Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 12/24/2015

Christmas without our children

There is an empty seat. An agonizing hole in our heart, in our world. Others may have become invisible already (or by now) to the place we hold for our children during the holidays (and every day) but we feel it. Something is wrong. And yet others laugh and find pleasure and meaning in purchasing gifts. How can that be? How can everyone else’s world go on without our children in it? How can we be expected to go on? Yet we do.

I am many years “out” from the trauma of Daniel’s death, but nowhere near through the trauma of losing him, if you know what I mean. However, I have made a life with him carried in my heart instead of in my arms or walking by my side, and I think I have adapted to the situation, if not to the loss. Then, at church, we’re invited to buy a poinsettia in honor of our dead. That simple thing pulls off the scab and causes my heart to bleed again. I ask my husband to pick it out and to make the arrangement because I know I would cry at the florist’s shop or get caught up in picking a blemish-free plant, strong and healthy, because if it wilted, it would crush my spirit even more. A plant. My son’s “presence” at church on Christmas has been reduced to a plant on a shelf.

But we have created new traditions, and that has helped. I’m playing hand bells for a midnight Christmas Eve service  — something I never did when Daniel was alive. We go out to my cousin’s house for dinner (I used to make every Christmas dinner). I don’t want to do the same things I did, so I go caroling with an adult choir. I helped our hometown launch a parade of lights, and worked to bring Santa back to town. My children are grown, we’re finally beyond the stockings and the things I couldn’t do any longer for Daniel, and we made it through and past those first Christmas holidays. Now I try to help other children find joy in Christmas.

And so will you, and that’s my gift to you this year — the assurance that you can and will make it through. It will take a toll and you need to be patient and forgiving if you don’t feel like buying things or cooking or caroling. You need to be able to set boundaries. But open your heart (it will, in fact, help with your healing) and do what you can. Don’t shy away from what you can do. It helps to be as charitable as possible, as focused on others as you can manage. Reach just a bit beyond yourself, and then be happy with yourself.

I am with you in spirit as we go into our respective holiday celebrations, just as my son is with me. I do pray for your peace and that you can find some measure of joy in the season. It is possible, please know and have faith that it is possible, and let your child’s love shine through you. Kindle that flame. It will shine again, with time.

 

 

 

Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 11/21/2015

Living with different filters.

Photograph

When (if) you are ready, click the link above marked “Photograph”. Wait for the annoying short ad to finish and then the link will take you into a YouTube performance of a song by that title recorded by Ed Sheeran.

After our children die, we live life wearing a new filter. This song has no attached significance, but when you see/hear it, I’ll bet you will see/hear it differently than a parent who has not lost a child to death. Things that other people may view as neutral may be charged with emotion for us, and so we are often blindsided by experiences that we can’t explain fully to even our closest friend.

I just stumbled across this video, looking for another song he recorded, and paused to watch it before moving on. Wow. And there was Daniel again, as he grew from a small child to the 16-year old that he will always be — though the song had nothing to do with my son, nor was it his image.

What do you see when you watch the video? What message do you hear in the lyrics?

Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 11/21/2015

Helping children deal with a sibling’s death.

mourningThis is written in response to the mother who asked for help with her children after her other child’s death. The young adults did not want to talk about the experience, or their sibling. Their response added to her despair. Her questions was, “how can I get them to talk?”

The answer is so sad and yet so necessary to hear: You can only help them by honoring their grief and by loving them; by being present and letting them know that if they do choose to talk about their grief or their sibling, you are ready to listen or to help them find the listener of their choice (which might not be you). The hardest thing for a parent to fully embrace, though they do fully understand it when applied to themselves, is that grief belongs to the griever. You cannot assume that you understand your child’s coping mechanism or grief, nor can you direct it.

“Grief belongs to the griever” is an expression often used by death counselors, but when you are the parent, it’s natural to assume that directing your child’s grief response and expression falls to you. You made the funeral arrangements, possibly decided when and how to tell your other children of the tragedy, and you are giving cues to outside family and friends about how much “support” the family can tolerate day to day. I know this because, of course, I too am a bereaved parent as well as a grief counselor, and I was faced with supporting my other children after Daniel’s death. When they could not, or would not, come to me for help, I was as dumbfounded as this mother about what to do and how to help.

What I did not do was give up. I made discreet calls to the school counselor and asked them to be very mindful of my children’s needs and to offer an ear should the child want it. I made a few extra opportunities for grandparents and for beloved adult friends to visit, when I would absent myself in case my kids preferred their ears or conversations.

Too, I tried to make the upcoming holidays a democracy, where children had a vote, too, as to whether or not we went to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving that first year, or whether we put up a tree that first Christmas. They helped decide whether we even celebrated at all or went someplace new. Would they want to cling to our traditions or chuck them? We made those incredibly hard decisions as a family, the questions asked as nonchalantly as possible, the answers allowed to be mulled over for awhile, not expected immediately.

We cannot fix what cannot be “fixed” for our children. Just as many parents are simultaneously struggling with an inability to have “saved” a child, it becomes obvious we also cannot spare our other children from experiencing the deepest sort of pain. When they were little and stubbed a toe, remember how they would kick a door or even you in response? This is called “coming out sideways” Losing a sibling is so many infinities worse than suffering a broken toe and sometimes they don’t know where to put all of that pain and so they park it with you. Or they push it aside and just seem to go on with their lives like nothing happened. It’s natural. You can bear it if you understand it may be the only way you can truly help them navigate their grief – by forgiving it and continuing to stand as their fortress.

Above all, be steady in your love for the remaining children. There is a tendency to elevate a dead child over the living child – to suddenly put their picture all over the house, or to treat their belongings with a reverence your other children don’t understand and may resent. Some children will handle their grief by asking when they can have their sibling’s prized possessions very soon after the death. We have to suspend our expectations for how they “should” act and be steady in our love and support, even when we may understandably resent that our children may not grieve in the same way we do.

When nothing is normal and every minute of every day you feel like you are standing at the edge of a gaping hole, it’s exhausting to consider everyone else’s needs and still tend to your own. “The greatest of these is Love”, however, and your love for your children, even when you are numb to fully experiencing or embracing that love yourself, will get you through this first day, this first week, this first month and year, and then into the next. You can do this. We’re here to help you do this.

 

 

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