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Reassessing the Grief Game Plan for the Holidays It’s A Wonderful Life December 10, 2009

Posted by johnbohlinger in Dealing with Grief after Losing your child., Death of your child, Grieving Parents, Guilt and Grief.
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Privately, I tend to hold onto grief like I’m afraid that if the pain slips away,  I will lose my last connection with my son.   It’s been 2.5 years,  I need a better dealing mechanism.  When I find myself feeling exceptionally good,  I feel a bit guilty, like I should have fallen on my sword when he died;  this is no way to live.  Privately I’m attempting to step out of mourning into enjoying/ living.

Publicly, I almost never mention my son, an omission for which I feel terribly guilty.  When my son name comes up it feels awkward and sad to those who knew him, and makes those that didn’t know him very uncomfortable.   When somebody learns that you’ve lost your child,  it’s too much to explain.   Say you’re at a party and a new acquaintance says “Oh, I didn’t know you have a son.” You can’t really stop and tell that person:

Yes,  my son died. He was a wonderful person,  we loved each other very much,  had the best times of my life with him.  He took some risk he shouldn’t have and did not beat the odds.  I was a mess for a long time but now , after much prayer, work and support, I feel much better and am regaining my optimism and love for life.

That’s kind of what needs to be said, but in reality it never happens.  To say any less sounds glib, but this full explanation just doesn’t work into a polite conversation.  So I try to avoid the whole mess which feels like I’m dishonoring my son by the omission, not a healthy way to go.

As we approach the holidays I’m assessing my game plan for grief.  The holidays are an emotional mine field:
1). You can’t think about Christmas without thinking about your child, and although there are lost of happy memories, it hurts that he is gone.
2)  Holiday gatherings mean lots of people casually asking polite questions like:
“How is August?”
“Do you have any children?”
“How are you holding up?”

Here’s my pep talk to help move forward.

First of all, I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that life does go on, (a phrase my son literally had tattooed on his arm; seriously, he did).    I never thought it was possible, but I am actually experiencing a lot of joy and happiness.  My life has progressed even though it felt like it should end when August’s life ended.

For well over a year I did not think I should or could live with out my son.  The only thing that kept me from offing myself was my since of obligation.  I didn’t want to add any more pain to the people in my life and, as silly as it sounds,  I was booked solid with work and never had enough time off for a proper suicide.  How do you explain that one to your boss?
“You might want to go a head and find my replacement.”
“Why,  are you quitting?”
“Sort of.”

Not to get all It’s a Wonderful Life on you but,  suicide is an incredibly selfish way out.  I suppose if  you’re a terrible person who causes a lot of misery for others it wouldn’t be selfish, but honestly, those are never the kind of people who kill themselves.  (Well, Hitler was a suicide, and his death definitely improved the world, but again, he was just selfishly stealing the chance for the victors to publicly humiliate him).  Suicides tend to be alienated, lacking a support group.  That’s the funny thing about a support group, even if it feels like the people around you are a burden and you’d rather be alone with your grief,  their presence, even if it’s annoying, is beneficial.    So I’m still here because of the people in my life and my work obligations.  That got me through the worst of it until I could start living again.

Now I need to make the next step past simple survival into actually living life.  I can’t do that and mourn at the same time.  So, I’m stating now publicly, to anybody who read this and to my son, should he be reading this from the great beyond,  that I’m taking off the sackcloth and ashes and will start honoring my son by embracing this wonderful life that he loved.  It’s alright to feel alright, this is normal after this much time.

Secondly,  I’m going to try to quit fearing public encounters where the topic of children may come up.  Death is part of the life package.  In the spirit of moving forward, I posted an interview I did several years ago at a premier where I worked my son into the shot.  You can see it at http://www.youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger.
There’s my son, August,  funny, enjoying life.  Clearly the two of us really love each other.  I kept this clip hidden for a long time but now I’m kind of glad that the world can see this great guy that I was lucky enough to have in my life.



1. me - December 11, 2009

You have taken a gigantic step sharing this video with us. I think that August must be very proud of you and relieved that he did not take your life away with him.
Yes, just be yourself during the holidays.

You have ‘miles to go before you sleep’, or as the spanish poet, Quevedo, would say “El tiempo, que ni vuelve ni tropieza”…time that neither stumbles nor returns.” Sorry to get so literary!

Peace and love for 2010 (I love this numer – ten is half of twenty…something good is going to happen.)

2. el cartero - December 13, 2009

hi, john.
i am writing you from asturias which is in-on (i do not like english prepositions) the north of spain.
today is raining again and a litle bit cold.
i hate to fell cold. here with your music and your rain it is warm.
i normaly spend some days of december in praga but i don´t think is going to be posible this year. never mind i will come here to say hello. don´t worry i just will say hello.

my best, colega.

the postman

3. me - December 13, 2009

Cartero, your english is better than mine!

“Colega” ? Now you are going to tell me that you are in the music business?
Sweet for you to say hello to Jonh.

John, the postman (nickname) has a very particular sense of humor. He is a great guy.

4. el cartero - December 13, 2009

well, in fact when i sing everybody look at me with their eyes very open and say: oh, cartero, your voice sound as good as your english.

sky stops crying. it is not raining again.

i´ll try to do my best with my english. it is not going to be easy… but i can talk as a litle child who is starting with it first words. anyway, to say just -hi- is not much dificultud. i love to say -hi-. i love that word.

sweet dreams.

5. el cartero - December 14, 2009


6. Linda - December 14, 2009

I am happy for you John, I am glad that you are finding your way through this.
I know life goes on but I am just not there yet, I do feel guilty every time I feel happy.
I loved the video clip that is truly a treasure, thank you for sharing it.
God Bless and Merry Christmas.

7. el cartero - December 17, 2009


8. el cartero - December 21, 2009


last saturday i was out having lunch with some peaple. i ate
fabes. fabes are something like beens… well, in fact are very diferent… i don´t know how to tell you what fabes are¡
so i will forget about fabes.

tomorrow i will expect a very boring day. but after eigth o´clock i hope to be able to do some shopping. i am talking about hats. yes, shopping for me it´s just to buy hats. i love them.

as soon as i have the oportunity of listening to your music
i will tell you.
i like very much leonard cohen and luis eduardo aute. i don´t think you know luis eduardo aute. he is a spanish singer and i am sure if you listen to him you will be very please. he is got a disc colled -slowly- with some words in english. he is a friend of another spanish singer: joaquín sabina. sabina gave a concert in madrid last tusday.

i am talking to much, sorry.

9. Charlie - December 21, 2009

Live is definitely good. And the love you and Aug have for one another will endure time and space and this earthly world we live in.
Thanks for being you John!

10. el cartero - January 18, 2010

mr.bohlinger, it would be nice you to write a soon about boots which help to walk and hats which give us the way to show our eyes
or i should say
hats which show the way to give our eyes
i don´t know because i get confuse very easy


11. el cartero - January 18, 2010

i didn´t mind to say: hi!
i just want to say: hi
not exclamations at all!
it is not time for any exclamations, it is time for going to sleep
or going for a walk in a quite mood
or maybe in shauting. it is up to you


12. rushchick - February 4, 2010

John- Thank you for sharing that video of you and August….. I have yet to watch the home videos of Lizzy. Maybe one day. It will be 3 years on the 25th of this month. Starting to find a little bit of happiness and joy in there without the guilt. Take care friend.

Leslie in Louisiana/RushChick

13. Gail Mendelman - September 21, 2010

Hi John,
I wrote to you a while ago to tell you that I loved the original post I read. I told you about my four year old son Mack who died in a drowning accident in July 2006 . I also you about his foundation and was really impressed with the kindness and generosity you showed.
With regard to this post, I thought I would stick in my two cents. I understand not talking about August to others but it’s not the way I am. When asked how many children I have, I always say that I have a daughter and that I lost my four year old son and trust me…it is most often a conversation stopper. Now…please understand that I am in no way passing any judgement…we are simply sharing experiences right? As long as I am alive, I will acknowledge my son. The guilt of not doing it is too much for me and although it may make others uncomfortable for a few moments…I don’t care. I mean that, I don’t care. When I was on griefnet which is a wonderful online support group. we used to say…say your child’s name loud and say it proud. And…one of my favourite quotes is…”The mention of my childs name may bring tears to my eyes, but it never fails to bring music to my ears.”
Just thought I’d write in. I hope life is treating you okay…it seems like it is. We are still in the land of the living John whether we like it or not. We can still laugh, experience joy but it all comes with a price. My last parting note to you is this and as a musician, I think you will appreciate it. I don’t feel guilty anymore if I go a certain amount of time without thinking of Mack. I have learned that there is no forgetting…that is impossible. I actually welcome the distraction because I know that there will be a hundred times in the day when I am slapped in the face with reminders that my son is not with me. The best way I ever heard it described is that my son is the soundtrack of my life and in quiet times, that it what I hear.
Peace John…

johnbohlinger - September 21, 2010

Hi Gail:

You are right, I know it. I can’t do that. I don’t think I could get through that introduction without crying and I’m not going to cry in front of people. You are right and it’s healthy but I’m not that guy. Thank you for what you’ve said.
God bless you.


14. Gail Mendelman - September 21, 2010

One day …you will be able to get through it without crying (at least not in front of people)…I promise! Thank you for not taking offense to my post.

15. Ellie - December 12, 2011

Hi my name is Ellie and I lost my son in June, I stumbled upon your article about August. I am home from work again on FMLA. The pain in my heart is overbearing. My tears are neverending. I was very close to my son, he was only 24, we shared so much together.

johnbohlinger - December 12, 2011

Hi Ellie:
I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s going to be awful for quite a while, but it does get better. Be good to yourself. Try and do things you enjoy, even if it’s just hiding out at home and watching funny movies or reading, what ever it takes to get through the holidays. You’re going to cry a lot, but you can still be thankful for the 24 years you had with your sweet son.

God bless you.


16. corked - May 15, 2013

Thanks so much for this. I’m a blogger coming from Huntington, United States and what you’ve said
here on wordpress.com could not be written much better.
Reading through this post reminds me of my first roommate, Andre.
He incessantly kept preaching about this. I
most certainly will send this material to him.
Pretty sure he will have a very good read.
I am grateful to you you for revealing this.

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