A few days ago, we celebrated Lake’s 9th birthday. In these events I feel my loss more, I feel how disjointed I am from my past life. I miss Kara so much on these days; she was so good at celebrating people. Kara wrote letters to each of our kids for all of their birthdays until 18. Ugh. They break me.
I remember Kara mentioning not wanting to write these yearly birthday letters, and I agreed. Letters like this seemed so hard. Then a month later, I caught her scribbling in a bed full of stationary, and I agreed it was a great idea to write the letters. As she gave me freedom to imagine my future, I needed to give her freedom to say her goodbyes.
Lake said he felt sick a day before his birthday and he couldn’t make it to school. I tried all my parental tricks, but in the end, knowing his birthday was coming, I let him stay home. Birthdays bring a wave of grief to my kids.
Lake and I sat together in a chair. His love language is wrestling, and with my recovery from back surgery these love-moments have been missed. So I filled his love cup with physical roughness. We talked about his birthday and how proud I am of him. Then I retrieved his 9th birthday letter from the metal box. I knew this would be a wave of grief and emotion. He read it and fell apart when it ended with: Love, Mommy.
He cried big tears. Broken-heart tears. I did, too. Some waves of emotion are unpredictable, but these birthday ones are like the setting sun—they will happen. We talked about how much his mom loved him, the special connection she had with him as her son, and how we miss her.
I am so impressed by his ability to show emotion, to talk about anger and sadness, and to cry. To let his tears flow. We talked about waves of tears and what to do—feel them, find a safe place or person, and let them out. We talked about who is safe for him and walked through this event so he will be ready for the next one. This is a talk we have had before but like parenting life is about repetition.
Then as he went off to play, I sat in peace. I did it; I made it through all of the kids’ first birthdays without their mom. I feel this is monumental. It was these moments that I dreaded, and I did it. God has been so gracious. Kara selflessly prepared us well for this future. And I am thankful.
Entering the grief of my children feels confusing and complicated, but simple at the same time. All four of my kids are different, and it is work to be in tune to their sorrow—similar to the work it takes to walk with them through life in general.
How will you prepare your family and friends for your death? I know that is a strange question, but all of us will die and leave a void. Our temptation is to treat this like a task, a one-time conversation, like a last meal. But what makes our last meal significant is all the mundane meals along the way to the last one. How will you say what you need to and listen to the words from others that they need to say?
Life is hard, we may as well admit it and move into it.