Saturday, December 2, 2017

Grief is Good

My husband Joe died six years ago this Tuesday. My son was 15 months old.

A 33 year old widow.

A boy barely a year old without his dad.

Although the grief was palpable, there was no way to know then the journey that was ahead for the two of us.

How could it be that just as my own grief was finding its settled space that then I would be watching my son only beginning his grief process? 

How could it be that just as I was establishing a balance of living life and honoring Joe's memory that grief would then start all over again in our household in the heart of my sweet 7 year old child? 

Who said THAT was ALLOWED?

Allowed or not, it's what happened. In fact, it has been happening in varying degrees since my little guy was about 3 years old. But this year it hit like a ton of bricks around Father's Day. There was an emotional night on the soccer field after practice. There were many heart-wrenching conversations about feelings of loss. It was all accompanied by plenty of tears - of both the mommy and then-6 year old varieties.

Thankfully, I had been made aware of an incredible program located not too far from us called Good Grief and we quickly went for an introductory meeting.

Although my son was hesitant at first, they had him sold with the fidget spinner in the welcome bag. Ever since that first visit, he has grown more and more comfortable with the people, the space, and with bringing his grief into the midst of it all.

Thanks to Good Grief we have grown emotionally and in our relationship with each other. For me, much of my time there so far has been about learning how best to support Domani as he both gets to know his dad better and grieves his death. For his part, Domani has found a crucial space for peer support. He now feels more comfortable asking questions about his dad and is more open about sharing what he is feeling when something strikes him. I am thankful that he is moving forward in these ways. Good Grief has been the space that we each needed.

These past two weeks leading up to the 6 year anniversary of Joe's death were significant for Domani in his grieving, but perhaps even more so for me. It was during the course of these two weeks that I fully realized he is in the midst of his own grieving process. There are ways that his process affects me, but I feel like he is now making his own way. 

Up to this point, I have shared about various pieces of our grief journey on this blog. However, it has become clearer and clearer to me over these past two weeks that Domani and I are now at a place where he has stories that are his alone and not mine to tell. So, when he has big moments along the way (as he did recently) and I am privileged enough to be part of them I have come to understand that the right thing is for me to be present and supportive, but let those moments truly belong to him.

I struggled a lot with what I should do as I watch him through these moments and I'm honestly not sure if I've landed in the right place. I did write about the progress I observed him making over the last two weeks and I saved it as a private post for him. I hope that someday when he is a bit older he will read it and it will mean something to him to have a record of that time from my perspective. Maybe at some point he will want to share it or maybe he won't. Either way, it will be his to do with what he wants.

In the meantime, I'll keep sharing moments from my own life, knowing that once in awhile those moments will include my little guy.

November 16th was one of those moments. It was the 3rd Thursday in November and that meant it was Children's Grief Awareness Day. Before this year, it was a day I knew nothing about. Now that my son and I are both participating in peer grief support groups our participation in this day was a no brainer. He wanted to wear the special shirts that Good Grief was providing to participants and I took on the task of spreading the word to family and friends using some brochures and social media. I came across and shared this TED Talk titled "Grief is Good" which I found to be particularly powerful.

Nothing could have prepared me though for what happened at my son's school. On November 15th I sent him in with a brochure about Children's Grief Awareness Day and a note explaining how he would be participating the next day by wearing his Good Grief shirt. That afternoon, my cell phone rang and I found myself choking back tears as his teachers asked if it would be okay to send out a request to the parents of his classmates for the children to wear blue in support of the grief day. I was overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness and care and agreed that would be a wonderful thing to do.

In our Good Grief shirts for CGAD on November 16th

As I was walking him to school the next morning, I let Domani know that his teachers had sent out a notice about Children's Grief Awareness Day and that some of his friends in his class may wear blue to school to show their support. He was so happy. Later that day when I got a notification that a photo had been posted to the classroom app I cautiously opened it up, hoping that some kids had remembered and worn some blue. What I saw was my smiling son in the middle of a sea of blue, arms slung around two classmates in the happiest way. It was a most amazing moment and I was thankful beyond words.

The support network that I see growing around him reminds me of the one that surrounded me in those first months and years after Joe's death. It was critical for me as I grieved and is one of the reasons why I am in such a different place now six years later than I was then. Now as Domani grows and begins moving through his own grieving process, I am encouraged that he has his own network of friends, family, and caring adults to see him through. If there is one thing that the last eight years going back to Joe's diagnosis have taught me it's that we are stronger when we do the hard things together. What power and blessing there are in community and solidarity!