Last weekend was the twelfth anniversary of my older son Brent’s transition. It was actually a loving, peaceful two days, for which I was very grateful.
TWO days? How? Why?
The two-day part is easy to explain… Brent had a motorcycle accident one Friday on his college campus, ASU in Arizona. We were notified by phone and on the long flight from Boston, unbeknownst to us, the doctors declared him brain-dead. That date is on his death certificate. But we spent that night in the hospital with him, and took him off life support on Saturday. During this time we felt his spirit’s presence, and we had our hands on his heart when it stopped beating. That is the date on his gravestone and in my heart, as I couldn’t let that last day with Brent be ignored.
How am I grateful? Because I have worked hard to heal, I went on a spiritual journey that changed my life, and I have reached out and helped others. I am now convinced that Brent and all of our children and our loved ones’ spirits continue… and that we can have an ongoing relationship with them — if we keep an open mind and get the resources to help us.
Why am I grateful? Because I am healed, because I know that what is important, is to focus on the love and the positive memories. I know that Brent’s life was a GIFT to me, even if it was for too short a time. I would much rather have known him for 21 years and to endure the grief, than to have missed knowing him. Now, as I do have an ongoing loving relationship with him, it is motivation for me.
I too, am grateful for all the wonderful, loving, supportive people I have in my life — my remaining son Brad, my husband Jim, my stepchildren Melanie, Christopher & Matthew, my sister and brother and their families, my extended families and my legion of friends. Many of them reached out to me during those two days last weekend. We shared stories of Brent that gave me comfort. His birthday is in May also, so that’s the month when I have the most reflection. I did a pictorial tribute to Brent on Facebook then, and shared a poem that he channeled to me through a trusted friend. On his angel-versary, I shared a video-tape of the ocean for a moment of silence to him. The feedback I got was lovely, it made me feel good. The icing on the cake was flowers from my husband and dinner with my son Brad.
I realize that not everyone this level of support system, but I’d like to share three things you can do to feel grateful, even on those ‘angel-versaries’:
1. Perform some sort of ritual to honor the anniversary. Some ideas:
- Light a candle and display in a prominent place with their picture
- Plant a flower or tree that you can watch grow, at home or at the grave
- Post pictures of your loved one on social media or send an email
- Have a pot-luck gathering at home or meet at a restaurant; ask participants to tell positive or funny stories about the loved one
- Visit the grave, plant flowers, leave a token or release balloons with notes
- Host an annual event/fundraiser for a worthy cause or participate in one
- Arrange a memorial church service
- Volunteer for the day, helping others
- Play the music they loved and walk in nature
2. Reach out to family or close friends and remind them of the anniversary and ask for support; an hour in person or by phone. If you don’t have that available, ask someone you met in a support group, or use one of your scheduled therapy sessions in this way.
- Email or show them a picture of your loved one and explain you want to spend some time talking about them.
- Recall and tell funny stories about your loved one – that make you smile. Ask if they have any stores, if they knew your loved one.
- Notice that you can almost feel your loved one’s presence, smiling :-)
3. Spend some time alone – reflecting on the gift of their life
- Light a candle, get a beloved photo, relax and practice some deep breathing (or meditation). Just close your eyes and breathe slowly into your belly for a count of 4, out to a count of 6 (at least 3 times)
- Recall positive memories of times you had together
- Journal about those times, about how your are feeling, or write your loved one a letter (TRUST that they will get it!)
For me, the first anniversary was the worst. It got a bit better after the third, then better in general with an occasional setback on the 5th, 8th and 10th anniversaries. It’s different for everyone. Part of what I did to memorialize Brent was to raise money for scholarships related to things he cared about, did plantings at his grave and released balloons. But most importantly, I reached out to help others. Locally, I founded The Compassionate Friends of Greater Newburyport, MA. Now expanding that to a national level, I published a book “A Butterfly’s Journey” and offer individualized virtual support to help families struggling with grief after the loss of a child to find hope and happiness again. I also work with other organizations to help improve their support of these families… motivated by and in memory of Brent.
Wishing you grateful angel-versaries… XO