Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 01/11/2012

How to gracefully endure a “Happy New Year” after the death of your child.

3 mindsets for facing a fresh calendar with dates you’d rather skip

If you are beginning the first “Happy New Year” since the death of your child, 2012 will bring many painful dates to muddle through. As you look ahead at a new calendar, you likely and rightly see an emotional minefield laid out before you. But please believe that somehow, some way unknown to you now, you can survive it.

Birthdays are particularly hard. January 28th, Daniel’s birthday, is one of the mountains I’ll be forced to climb again in the near future. I know I will awaken wanting to remember his smell when he was a baby. I will (again) review a mental video of past birthday parties. I can reach for a scrapbook of fading photographs, recalling how he changed from year to year, birthday to birthday, but that isn’t the same as sharing just one more birthday candle with him.

I understand now, years after his death, that the sharpest pain I will struggle with every January 28th for the rest of my life is my impotence to undo his death or to barter him back. I can’t change his past or my future without him.

Facing your loss on days you used to circle on a calendar with joy but now anticipate with dread is a real challenge. And yes, you will suffer more some days than others. But you also can move a few steps closer to the knowledge that your loved one still has a place with you and can be taken into the future with you. And every day, you’re getting one day closer to comprehending where and how your worlds now intersect.

What can you do to promote healing — versus scab picking?

Plan ahead what you intend to do on the most predictably difficult days — birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, etc. — and take control of each one. Here are some suggestions to chose from.

(1) Build in private time to actively honor your love for your child, which is unwavering and eternal.

I include time for spiritual reflection and renewal. I don’t include anyone in those moments who would only agree to it due to a feeling of obligation. I don’t bring in people who never knew my son to witness it, either. It is a closed circle so that I don’t have to explain how I’m feeling, justify it, or have it absolved or “understood”. My feelings simply are what they are and that is a private matter for me.

Sometimes I go to church with a close friend and pray; sometimes I go to a park and take a walk and let the sun shine on my face. Sometimes I sit alone in my car and cry, but that is okay. Sometimes I call a daughter first thing after waking up that morning and together, we remember him aloud, or I kneel on my knees, alone in my bathroom, and whisper my plans for the day to him.

(2) Determine how, this year, you are going to honor your child’s life — and then do it.

Loving another person is the greatest gift we can bestow and the greatest gift, in return, that we can be given. So when that is lost to us, how can we do as Dr. Seuss suggests (my favorite mantra): “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened”?

We can honor that it happened by putting something physical in the world to represent it.

My favorite thing to do is to plant a tree, to put a living thing in the ground that can provide shade to generations that will outlive me, as I had hoped he would. I imagine Daniel would like that, and so that is something I can do — not in January in Wisconsin, but in the spring. To every thing, there is a season. I can buy a tree and have it put in a favorite dog park or plant a rosebush in the front yard. I can plant a tree at my daughter’s house this year, if she wants one, without saying why. It’s no longer important to me that the world listens when I murmur his name; only that I continue to say it and the trees continue to be planted.

(3) Understand that grief is hard work, and dealing with it is even harder work. Open your mind to new routes and tools.

If climbing a mountain was easy, everybody would do it. You didn’t volunteer to climb even a bunny hill of grief, but suddenly you find you’re a member of the club nobody wants to join — the bereaved parents’ club — and our specialty is climbing mountains because, well, because they are there, blocking out the sun and all of the light we once knew. The mountains are dates on the calendar, and yes, I guess you could sleep through them, with enough sleeping pills, but guess what? Those mountains just slide over into the next day. And the next.

The safest way to mountain climb is with a climbing partner. This site is meant to help you — I am here to help you, along with countless other bereaved parents who have climbed a few mountains of their own in recent years; they can (and will) weigh in and offer practical help. We’re listening for your invitation to offer a hand or a thought or a prayer.

Along the way, if you can manage it when your heart feels most frozen or splintered, try to open your mind to new ways of experiencing the world. Challenge boundaries and truths. Explore and test your relationship with your faith or spirituality or truest beliefs about the meaning of soul and existence. Close your eyes, listen with your heart, and turn your face toward life. Your life. In this way, we can take your hand and share your burden.

Thanks for joining me at The Watering Hole. Your comments are appreciated.
JGP


Responses

  1. My son was murdered at the age of 32 1/2, he would have turned 33 in July. My life has changed forever and I miss him so. Thank you for your words of encouragement.


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