Reassessing the Grief Game Plan for the Holidays It’s A Wonderful Life December 10, 2009Posted by johnbohlinger in Dealing with Grief after Losing your child., Death of your child, Grieving Parents, Guilt and Grief.
Tags: Death and the Holidays, Grieving through Christmas
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?”
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.