Loss and Reflection
This week in the US we remember and honored those tragically lost on 9/11. The phenomenally brave acts of so many, the heartbreaking loss of so many. Experiencing many of those feelings brought back loss in general for me as well.
This week, on September 10th, would have been the 61st birthday of my sister-in-law, Fran. She tragically passed 12 years ago in a terrible drowning accident. Although so painful, there are so many lessons learned from such a tragedy as well as that void that remains to this day.
I still clearly remember the agony of this tragedy at the time. There was so much confusion, shock, visits to the hospital and ultimately, the goodbye. One of the things I was woefully unprepared for was helping my young children understand what was happening. Should I let them go see her on life-support? How do I explain that? And how do I explain that, no, things don’t always work out how you want, and then what? How to I address the feelings they have when they don’t even know how to express them? How do I do that, when I’m still not feeling entirely stable?
I remember sticking with being real. Seeing me cry, seeing me feel angry, seeing me love on others. I remember talking with them and listening to them with a renewed intensity - catching code words/body language with how they were really processing this ordeal. Helping them to feel safe (as possible), heard and loved. Checking in as time went by.
And sometimes you won’t know how it will affect your kids until later. About 6 months after her death, my son (in 6th grade) wrote an essay. He brought it home and I saw it sitting on the counter. I started reading it and was moved and amazed of the strength of his feelings and how he expressed them in this essay. It opened the door to talk more about it and go a bit deeper. Difficult? Yes. Strengthening and bonding - without a doubt. There was healing in saying - this still hurts and I don’t understand it.
Now, years later, I can say there were four key things to for myself and as a mom to focus on after this type of experience - to work through the loss.
*Be in the present moment.
Life is short, enjoy every moment, let go, live & love fully. We’ve all heard that. We agree with it, but life is life and we get wrapped up into stuff. We get so distracted and we forget. So, one ideas is that if you have lost someone, you can have their picture in a place that you see often, everyday. When you glance at it, stop. Breathe. Reconnect with the happy memories. Invite gratitude, invite love. Remind yourself for that moment, that day, you will live fully — because you get this moment to do so.
Release hard feelings and stop beating yourself up. If you had a chance to chat with that person, would you want to go over everything that’s bad, hard, rough, intense and not so perfect in your life? No. Would they review those same things from their life while they were in the flesh? No. You would be laughing over the “remember when’s” and the best times. Ruminate on those and determine to create new “remember when’s” with those around you right now.
Even years later, we think about the loss and maybe feel like we wish would could just do something. So do something. Like, buy the person behind you in Starbucks their drink in the name of your loved one. Donate to their favorite charity. Donate to a charity that works with what they experienced or died from. Have a birthday party for them if it’s helpful for family members to reminisce and be able to laugh together.
They loved you - surely they want you to love you. Put in practices that honor you - and it honors what was important to them. They wouldn’t allow anyone to say bad things about you, so don’t you either. Watch your self-talk and trade it out for what they would say about you.
Remembering basck, at the time of Fran’s death, I was about 6 months pregnant with my bonus baby. I will never forgot how she was so excited - over the moon - about this baby coming. I was so devastated that she would never meet the baby.
But, she will not be forgotten. Six months later welcomed into the world: Brianna Fran Bodnar.
(Actually check out more to this story in my book, The Perfect Cupcake, a Momoir)