Heart Lessons

What’s a mother to do on the day of her child’s birth when that child is no longer alive?
Tomorrow is Jennifer’s birthday; she would be 32 years old. How should I spend that day? This year I’ll be with all three brothers and their wives, celebrating an early Thanksgiving while Paul is in the country. It always helps me to be with family.
It’s taken me a few years to learn what helps me on these days of remembrance, but each griever is different. I’m sure what I don’t want to do — I DON’T want to go to the cemetery and sit by her grave, but for some people, they wouldn’t be anywhere else. I find that going to her grave makes me incredibly sad, and I don’t need a reminder to be sad. Larry and I seldom go to the cemetery, but we understand that it can bring comfort to some.
The first year after Jennifer died I filled the days around her birthday with meeting friends for dinner and going to a bridal shower for Jennifer’s roommate. Even though I was dreadfully sad those days, it was on the morning after her birthday that I didn’t think I could get out of bed. I experienced a depression that physically knocked me back to bed. I struggled at school all day, finally had to write a note to students on the board: “Yesterday was Jennifer’s birthday.” They were so good, and we made it through the day somehow. But the next day, I knew I needed help. I’d never felt so despondent, feeling nothing. I saw my family doctor and began taking a prescribed anti-depressant. I realized that this exhausted feeling was not just being tired; it was depression, similar to the feeling I had after my mother died several years ago.
Our first Thanksgiving we made plans to be out of town; I’m so glad we did because Jennifer’s birthday is often just a week before Thanksgiving. We followed the advice in Charlie Walton’s book When There Are No Words. It really helped to be somewhere besides home; we went to Kansas to visit Larry’s brother.
Each year following I knew I should take a personal day from school. I did not trust myself to be able to teach. Depression could sap all my energy, and I needed all that energy when teaching 8thgraders. I let my students know ahead of time that I would not be at school on the day of Jennifer’s birthday. They were always interested in what I planned to do. I also learned that I needed to give my students a brief summary of Jennifer’s death early in the school year. By doing so I could occasionally refer to something she did or how she earned a college scholarship when it fit with our discussion. I hesitated to share her story at first; it felt like I did it for my benefit, but I eventually learned that my students connected with my grief. Their lives were not the typical middle class family of two parents with steady jobs, living in the suburbs. They were all too familiar with trauma or grief or violence, and they could relate to what had happened to me.
I usually made a specific plan for November 17th.   Some years I met a friend who traveled this journey with me, and we would have lunch together. Other times I visited someone in need or went to a peaceful garden in town. One year my friends gathered to make cookies to send to soldiers in Iraq as a way of remembering the many ways Jennifer served others. Larry has faithfully tuned in to what I need throughout this journey of grief and knows that recalling memories are not helpful to either of us. I need a distraction, just doing something a little different helps.
I don’t have many journal entries of my thoughts on her birthday, but I found this one from 2005:
Jennifer would be 25 today; Larry reminded me. Where would she be today? What would she be doing? I talked about her at school this week and the legacy she left. Met with some new friends who did not know her and shared the story of her death.
Before her birthday that year I attended a women’s retreat that helped me prepare my soul. We practiced meditation, the Jesus Prayer, and studied the concept of Sabbath Rest. It was an emotional weekend for me in many ways with old friends but also time for silence and deep reflection. I spent time afterwards reading The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life  by Tony Jones and continuing to meditate and journal.
These times that renew my spiritual walk and refocus on Scripture are like filling up a well. When my well is empty, my heart suffers; I need to daily fill my heart and soul with God’s promises and being still in His presence.
Counting these joys in 2012:
#3090. intimate moments with God through the practice of prayer, meditation, and Scripture study#3091. the infant life of Jennifer

Birthday 3 years old

1st grade

Junior High Birthday

#3092. the pre-school life of Jennifer
 #3093. the elementary school years of Jennifer
#3094. the junior high years of Jennifer

High School Graduation with best friend, Brooke

#3095. the high school years

Moving into dorm Freshman Year

#3096. the college years
 #3097. her life as a child of the King
#3098. her new home at the throne of the King

One thought on “WHAT’S A MOTHER TO DO?

  1. Pingback: Brokenhearted: still Act 3 | Counting Joy Blog

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