing it here.

Jody

Posted by: jodyglynnpatrick | 12/14/2014

Our Children: Joshua Aaron Van

Joshuaatbeach2From his mother, Cynthia:

Joshua Aaron Van, born 12/29/1989, was murdered on February 17, 2014 at 6:38 pm. On the day that Joshua died, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He gave his life to save the life of his friend and the last words that he uttered on this earth were “I’m okay.” 

Our whole family is devastated by his tragic death and nothing will ever be the same without him.  It feels like someone has turned off the lights.

Joshua was a beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend. The first thing you noticed about Josh was his thousand-watt smile. He was warm, positive, and always happy to see you- and you knew it.

At a young age Josh accepted the Lord as his personal savior. He grew to be a young man of faith and discussing the Bible brought him great joy. There wasn’t a person he was unwilling to share God’s message with. At one point Josh wandered down a difficult path and found himself heading in the wrong direction, however he was beckoned back to the right path by his faith in God.

Growing up, Joshua was a prodigious child. He was well-studied and read everything he could get his hands on. Throughout school he participated in speech contests, AP classes, choir, and athletics. Not a day went by that you couldn’t hear him rapping or singing.

But above all he loved basketball. He was a youth league star who earned the respect of his coaches and teammates alike. A defining moment was when he played at the world famous Rucker Park. 

If you would like to honor your child’s memory on this site, please email the material you would like to post to Jody at jgp@glynnpatrick.com.

Posted by: jodyglynnpatrick | 12/13/2014

Endurance: living with the impossible — a child’s death.

broke heartYou didn’t train for this marathon. In fact, you hate it… this living day to day when your child is no longer living. The way forward is dark, dangerous and unpredictable. While other people walk in sunshine and bliss, you walk on glass in the dark, trying to anticipate the crevices that will cause you to stumble – the next time someone asks how your (recently departed) daughter or son is doing, the next time your partner suggests it’s time to clean out a room or pack away possessions, the next time a friend suggests getting dressed for an evening out, the next time you wake up to no one else in the house, or pick up a phone that won’t be answered today.

When a child is hurting, we know what to do – we give them a shoulder to lean on, a kiss, a doctor, a safe place to be. When we hurt, we need those same things, but it feels selfish to seek it out or, if you do, perhaps others who have provided that support for a while now think they would be a greater help by insisting you move on, stand on your own feet again, or “deal with it in a healthier way.”

Does your heart agree? Do you feel that I understand your feelings here?

No sermon; merely an observation.

People of faith may find a shoulder to lean on in their belief of a higher power. I’m not pushing any religion at all, only saying that faith in a greater power implies that your deceased child is at peace, guarded, loved elsewhere, and some followers will find some small measure of relief in that. Or, if that angers us even more (“Why would a loving God deny ME the right to shelter, love and guard my own child?”), then perhaps we may find that our faith can give us the strength or foundation to endure the unendurable — the unfair and unmerciful events in our life — because God will hold us up. This is the “one set of footprints” doctrine, and I relied on it heavily in the past and did, indeed, find some comfort there on my darkest days.

My own faith suggests that God did not have a covenant with us to remove sorrow or prevent pain or death or illness or famine from the earth. The covenant was to be present in our time of suffering, should we seek God out, and to offer balm and a heavenly home to the one taken from us. God offered the promise of everlasting life though, dammit, on another plane of existence. That belief gave me the ability to hold steady to my faith after my son’s death. While it was a very tenuous string, sometimes nearly invisible and stretched out of all proportion, I guess over time it was sufficient, as today I am able to live a life which incorporates both Daniel’s memory, the belief in an eventual reunion, and joy again.

No religious strings attached here, however.

In your pain, you may want to believe that your grief is deeper, that you must have loved your child more than I loved my son, if I could actually enjoy living a “new normal” after the tragedy, but that is not true. I am just further up the road, looking back, encouraging you forward. You can find your way. I, and others like me, are here to help shine light on your path. And that light is simply this message: You can endure. If you can’t find any grace or peace or comfort in faith at this moment, please do see the shoulder we offer. We are here, not to convert or even to witness – only to help without any religious or philosophical strings attached. Some have deep faith, others have a weak grasp of faith, and others are atheists or taking a break at the moment from any affiliation. It doesn’t matter to me, frankly. As a greater community, we are simply here because we care about your journey and we understand the unimaginable pain of losing a child. We, too, have suffered this great trauma.

Stay with us, if only because it is true that yes, misery does love company. That’s probably why you first reached out — to find someone who truly understood your pain and sorrow because they have experienced what it feels like to lose a child, too. But hearts also crave hope, and we can help you bridge the pain eventually. You don’t have to believe that now, but stay with us awhile. Read the other blogs. Understand that this is your community and we welcome you, bruised and battered, heartsick or angry, regardless of the number of years it’s been since the separation, or the age of the beloved child you lost. We are here.

Today, let that be enough to know and accept.

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