“A Birthday, An Old Hat, and Unexpected Tears”
Tonight was one of those nights. I went to Monday night yoga as usual, not really feeling any different than I had all day. It was Monday, and time to get back into my work routine. I ran into class a few minutes late, placed my yoga mat down on the floor and began to do the relaxation breathing. I closed my eyes and began visualizing a beautiful beach scene when suddenly out of nowhere………I could feel myself beginning to shake from the inside and then it happened.
Hot tears began streaming down my face.
Not now. Please not now. Not in this crowded room of women. I don’t want them to see me crying. I didn’t even know why I was crying. Where did these tears come from? I didn’t want everyone staring at me, and I didn’t want to try to come up with some reason I was crying.
I continued to do the breathing exercises and kept wiping the tears away from my face. As I lay there with nothing except my thoughts, suddenly I knew why I was crying. Yesterday had hit me like a ton of bricks. We celebrated my third child’s birthday who is now the same age as his older brother Mike who died.
As we sang happy birthday I wanted to scream, “This isn’t right. It’s not fair! This isn’t how it was ever supposed to be!”
My children were always Michelle, Mike and Joe. I called them the triplets because they were so close in age. Now things have changed. That’s no longer the family line-up. It’s now Michelle, Joe, and Tim and it doesn’t sound right. Worse yet, it doesn’t feel right.
I don’t think I’ll ever be “okay” with Mike missing from our family. He was always “my oldest son.” I don’t know how to count time anymore. Who is the oldest now? Mike or Joe? Mike’s life paused forever last year on May 22, 2015, and that space feels wrong. That space in our family hurts. My heart hearts. Everything about losing a child hurts.
As I watched my children at the birthday party yesterday, there was lots of laughter. We reminisced how we celebrated birthdays when they were younger. In fact, Joe said, “The birthday hat. Mom, you’re missing the birthday hat! We haven’t seen that old hat in years!”
“Oh, no we’re not missing the hat! You know I’d never throw that away!” I ran inside and grabbed the birthday hat that was worn every year by my children until they became adults. There it was — musty and dirty and definitely frayed around the edges. It was great to see so much laughter and to see that old hat make its appearance again.
But, yesterday’s laughter was different. Yesterday we were missing Mike. Without saying one word, we all felt it. We needed that moment with the birthday hat. We needed to see it again. We needed to picture Mike playing his silly antics as he wore the hat. We needed the hat to bring us to a place where we could feel Mike’s presence.
Yesterday, the meaning of the hat changed, though. The hat was passed on to the younger brother who is now the oldest brother. The hat is now a symbol of much more than birthday parties and young kids. That hat holds within it memories of treasured moments that only we as a family know about. That old hat will forever be a sacred memento of beautiful, happy times shared with Mike, the oldest brother who left us far, far too soon.
You are loved so much, Mike!
And, the hole in my heart grew a bit deeper as I gently placed the hat upon the shelf in my bedroom closet holding some of the most blessed, wonderful memories we have of my forever oldest son.
*If this story touched you because you have also felt the pain of child loss, I urge you to get a copy of “Child Loss — The Heartbreak and the Hope” today!
Our son’s 33rd birthday was May 12th, the day after his funeral. My husband and I went to the cemetery and wished him happy birthday and placed more flowers on his grave. I know that his birthday will be very difficult for the rest of my life.
I’m so very sorry. I totally “get it” about every birthday from now on being so difficult. It’s so hard when our visits to our children are at a cemetery. 🙁
Loretta Tweed aka Grace
Absolutely Beautiful! Thank-you for sharing. My son and I are really feeling the Loss of his little big sister and my ONLY daughter. My daughter Brittany passed away April 22, 2016. She was twenty-nine. I found her and called 911 for help…:( We love and miss her so very much. For so long it was the three of us. I am a single Mom. Their Dad my ex-husband divorced me when they were very young and re-married. It has just been the Three Musketeers or The Three Amigos for so long. It’s so hard without her here with us.
Loretta, I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter Brittany. It hurts to read this. It’s just so terribly hard — once there were three….I love the phrase “The Three Amigos” — one that I’ve used frequently myself. I hope that you will always consider yourselves “The Three Amigos” and find ways you can include Brittany in your lives always and forever. This is really a rough journey. My love to you.
My youngest son will reach that milestone this year. He will be the same age as my middle son who we lost July 2, 2012. I’ve had the same thoughts brewing in the back of my mind. I’m not sure how I’ll feel on his birthday, but thanks for sharing your own experience.
Charlotte, my special thoughts are certainly with you. I had no idea this particular birthday would hit me so hard. The grief came out of nowhere and felt like a punch to the heart. Maybe since you’re already thinking about it, you will be better prepared than I was. My special love to you, especially on July 2. Please let me know how things turn out.
Clara, I loved reading your story on ‘ the Birthday Hat” and all the variables around that. Sometimes I forget ( because I look at you as my mentor) that you too have suffered some horrid tragedies, and I can see Mike as being a HUGE loss for you. I can see how it consumes you and I can’t imagine how you deal with all that ( plus your other losses, your baby and your sister) and still look after all of us!!
I can’t help but believe in what you say : that the single most important factor in struggling through all of this is support. It is so true as I have been trying my hardest to work with that as best that is possible. I think my one obstacle is just me. I have isolated myself so much that I have no friends. Well, one set of true friends. And she is wonderful. Her name is Connie and she had to give birth to a dead baby at 6 months, many yrs. ago. For some reason this does not bother her. She was a lot older and took a chance with her second husband and tried just a few months later again( after the loss of her stillborn ) and delivered a healthy baby girl. Connie was almost 45 yrs. old and Alana now is 21. she states to me that if her 1st baby had lived she would never have had Alana., and would not change that for anything in the world. She is the closest person I know who has some understanding , and yet has come to complete peace with it all. I find it strange….but maybe not.
Anyway I do know how life can overcome you at the strangest of times.( like your yoga experience) We were out with our friends just the other night. Dinner and a movie type thing. I don’t know what happened to me, but all of a sudden I became extremely ill, and I had to leave. It was like Jesse’s death just out of the blue decided to kick me down and out , and out I went. We ended up having to go back to our place where I just cried and became a mess of tears and frustration, realizing that even when I am feeling OK., that this child loss can rear it’s ugly head and knock you flat without any warning. This horrid loss affects every fibre of my being consious or not. I can’t believe how vulnerable I have become. Fragile, weak , and constantly tired. And yet at the same time I know nothing could ever top the death of Jesse, and so why, I wonder, am I not strong??? I’m not afraid of death. I don’t worry. I’m happy right now with everything I have because ” things” mean nothing to me now. And yet I am afraid of the small stuff. Like getting on a plane and going to a wedding.( in chicago) What if I get sick? in a strange place? what if my body revolts on me and I have no control? ( like the other night)And this has not been the 1st time. Everytime I think I am getting better this unconsious force overpowers me. I’m almost afraid to leave to far away from home., although have gotten braver now driving around Vancouver., but that is my home town ( sort of) Anyway Clara, just thought I’d share this with you., and let you know what terific work you are doing ( and I certainly speak for myself)Thank-you for sharing about your family. You sound like you have a lovely family. Sometimes I wish I had had more children but I didn’t. My oldest son is motorcycling adcross the Rockies, over 1000.00 miles away to see me in 2 days and of course that is my 2nd greatest fear. I never used to give these things a single thought. Now however I realize that in a blink of an eye a person’s world can change forever………..
Dear Ev, Thank you so very much for your comments. Lovely as always and straight from the heart. Losing a younger child such as stillbirth is a different type of loss — in my book “Silent Grief” I go into great detail about miscarriage, stillbirth, loss by SIDS. I won’t go into detail here, but the hole felt by your friend is different from what your are feeling, especially since she went on to have another child. Sometime, just to educate yourself, get a copy of “Silent Grief.” It will give you an entirely new perspective as to why Connie is currently at peace with how things are in her life.
Oh, those fears! They are so tricky and sneaky, aren’t they? For whatever reason, Saturday night was my fear night. I felt weird to do this, but I called my two daughters and just said, “I have this terrible feeling like something really bad is going to happen. Please let me know that you’re okay.” They were both so understanding, thank goodness! They both assured me they were fine, and they kept checking in with me until I finally went to bed. Our minds run wild with fear because we’ve been through a terrible trauma. Losing a child is such a tragedy that we initially are filled with fear that something terrible is going to happen again. It’s on my mind subconsciously all of the time. I’m working really hard to push away the fear, and it’s subsiding some, but…..I still have my days.
I’m hoping that when your oldest son arrives home to see you that you have one of your very best, most joy-filled visits ever! My love to you! Thanks so much for your kind thoughts! <3
My heart goes out to you . Whenever my other 2 sons are home we feel the absence of our middle son who departed last October . The tears have caught me at work out of the blue. No one was there when it happened but most of my co-workers would understand. Take care and carry on.
Mike, Thank you so very much. The absence is HUGE in my family as I’m sure it is in yours. Mike was the one who brought so much “life” to every gathering. It’s painful for me to even think about it, let alone experience these occasions without him. I’m so glad you have understanding co-workers. That helps so much! My thoughts are with you. We’ll both carry on. Is there any other choice? I know my son would not want me to miss out on the joys of life and neither would your son, I’m sure.
Wow, I am in tears! I can relate to that. The different feeling of laughter and the birthdays we used to celebrate together and now without my youngest of three, it’s just not how it’s supposed to be.
Desire, Everything is so different now, isn’t it? You’re so right — it’s not supposed to be like this. Never, ever. 🙁
Thank you Clara! You have helped me so much. I just recently got your book in the mail. For some long I felt as if I was the only one that felt this way. At least now I know I’m not going crazy. Thank you
Kathy, There’s nothing crazy at all about you (or me). I honestly never thought this particular birthday would hit me so hard, but it did. I found myself crying again last night before bed. It’s such a strange, unnatural feeling not to have my oldest son being my oldest son. My love to you. I pray the book will help you in this journey of loss.
Sorry should say for so long
I didn’t lose a child but I lost my older brother an everything u said about your son is how I feel about my oldest brother it used to be rick,Kathleen an David but now it’s just Kathleen an David an that’s so outta the norm for me since my brother was the only person I had to talk to an the only person I can cry to without thinking I’m week. I’m just having a rough time right now with my marriage an I have nobody to talk to because nobody undstood like him. Thank u for sharing your story. I lost my brother on August 10 2015 he decided that he was gonna take his own life,, I called him 4:14 an he was pernouncd dead at 4:15 it was terrible when I got the news I just wish that maybe I can get help with this issue I still miss him everyday I adopted his dog after that an she makes me feel a little at peice because she was apart of him he loved his dog an I’m gonna love her unconditionally just as he did. Thank u again for sharing your story
Dear, dear Kathleen. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your brother. When my sister died at age thirteen, I thought I couldn’t survive. She was more than a sister. She was my best friend. My parents had a very volatile marriage, and my sister and I would help each other through the really hard times at home. When she died, I felt so lost and alone — like I couldn’t go on any more. I’m so glad you have your brother’s dog. Dog’s are amazing pets — they become our best friends sometimes. After my sister died, I found a stray dog in the pouring rain and I was allowed to keep him. I named him Luigi — I loved that little dog with all of my heart. He understood me. Hang in there and hopefully you can find a great local family of suicide support group. My special thoughts are with you. Thanks so much for your comment.
I know all too well the pain of losing a son. I feel for you and your family. I send you love and light, my son’s name is Sean. Peace dear friend. We will be with our boys again….
Ann, Thank you so very much. I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son, Sean. I daydream frequently about what it will be like to sit and talk with my son Mike again. I’m sure you think the same thoughts about Sean. That is going to be such a wonderful day!
Thank you for sharing your journey and emotions. No deeper hurt than the loss of a child.
Glenda, You’re so very welcome. It feels so much better when I share because every time I hear that others are feeling these same grief feelings, our grief is validated. We are traveling this road of grief together — not an easy road to travel at all. 🙁
I’ve had those feelings since losing my oldest daughter, Hope, when she was 17 in 2012. My youngest daughter just turned 19 on the 28th of June. She was only 14 when she lost her best friend. The emotions that arise around birthdays can be so overwhelming. My daughter said it best on the two year anniversary of Hope’s passing. “Two years seems like nothing compared to the lifetime of now being without you”.
When the kids were little, I used to sign letters and cards “EJJ” for Eric, Jason and Jenna. Now there is a huge hole in the middle of everything where Jason used to be. The year our daughter turned 19, which was the age Jason died, I was very aware that she had outlived him. It will never seem fair. He was the best and brightest.
Rebecca, I’m so very sorry. I understand so much about the age thing. I don’t think many people (who haven’t lost a child) think about this. I know that I never thought about it until Mike died. Life is so unfair, and this is one more time when life has been totally unfair. Please know that my thoughts are with you. I’m so sorry for the loss of your Jason.
I love reading all the silent grief stories, tonight I feel like sharing my story. Three years ago my sons estranged wife fled with his two kids, Noah 4 and Lily 2. We had no ideal where they were for 3 months,then out of the blue she called wanting money. She sounded strange and was threatening to kill herself. My son spoke to her for hours on the phone. She finally agreed to let us come get the kids, they were 4 hours away. We were so excited as we packed the car to go get the kids, of course we had trunk full of presents because today was Lily’s birthday, we had big party planned for when we got home. Noah was autistic, we were so worried how he was progressing, at 4 he still wasn’t talking and needed great deal of attention. As were arrived at the house she had given us directions for there were police and fire trucks everywhere. They were bringing a body out of a burned house, omg it was the kids mother. We tried to run into house hollering for our babies, but they held us back, too late there was nothing we could do. Instead of a birthday party we spent all day at police department. We were shell shocked all three were dead, then as we sat in that cold been room, a detective came and told us, the kids didn’t die from the fire, she had beaten and killed them, stabbing Noah throat, then killed herself. I can only remember sitting in floor holding and rocking my 24 year old son, like when he was a baby. Half time I didn’t know if the sobs and screams were his or mine. That day Feb 23, 2016, Lily’s birthday, changed our lives forever.
We brought them home to our little town for the funeral. Press were all over us, did we know she had mental problems, did she ever beat the kids before. I couldn’t believe all this, things like this didn’t happen in our little farming community. That was something you read about in national inquirer. We knew she would act strange at times, but she was always the best mom. Those kids were never mistreated that we knew of. As I was making arrangements at the funeral home, my son couldn’t handle it all, his only request was that the kids be buried with their mom, the bodies came in from the autopsy, the man asked me did I want to see them. Being a nurse I had to see, when he took me down to the morgue, she was on gurney on one side of the room and the kids were on a gurney, feet to feet on the other side of the room. I went to them held and kissed them, inspected the proof of their beatings, knife wounds, something that haunts me deeply, no one was there to protect the children. As I walked across the room to her, I swear she turned her head toward me and with the most evil look on her face, she sneered and hissed at me. I stopped in my tracts, turned to look at our babies, then turned back to her and her head was straight and the morgue sheet over her face. To this day, I know for a fact I met the devil. I vowed to her she would never hurt our kids again.
We had the funeral, buried the kids next to their mother, because they loved their mother. Her parents came but wouldn’t have much to do with anything, they didn’t want the news to leak out in their town. They wouldn’t even help pay for the funerals, and have never visited the graves.
My husband and I paid for everything, even her headstone. My husband says she wasn’t in her right mind, so he feels that wasn’t really her that killed our babies, so he feels no ill will against her. I wish I could say the same, but I do put a lonely flower on her grave and pray for her soul everytime I’m out there.
Sorry such long post but this is something I haven’t shared before and feel the need tonight. Hard to believe it’s been three years, some days I think we’re getting through and beginning to heal. Then other days I can’t even get out of bed, the hole in my heart is so deep and so painful. We are not the same people we were before the great sadness.
Gaila, This is one of the stories of loss that I will remember forever and ever. How terribly tragic! I’m so very, very sorry for so much trauma and devastation. I don’t know how you managed to write that story, but I’m so glad that you were able to share. Have you done any journaling or writing of your feelings along this path of grief? I’m sure there are days when you have to ask yourself if this really happened. This is one of those tragedies that we like to think is not possible, yet we know in real life these things do happen. It sounds as though the children’s mom definitely had mental issues. Nobody in their right mind could ever do that to a child. Never, ever! I hope and pray you are taking care of yourself. When you visit those sweet little ones at the cemetery, remind yourself over and over again that they will never feel pain again. They will never know fear. They will never see anger. They are wrapped in the arms of a loving Father where they will remain forever and ever. My special love to you.