Our family is coming up on the 2nd Christmas without Aaron and the 3rd Christmas without my brother, Steve. This second year has been riddled with a whole new realm of emotions, expectations, triggers, reactions, and states of mind. Aaron passed away on February 10, 2016. As that first year progressed, I experienced a lot of anticipation of the grief to come for the multiple firsts to be experienced…wondering what it might feel like….how debilitating it might be….. and how it might affect my relationships with other family members. Those firsts were the hardest…but not as hard as the initial news of my son’s death. THAT was by far the worst debilitating pain I have ever experienced in my life. That pain affected my ability to process information and my ability to make sound decisions. It also paralyzed me into a state of shock…that protected me from the full brunt and the reality of my loss. That shock gave my mind time to grapple with the meaning of the loss in manageable chunks and pieces that were bearable. The shock is what allowed me to make it through the first year without a total breakdown. During that first year, I experienced the worst pain a parent could ever experience in their life. Burying a child just isn’t supposed to happen….our children are supposed to grow up with us and watch us as we grow older. It’s a death that is completely out of order and not the natural order of life on this earth. It takes so much time to come to grips with that out of order death….and I don’t know that you truly ever come to grips with it. Acceptance comes on some days, but then, out of the blue, you’ll have that day when you think, “I’ve got to call Aaron and tell him about this!” And the excitement of talking to him is there for a brief second until reality hits again. And it hits….over….and over…and over again. I’m finding that I’m not having to accept that reality as much as I did in the beginning, but none the less…I still have days where I have to realize that he really did die…..and that it wasn’t just a nightmare. I would say that the first year was by far the worst. However, the second has brought with it a different type of grief that I am learning my way through as well.
In the second year, I’ve talked about the reality of permanence in Aaron’s loss from this world. And THAT…..is almost just as hard as the raw and intense pain you feel in the first year. It’s just that now, it’s an enduring pain and sadness that speaks to you, “This is my forever.” “Forever, I will live the rest of my life without my son ever sharing Christmas or Thanksgiving with his family….He will never establish his own traditions with Christmas and Thanksgiving……He will never enjoy his life in the city he loved so dearly, Asheville, North Carolina.” The second year for me began as an ominous year….one that was so dark and just lifeless for me. I felt no life in me, because I was just going through the motions. I worked, I came home, and went to bed. And then the cycle started all over the following day. I was merely existing from day to day. But, really, I was barely existing. I was at one of my lowest points around August of this year. I was in such a place of despair, that I realized I needed to do something. I needed to get myself together to be here for my other family members….for my daughter….the grandkids….my mom and dad….my other brother. I need to be present for them. I’ve had to grapple with feeling that if I continued to celebrate with them, that I was in someway forgetting my son or diminishing his loss. It’s taken me some time to come to terms with that, but I know that I have to continue to celebrate with them….because I know that Aaron would want me to be present with them. But I also believe that in choosing to focus on the life I had with Aaron and the life I still have with my other family, that I am honoring his memory. I am not forgetting him in anyway…..I am choosing to remember him by giving of myself to his sisters, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I’ve been pondering on that thought for a few days….ever since I heard the song, “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy….written about Biggie Smalls. This song really spoke to me as I listened to the words….and it spoke of Aaron…and it made me smile. Here are just a few of the lyrics that make me think of Aaron:
Life ain’t always what it seem to be
Words can’t express what you mean to me
And though you’re gone
We still a team
Through your family I’ll fulfill your dreams
In the future can’t wait to see
If you’ll open up the gates for me
The night they took my friend
Try to black it out but it plays again
When it’s weird feelin’ it’s really hard to conceal
Can’t imagine all the pain I feel
Give everything to hear half your breath
I know you still livin’ your life after death
It’s kind of hard wit you not around
Know you in heaven smilin’ down
Watchin’ us while we pray for you
Everyday we pray for you
Till the day we meet again
In my heart is where I’ll keep you friend
Memories give me the strength I need to proceed
Strength I need to believe
When I heard those words…a smile came across my face, because I pictured Aaron in those words….that he’s smiling down on us….that he’s in my heart until we meet again….and that his memories do give me strength. And the part that really made me smile…”I know you’re still living life after death.”
Strange to say, but it’s given me a happy way of thinking about him. It’s allowed me to focus more on the great memories I have of him and his time here on this earth and less on his death. That almost makes me feel guilty for saying that. I mean this is only my second year without him. How can I feel this way in only the second year? I’m not sure….but for some reason, it feels right for me this year. It feels right to think about his goodness and his love for the holidays. It feels good to think about the joy he experienced when coming to family dinners and opening presents. It makes me feel that in some way…he will be celebrating with us this year….maybe not in the physical form…but in the spiritual realm…he will be with us and will enjoy watching us celebrate together. This is a strange place for me….it almost makes me feel as if I’m grieving incorrectly…because I’m not consumed in the loss. It still in some ways makes me feel like I am forgetting him….like I’m moving on without him. But if you really think about it and put things into perspective….I’m not forgetting at all. By celebrating, I am celebrating his contributions to our family as well….I’m celebrating by giving gifts in his honor this year. I’m choosing to remember him in life and not in death. But that’s where I am right now…who knows….tomorrow might be a whole different experience. I might be engulfed in a 100ft wave of grief. No matter where you are in your grief, it’s still a day by day journey. You never really know where you’re headed or how you’re going to get there, but you know that at some point you’ll get there. And through the journey, you might experience deep sorrow and pain. However, without that sorrow and pain, you can’t get there…..wherever there is. The point…grief is a day by day journey. Some days you make a lot of progress as you journey through unfamiliar territory…and some days, you get stuck for a bit. Regardless of where you are, each one of us move through that journey at our own pace and in our own time. There is no right or wrong way to grieve or no right or wrong place to be in your grief. It is ours and ours alone and only we can get through it in own time and our own way.
And for me this year, I am moving through my grief by remembering Aaron and the good memories. I’m moving through the grief this year, but giving in his honor….I’m thankful for this place, because I know that it can change in an instant.
Where ever you are….is where you are….it’s how you feel….and there’s no wrong way to feel when you’re navigating through child loss.
Thinking of all of the families that are navigating through these same waters. Thinking of those of you who
are struggling to make it through the season and for those of you who are able to experience some peach and joy.
We are all in this together….we just have acknowledge and respect where each person is in that journey of child loss. We have to stick together, because NO ONE understands our pain like the ones that have lost a child.
God bless each and everyone of you this holiday season!