For those that have lost someone close to them, there are at least two days we need a time out. Today is one of those days. On this day, every year, my heart stops at 7 p.m. No matter what I’m doing, I always seem to be looking at the clock when it hits 7 and my mind flashes back to the most terrible night in my life.
Today marks the 18th anniversary my brother became an angel. Unfortunately, the days do not get easier…or at least they haven’t in 18 years, so I can’t see it becoming easier anytime soon. You just end up learning to deal with it. It’s a part of life. A shitty part of life. When I speak about him to friends, family, or at events, I still get that knot of my stomach, lump in my throat and teary eyed. I could cry as hard as I did the night it happened. Don’t be confused that I don’t want to talk about my brother because that’s not the case.
May he rest in peace and be with all of the others we have lost throughout the years. I hope he is proud of the person I have become and I haven’t let him down.
Below is an article I came across that describes what people should understand about losing a child. No, I didn’t lose a child – but after 18 years, I can’t tell you how many times people have said the most awkward/ridiculous comments to my mom about my brother. I’m not sure if they get in a panic and have no idea what to say, so they end up blurting the very first thing that comes out. This is definitely an article EVERYONE should read.
Four and half years after the death of my oldest son, I finally went to a grief support group for parents who have lost children. I went to support a friend who recently lost her son. I’m not sure I would’ve gone except that when I was in her shoes, four years ago, I wish I would’ve had a friend to go with me. Losing a child is the loneliest, most desolate journey a person can take and the only people who can come close to appreciating it are those who share the experience.
The meeting was a local chapter of The Compassionate Friends, an organization solely dedicated to providing support for those who have lost children, grandchildren or siblings. The facilitator was a tall gentleman who had lost his 17 year old son eight years ago. He opened the meeting by saying that dues to belong to the club are more than anyone would ever want to pay. Well, he couldn’t be more correct: no one wants to belong to this group.
The group of incredible survivors included parents whose children had been killed by drunk drivers, murdered, accidental overdose, alcoholism, suicide and freak accidents. The children’s ages ranged from 6-38 years old. When hearing the stories, I had a visceral reaction to being part of this “club,” but was also humbled by the greatness of these mothers and fathers.
Most of what I share in this article came from this meeting, but also from my own experience of having lost a child and being four years into that lifelong journey of healing from deep grief. The following five tips can be your compass to help you navigate how to give support to grieving parents on a sacred journey they never wanted to take.
1. Remember our children.
The loss of children is a pain all bereaved parents share, and it is a degree of suffering that is impossible to grasp without experiencing it first hand. Often, when we know someone else is experiencing grief, our discomfort keeps us from approaching it head on. But we want the world to remember our child or children, no matter how young or old our child was.
If you see something that reminds you of my child, tell me. If you are reminded at the holidays or on his birthday that I am missing my son, please tell me you remember him. And when I speak his name or relive memories relive them with me, don’t shrink away. If you never met my son, don’t be afraid to ask about him. One of my greatest joys is talking about Brandon.
2. Accept that you can’t “fix” us.
An out-of-order death such as child loss breaks a person (especially a parent) in a way that is not fixable or solvable — ever! We will learn to pick up the pieces and move forward, but our lives will never be the same.
Every grieving parent must find a way to continue to live with loss, and it’s a solitary journey. We appreciate your support and hope you can be patient with us as we find our way.
Please: don’t tell us it’s time to get back to life, that’s it’s been long enough, or that time heals all wounds. We welcome your support and love, and we know sometimes it hard to watch, but our sense of brokenness isn’t going to go away. It is something to observe, recognize, accept.
3. Know that there are at least two days a year we need a time out.
We still count birthdays and fantasize what our child would be like if he/she were still living. Birthdays are especially hard for us. Our hearts ache to celebrate our child’s arrival into this world, but we are left becoming intensely aware of the hole in our hearts instead. Some parents create rituals or have parties while others prefer solitude. Either way, we are likely going to need time to process the marking of another year without our child.
Then there’s the anniversary of the date our child became an angel. This is a remarkable process similar to a parent of a newborn, first counting the days, then months then the one year anniversary, marking the time on the other side of that crevasse in our lives.
No matter how many years go by, the anniversary date of when our child died brings back deeply emotional memories and painful feelings (particularly if there is trauma associated with the child’s death). The days leading up to that day can feel like impending doom or like it’s hard to breathe. We may or may not share with you what’s happening.
This is where the process of remembrance will help. If you have heard me speak of my child or supported me in remembering him/her, you will be able to put the pieces together and know when these tough days are approaching.
4. Realize that we struggle every day with happiness.
It’s an ongoing battle to balance the pain and guilt of outliving your child with the desire to live in a way that honors them and their time on this earth.
I remember going on a family cruise eighteen months after Brandon died. On the first day, I stood at the back of the ship and bawled that I wasn’t sharing this experience with him. Then I had to steady myself, and recognize that I was also creating memories with my surviving sons, and enjoying the time with them in the present moment.
As bereaved parents, we are constantly balancing holding grief in one hand and a happy life after loss in the other. You might observe this when you are with us at a wedding, graduation or other milestone celebration. Don’t walk away — witness it with us and be part of our process.
5. Accept the fact that our loss might make you uncomfortable.
Our loss is unnatural, out-of-order; it challenges your sense of safety. You may not know what to say or do, and you’re afraid you might make us lose it. We’ve learned all of this as part of what we’re learning about grief.
We will never forget our child. And in fact, our loss is always right under the surface of other emotions, even happiness. We would rather lose it because you spoke his/her name and remembered our child, than try and shield ourselves from the pain and live in denial.
Grief is the pendulum swing of love. The stronger and deeper the love the more grief will be created on the other side. Consider it a sacred opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with someone who have endured one of life’s most frightening events. Rise up with us.
Photo Credit: Stocksy
All of my wife’s four siblings are married except one. Bridget, the unmarried one, got cut out of her mom and dad’s Christmas card picture five years ago. Her parents found it awkward to have just one remaining child in her mid-20s still in the picture, so they kicked her out. Bewildered, lonely, and unsure what to do with herself in this big world, she began sending out her own Christmas cards.
2010: A Lonely Christmas Eve
The family received this one day, unexpectedly, and we were all caught a bit off guard.
2011: Friends Over for Tea
In 2011, still single and still barred from her parents’ card, she invited some guests over for tea, alcohol, and crumpets.
2012: Christmas Camaraderie
I’m not sure if the cards are getting better or creepier. For the rest of the family, a single Bridget is enough. 2013’s card featured five Bridgets.
As the rest of the siblings had one, two, or three children at this point, Bridget remained unmarried. She still wasn’t allowed in her mom and dad’s Christmas card.
She got these printed at Costco. The employees thought they were funny. There was another family with the same last name, and they took these home by accident. They weren’t amused.
2014: Things Take a Turn for the… I don’t know what.
In 2014, she’s still not married and her parents are still refusing to let her join in on the yuletide fun. Consequently, Bridget decided to go out and find someone to fill the void in her life.
Our only hope is that she never gets married so this can continue forever.
My brother lost his battle to cancer 17 years ago today. Two years ago, I blogged all about my experience. Click here to read it! In memory of him and everyone else who has fought, battled, lost or won, I’m raising money for the Walk for Wishes event. The Tampa Chapter of Make-A-Wish Foundation is hosting the event, May 8th at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa, FL.
If you’d like to donate to my team, please click here!
Every little bit helps! Here are some facts about wishes:
- Make-A-Wish grants a wish, on average, every 38 minutes and, on average, a child is referred for a wish every 28 minutes.
- Every wish experience is driven by the wish kid’s interests, creativity and personality.
- Make-A-Wish granted nearly 14,000 wishes in 2011 alone.
- Make-A-Wish chapters serve every community in the United States and its territories.
- Make-A-Wish has more than 25,000 active volunteers in the United States.
- Make-A-Wish needs 2.5 billion frequent flier miles to meet all the travel need for wish kids and their families.
- Nearly 70 percent of wish experiences involve travel.
- The Walt Disney Company is involved in 40 percent of the wishes Make-A-Wish grants.
- As of March 2010, the average cost of a wish was $7,025.
Heart is breaking.
Another year has gone by and I’m still alive…so I might as well make a list of the top events that happened throughout the year, right?
Here we go!
8. Moving into my own place. I used to live on my own until 2010. Then I moved in with one of my old college roomies. I do miss having a roommate at times, but I love living on my own! Like everyone said to me – I can now walk around naked all the time. Baha! (August)
7. Going to the Atlanta Braves Open House the weekend before my knee surgery! I’m a huge fan and even worked for them back in 2004 in Orlando and had never been to the baseball stadium. I will definitely be back again! Go Braves! (April)
6. Hearing the news my good friends had left Kelly Clarkson as back-up singers and decided to focus on their own music! Congrats Jill & Kate!…and the release of their album “Heart of Stone” doing so well! Good people deserve great things! These two are the greatest all around! (September)
4. 4th and final knee surgery…that only took 1o years to fix! Thank you Dr. Lawrence and Premier Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine! (April)
3. Seeing my best friend for the first time in years! Nancy and her husband drove through Nashville on their way to San Diego and we had a blast bar hopping in downtown Nashville and bellying up at the hotel bar! Can’t wait to do it again soon in Cali & Vegas! (August)
2. Spending Thanksgiving home with my family and friends. It was a quick trip, but well worth it! (November)
1. Taking a road trip to Florida with my mom! Our first road trip in 4 years! The 12 hours from Tennessee to Florida went by fast though…I had just had surgery 48 hours prior and she was coming down with the flu. I was happy to spend Christmas at home with my family and start recovering from shoulder surgery. It has been a tough recovery so far with this surgery and I still have a long way to go. I’m very thankful I had 2 weeks back at home in Florida to just relax and visit with family & friends – even though we all came down with the flu. I just hope next time I’m on vacation, I’m not recovering from anything. I’m so grateful I have a wonderful family, amazing friends (new & old) and an awesome job. Thank you all for making it an unforgettable, yet awesome year. Here’s to 2013! (December)
“I dreamed of going to Nashville”….Ok..I didn’t exactly dream of going to one certain place, but I didn’t plan on staying in Florida forever either. Yes, we have the beaches, the white sand, and who can forget – Disney World!
I literally sat down with my parents one afternoon in May and said, “Soooo I’m moving to Tennessee and going to transfer to the University there.”…WHAT?!! I’m pretty sure my Moms heart stopped, my Dad may have been asleep, but this sure woke him up. The questions/concerns of Why? How are you going to pay for all of this? You will be too far. Why are you changing your degree? Can’t you go somewhere in the state of Florida? After the initial shock happened – things didn’t really settle. I had already sent my information to MTSU and had to go to TN to check it all out and see where I could live, etc. Mind you, I went to school in Florida for medicine, but then got into the music business and kinda feel in love with it…even though it’s quite difficult to stay in.
I drove up to Tennessee in June and ended up staying with one of my friends from high school – who moved to TN when we graduated. She showed me around and I fell in love with, “music city“. We also looked at the school and I signed my lease for my apartment. I went back home to Florida and I’m pretty sure my parents still didn’t believe me. I ended up having to go back to Tennessee in July for a mandatory orientation with my department at MTSU and received my ID for school. Finally, everything was official!! Super excitement all around!
The rest of the summer went by pretty fast. My dad and I ended up driving to Texas in the middle of the night because my Grandmother fell ill and had heart surgery. We surprised the heck out of her! She knew my dad was coming to visit, but didn’t know I’d be there. I hadn’t seen her in 3 years – when I graduated high school. She was the only one who said, “Go for it” when I told her I wanted to move to TN. We spent a few days in Texas and then we drove back to Florida a few days before I had to leave for Tennessee. On my trip to Texas, it set in that’d I’d be far away from my parents. I talked to a few of my friends to calm me down. I was worried something would happen to my parents and I wouldn’t make it back in time if I lived in Tennessee. Let me tell ya, that feeling never goes away!
The days flew by and I packed my room up. My car was packed to the max with everything I could fit in there. I was scheduled to stay at a hotel for a few days (Opryland) and then I’d be able to move into my apartment that weekend. I was leaving Florida at 2am to get to TN by check in time. I remember saying bye to my parents and I could tell my mom was trying not to cry. She kind of avoids conversation if she’s going to. I got in my car and pulled out of the driveway and pretty much balled the whole 12 hour drive to Nashville. It was crazy to think I wouldn’t be back until a holiday break to see my friends or family. It didn’t really hit me until I moved into my apartment a few days later. I was doing everything myself and had no family or friends nearby; except Jen, but she lived a hr away. I had to deal with every situation all by myself and was scared I would do something wrong.
School began and kept me quite busy and I ended up getting a job at the Wildhorse Saloon – fun times with great people who will always be apart of my life! I went to MTSU for Public Relations in the Recording Industry with minors in Pre-Law and Management – yeah, it was a lot of work! Thank God I got into the program and graduated. During my time in school, I had so many opportunities to work great events and meet amazing people – Blake Shelton, Martina McBride, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, LeAnn Womack, Sugarland, Carrie Underwood, Josh Turner, Reba, Jake Owen, Brad Paisley, The Backstreet Boys, Luke Bryan, Brian Littrell, Aaron Carter, Nick Carter and the list goes on. Luckily, those connections have remained and I still get to work events throughout the country (CMAs, CMTs, Grammys, ACMs, etc). They never get old and no two are ever the same!
I literally went from 0-100 in a matter of 2 months. I was scared out of my mind I would fail and end up back in Florida after I graduated school, but I busted my ass off working at every event I could. I’m blessed to have an amazing job(s) and amazing co-workers who have become family to me. I could not have done it without the help of my family and friends. They get to hear about my crazy days and let me vent, thank you! I’ve met so many great people on my journey and it is still only the beginning. If these six years in Tennessee have flown by this fast and I’ve had this much fun; I cannot wait for the next six years! My life is absolutely crazy; but I love every minute of it. I have some wild and crazy stories that no one could imagine and they always get better!
Who can forget – my cousin – Kelly Clarkson…where it all began!