I remember past Holidays having our whole family together and feeling so good. So thankful. I felt proud of the amazing life we had together. I would look at my husband and children all laughing, having a good time. I would pull out Christmas decorations and clean and listen to Christmas music as I set up the tree. Before Phil died, they were all on the verge of adulthood finding their way in life. They were playful and would be joking together. I remember being so grateful to have them. That feeling of joy. A sense of peace that all was right in my world in that moment. We were all safe and we were all together.
It occurred to me that many families had sickness, pain, divorce and even death. I knew it would shadow our home someday and as most parents, I hoped it would be years away, a natural progression of either Paul or myself that died first. I couldn't imagine it being one of my children.
Changes in the Family Dynamic when a Child Dies
When a person dies, it changes the family dynamic. Our family is different now. There are several threads of sadness in the fabric of our Holidays. We get together, cook, share a meal and we light a candle for Phil. A candle some of us didn't want to blow out at the end of the day. There is an unseen, unspoken threat to our happy time together. It is there the entire time, shadowy, lurking, big, and looming. Yet unacknowledged. Silent. Like an iceberg. We only show each other the tip. The surface. What is above the water. The real danger lies beneath all of us. Typically anger or hurt comes out and the deeper we go into the depths, the more the uncontrollable sadness shows up. Sad to the core. We are all good at NOT speaking about Phil other than the candle because for some of us, it triggers involuntary tears. It triggers acknowledgment of what lies deep down below the surface. There is danger there. We may not make it back to the surface if we go that deep.
The Thanksgiving Family Photo without Our Loved One.
Every year we have taken photos of the family on Thanksgiving. It is somewhat of a tradition and this year was no different. Though I do think it is the first year since Phil died that we chose to take a family photo. It is simply too difficult to have the empty space in the photo where he should be standing. We did it. Most of us were able to push aside the missing loved one long enough to smile and not think how messed up it was that Phil wasn't there. I kept thinking our photo was no longer balanced. Two brothers, two sisters and mom and dad with the baby. That is how it was always done. We are forced to do something different and make it work. I justified in my mind that now it should be more balanced with an even number of people…except I knew it wasn't right.
The Missing Piece of the Puzzle. Phil.
I realized Phil was my helper. He would run to the store and get the last minute items I forgot. He would take out the trash. He would get on the phone and let everyone know when the Holidays were and give them the details. He was always the first one there. He would enroll his siblings in coming to mom and dads house. Now that falls on me and it is awkward. For some reason, we all love each other, but when we get together, we think of Phil. Some of us project our sadness and anger on each other during the Holidays. Others avoid it altogether and make an appearance and then leave. Some have nearly abandoned the "new" family that was created when Phil left. They have gone and found other families to spend the Holidays with so they don't have to face the death of the sibling demon or deal with the sad mom. Yet another has decided to spend time with "just" mom and dad and reject the ways of the ungrateful siblings. Each is coping in their own way.
The Solution to a Grieving Family at the Holidays
There could be a solution. I'm not sure. Some say it takes time. Others say we go through the sadness. Others say you never get over it. I think I can choose. I am more of the mindset that you go through it and take it in the moment. Lean on each other and cry. Hug each other and smile. Remember Phil in a grateful manner and be grateful for what and who we have now. Of course, it isn't up to me as each person has their own way of grieving. Some of my kids don't want to bring it up. If they put it somewhere safe in their mind and close the door, it will go away. Sounds logical, right? Only the mind knows it is still there, lurking behind door number 1. The door that becomes larger over time. At some point, I fear they will be forced to fling that door open and deal with what lies beyond it. I have come to the conclusion that I don't have a solution to this problem. I will love my children. Invite them to the Holidays. Do what I can to keep our family close. They will learn to cope. Coping looks different to everyone. Some struggle more than others. There is no right way to cope and there isn't only one way to cope. There are, however, effective ways to cope and ineffective ways to cope.
What is the Take Away for You?
Right before Phil died, I was coaching and loving it. My husband and I had worked hard to turn our turbulent marriage around with massive amounts and years of personal growth training. I was contributing to the community and doing community service. I was at my ideal weight and looked better than I did in my 30's. At 49 I looked good, felt good and had built an amazing marriage and relationship with my children. I was taking on my greatest love, public speaking, training, coaching. My husband had just left his job he had been at for 20 years to come sell real estate with me. We were making more money than we ever had and building a productive real estate team. We had a nice home in a highly desired neighborhood that we had remodeled over the years. Our kids were all thriving. We had our granddaughter that we adored and we spent the majority of our free time with Ava.
A week before Phil died I would never have believed I could go as low as killing myself. That wasn't even in my realm. There are so many suicides during the Holidays. I get it. The Holidays bring up memories of past Holidays when there was joy, love, comfort and family time. If someone doesn't have that now, it creates a deep sense of loss. Suicide is where people go when they have no coping skills. They don't have the mindset tools needed to cope. I know how to cope with life's ups and downs. I have those tools. I think people who kill themselves often see no way out. It could be financial problems. Poor relationships. Poor Health. Emotional struggles or at a deeper level, it could be Spiritual. Many hit bottom when these things all collide. A greater health issue leads to less income and less income puts a strain on a relationship and spiritual life becomes nonexistent. I began to struggle in all of these areas. Emotionally, I was a wreck. I quit meditating and abandon my spiritual practices. Physically I began to pack on weight which in turn affected my health. I wanted to feel bad. I wanted to look bad. How can I look or feel good when my baby died? Part of me died when Phil died and I didn't want to be here anymore. I did some heavy lifting in my life to really look at how I was operating. When I looked it was a victim mentality. A selfish mindset. It was all bullshit feeling sorry for myself.
I call Bullshit on Myself and You can too!
I would tell myself, it would be okay if I was gone because everyone was already sad. It's not like it would make them sadder. Bullshit. I would hear bullshit in my mind whenever I attempted to justify. I had trained my mind to call myself out on my bullshit. Paul could find another woman who would hike with him. Bullshit. Paul didn't want another woman! My family didn't need me. I was so sad all the time, it only made it worse. Bullshit. My family needed me more than ever. Everyone had suffered a loss. I was going to die anyway, why not just do it now? Bullshit. It was a chickenshit way out and very selfish and self-serving to boot. Does this mean I have a judgment on suicide? No. It means I have compassion. I had a toolbox full of tools and was still contemplating how I could cope with this situation. Like going to the gym, lifting weights is hard at first and when you keep lifting and showing up, you become stronger. I decided I would go to the mental and emotional gym daily and face the sadness head-on and defeat it. I am a strong person with a strong mind and plenty of mindset tools and if I couldn't do it, no one could. I pushed through. I talked myself off the ledge daily. I fell to the floor and allowed myself to feel the overwhelming pain. In the end, it is always up to me. I choose life.