Posts Tagged ‘grief’

On Grieving During the Holidays: The First Thanksgiving Without My Son

My 28-year-old son died in July.

Writing these words stops me. I sit in my seat, staring at them.

How can they be true?

It is hard to move past these words today, in particular. It is one day before Thanksgiving, and I am wondering how I will make it through tomorrow—the first big holiday without my son.

Jon and IJonny would have turned 29 in August. My wife, my daughter, and I survived his birthday with tears and memories and laughter, and then with more tears. Yet, there were fewer expectations on his birthday, fewer customs, and fewer traditions to uphold.

Whereas his birthdays have morphed throughout the years, and we have spent many without him, Thanksgiving is supposed to be a certain way. There is supposed to be turkey and wine and football. We are supposed to be loud and boisterous. We are supposed to be surrounded by family.

We are supposed to be thankful—thankful for the blessing of our children.

And Jonny is supposed to be there.

My wife, my daughter, and I will have Thanksgiving at my house, along with a handful of friends and family.

I wonder: Who will sit in Jonny’s chair? Will anyone sit in his chair, or will it sit empty—a loud vacancy reminding us that things are not as they are supposed to be?

We are certainly not the first family to face the fear of that first Thanksgiving. So many others have survived the holidays after a divorce, the first Thanksgiving after the collapse of a business, or the first Thanksgiving after the death of a spouse.

Today, it feels impossible to simultaneously grieve and celebrate—and yet, that is what so many of us are being called to do tomorrow.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend. We spoke of Jonny, and I told her that I was worried about the holidays.

Felice said something that has stayed with me.

“Remember that Jonny doesn’t die again on Thanksgiving,” she said.

Jonny died on July 27, 2015. On that day, we began to grieve. We began processing the fact that we would never again hug him or laugh with him or share a joke with him. He died on a hot day in July.

It happened once. It will never happen again.

It already happened, and it will not happen tomorrow.

I remind myself of this over and over because I want to give myself permission to move forward. And I want this for all of Jonny’s friends and family members: my wife, my daughter, Jonny’s girlfriend, and his many, many friends.

I do not want us to feel compelled to relive all of our grief, afraid to create new moments because we are so tragically lost in the past. I want us to make new memories, discarding this notion of what is supposed to be, and mindful that although we are grieving, we are also recovering.

Jonny does not die again tomorrow, and we are recovering.

On the Passing of My Son

My son was taken from us on July 27, 2015. He was just one month and one day shy of his twenty-ninth birthday. The loss was extreme and shocking for everyone who knew him—for his mother and his little sister, for his many friends and his girlfriend, and for me.

Before Jonny was born, my wife, Chris, and I were happy. Then Jonny turned us into parents, and in doing so, he conceived a warmer, richer blanket of love than we had ever known. If you are a parent, you know.

Today, twenty-nine years later, it is hard to imagine that there was once a world in which Jonny had never existed. It was an honor to be Jonathan Thomas Rose’s father, and I am, at times, petrified of this new world in which he once again no longer exists.

A few nights ago, Chris and I sat on the porch with our daughter, Katie, discussing all of the people whose lives have been touched by Jonny. On the front of Katie’s mind was one of his childhood friends. Katie shared a series of text messages she exchanged with this friend, who had reached out to Katie for comfort.

The text messages Katie sent to Jonny’s friend said things like:

• “You’re never going to be ready [to accept this and move forward]. There isn’t going to be an exact moment when know you’re ready. It’s a gradual process day in and day out. Every day will just get a little easier.”

• “Take it as a point as reflection: Do you want to be in pain every day or do you want to love life and have life love you back?”

• “Some days may be harder than others but somewhere along the line we’ll find internal peace. We will feel Jonny in the things that connected us to Jonny and know he is with us.”

Sitting on that porch, I was in awe at the depth of Katie’s interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. It is an honor to be Katie’s father, too.

I considered what I could learn about constructive grieving from my 23-year-old daughter’s words. This is what I came up with …

It is easy to choose happiness when the sun is smiling down on you—when your healthy newborn son’s eyes are locked onto yours, when he smiles at you from the rink after winning his first hockey tournament twelve years later, or when he tells you he has fallen in love.

It’s harder to choose happiness when this too-young man dies.

Yet in a time of extreme grief, this is when the choice becomes so much more important.

No matter what the loss—whether it is the loss of a loved one, or something less shocking like the failure of a business—our mettle is tested by whether we choose to surrender to despair or rise from it.

Plenty of bad days have won, and I am certain I will succumb to others. I will lament the unfairness of a father losing his son—of a child dying before the parent he created.

But day in and day out, I will choose to return to this…

There was once a world in which Jonathan Thomas Rose had never existed, but for 28 years, 10 months, and 30 days, I was given a gift of knowing an extraordinary young man.

I will speak of him fondly and often. I will speak of him with love, and I will speak of him with much, much happiness.