May 17, 2019 | By Ali Robinson | General
Last week, Justin’s parents took us to the beach for Brooks’ angelversary. It gave us something to look forward to as we navigated through the trenches of “making it” an entire year without Brooks. A year that seems like a decade, but one that is filled with milestones I would’ve promised you we could have never made it through. As we sat on the beach, I looked through eyes that were different than those I had prior to April 2018. I thought about pivotal moments from the past 365 days that had stuck out in my journey through the year I never asked for. One of those was right before Christmas, and I remember the heavy weight of the season feeling like a sandbag on my chest. “What are you doing special to honor Brooks?”, “Do you have any special traditions you will begin?” These thoughts and questions from others didn’t seem fair as I stumbled through ideas that would never appropriately acknowledge his life (cue overwhelming mom guilt). But in the midst of the “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, I finally had just a second of that feeling I had forgotten. I laughed at something and felt joy.
Count on Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and Mariah Carey to distract me enough to remind me that this emotion still existed. I felt the Christmas spirit for the first time in so many years. A feeling that I tried to achieve every year by watching The Grinch on repeat. It was then that slowly I began to understand what so many bereaved mothers had told me- joy and pain can coexist. This was like a lightbulb going off for me that took away loads of pressure I had put on myself that Brooks would feel like I was forgetting about him if I was happy. The false idea I had put in my head that you have to choose one- stay broken or get better.
“GRIEF DOES NOT END WHEN YOU LOSE A CHILD. IT IS AN IMPORTANT THREAD IN THE COLORFUL CREATION OF THE LIFE THAT FOLLOWS AND UNEXPECTEDLY COMBINES THE BROKEN AND BEAUTIFUL PIECES OF YOUR REALITY.”
Bereaved parents go through this constantly. Instead of trying to force ourselves to shrink this “grief” portion on our life pie chart, we must let it exist as it is and just build our joy around it. My sweet bereaved mom friend, Kaitlyn, says:
"This past year as we grieved Andrew’s passing, we have been faced with so many challenging, dark days. It doesn’t seem possible to move on from a loss like this and yet in the past year there have been glimpses of brighter days. The loss of Andrew has brought on so much agonizing pain, but at the same time it has opened my eyes to a new beginning and allowed me to see the world in a new way. A way that allows me to cherish moments as if I’m experiencing them for the first and final time. One of the blessings we have received in this last year was the birth of our son, James. I didn’t think it was possible to have a healthy baby or to experience pure joy and happiness again; and as we welcomed James into the world, I felt like this was my chance and opportunity to make strides forward in a new life, balanced with pain and happiness. My heart aches and longs for Andrew every day, but I know I will be okay for the gifts God gives me daily get me by every day.”
Joy and pain are an unexpected duo, but a reality in the lives of so many bereaved parents. I am not taking away from the grief and pain of an older person passing away, but there is something so unnatural and disorienting about a tiny casket or a parent living their entire life without their child at any age. Instead of thinking back to their major life achievements or reflecting on the best memories over the years, your heart is filled with those missing moments that were stolen from your future photo album. And so we live in this balance that two contradicting emotions must be felt together. What this looks like in a functional, understandable way is something else I came to grips with last week at the beach. I envisioned my future family right there in front of me. Justin probably building castles with little ones, while I obsessively applied sunscreen to little arms and legs. This hopeful image I played out in my head, but with a missing tiny beach chair and one less mini-Justin crying that he hated sand. Still smiling though this missing piece of my heart beats in Heaven and not on the shores of Florida. That is what it means to live with joy and pain. And while we may “fake it til we make it” on certain occasions or anniversaries, we must feel both, because that is where Brooks and Andrew and Monroe and Avery and Mason live. This unhoped-for pair that we have been forced to master and create a life in will carry us until only Joy remains