By Danita Hiles
How do you deal with the days?
You know the ones. The ones that are circled in red on your calendar and/or stained with tears in your heart. The days that meant so much in the life of the one you loved and the life you shared. That first year, all of those days loomed large. We had a whole year to get through all of the firsts without my husband Dave. Birthdays, holidays, wedding anniversaries and the anniversary of his death. As the days loomed large, and the clocked ticked by, I knew I needed to come up with a plan to deal with dates that used to be set aside for celebrations and now were simply reminders of what wasn’t and would never be. Especially for the sake of my girls. Here are the plans I pondered:
Option #1 – Avoidance…pull the covers over my head until the day was over. This didn’t work. Kids are made for LIVING and life does indeed go on. At ages nine and three, they still needed lunch and laundry and Mommy!
Option #2 – Wallow…spend the day looking at pictures and sobbing, talking about all that we missed ! This, also was not a hit. We have cried and talked a lot about Dave as a family, but we needed a tangible expression for the day that went beyond our tears.
Option #3 – Remember…find a way to commemorate, honor, make a memory and grieve grace-fully.
As I talked to the Lord about it, He reminded me of all the times in scripture that He told folks to remember specific events or people. Most of the time, He encouraged them to find a visual way to mark a particular battle or victory or miracle. Many times it involved a pile of rocks placed in remembrance and named for the occasion. In 1 Samuel 1:12 , Samuel he took a stone and placed it between two towns following a great victory against the Philistines. He named it ‘Ebenezer’ saying thus far the Lord has brought us. God calls His people to intentional remembrance of His faithfulness.
As we approached the first anniversary of Dave’s death, we made plans to travel to Pittsburgh to visit the cemetery where he is buried and spend time with his family. I awoke that October 3 to a glorious fall Pennsylvania day. While other families were picking apples at the orchard and raking piles of colorful leaves, we headed to the cemetery with Dave’s mom. Because of a Navy glitch, we had not yet seen the gravestone with his name in bronze. I don’t think there are many things more wretched than taking your young children to their father’s gravesite for the first time.
“Please Lord’, I whispered, ‘help my girls. Help me to be strong. Help us to face this grace-fully. Give me the words to say, Lord. Be with us.’
Armed with Pittsburgh Steelers balloons and happy face balloons, we walked up the hill in the crisp fall breeze.
Kelsey started squealing,’ Mommy , look, look’. As I followed her pointing finger I saw a mother horse and her baby standing at the fence adjoining the cemetery. As we stared, another mom and foal came over to the fence, staring at us curiously.
‘Mom, can we go…please?’ Kelsey pleaded. With a slow nod I released them to go.
My girls went running over to the fence, completely captured by the horsey families in front of them, completely oblivious to our original purpose for this visit. Dave’s mom and I walked slowly to the grave arm in arm. Yes, it was just as impossible to believe as I had imagined to see his name on the marker.
Later, after the girls came running over, full of pony stories, we released our balloons to the heavens with prayers and love and a wonderful time of sharing memories of this man who had loved us all completely. I had to laugh at the amazing provision of our gracious God. On a day of sadness and remembrance and tears, He had provided ponies and balloons for two little girls to have in their minds on the first anniversary of their daddy’s death. They still talked about the horses that God brought to the cemetery for them!
We have been through a lot of those ’day’s since that first year. And I always try to find some way to acknowledge the day and walk in intentional remembrance. Father’s Day might find us at the zoo or a ball game. A birthday might include his favorite meal or dessert. When the one year anniversary of my mom’s death came this summer, we baked brownies to take to the fire station. A small token for the same guys who had helped her so many times when she fell. I think when we face a day that looms large on our calendar and in our heart, doing something tangible somehow releases our heart from the paralyzing grip of grief and allows God to heal us just a little bit more.
Here are a few practical ideas for your days of remembering….
- Release helium balloons with notes attached. I know the theology of this is not sound J , but there is something comforting in writing down our thoughts and sending them heavenward.
- Send a card to someone your loved one loved. A mother in law, sister, brother , or close friend would treasure a note from you about the one both remember with such affection.
- Along those lines, consider doing something for someone else in memory of your loved one. Brownies for the rescue squad, cookies for hospice workers, present a book to your school or library in their memory.
- Make a memory : Plan to do something you would not ordinarily do – something that would have made your special one smile. We took a trip to Heinz field where the Steelers play and it was such a great memory for my girls.
- Be intentional in your ‘remembering’. Pull out the photo albums, share favorite memories and funny stories. My kids love hearing about goofy things that Daddy used to do i.e. putting underwear on his head while folding the laundry! Eat something wonderful that they would have loved. There is no finer combination than laughter through tears followed by chocolate.
- Give thanks. This is a hard one. But for me, very important. Be thankful for the wonderful memories you do have. Give them back to the Lord and He will meet you there. (1 Thess. 5:16)
As you remember … know that God sees and He knows.
You are not alone.
We are with you, shoulder to shoulder – standing on His promises together.
Phil 1:3 ‘I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…’
Psalm 34: 18 ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit’.
Psalm 16: 11 ‘You will make known to me the path of life, there will be joy again in your presence, and eternal pleasures forevermore. ‘