I attended the TCF virtual national conference this past weekend. It was tough. It was uplifting. It was hopeful. It was heartbreaking. There were so many emotions experienced in one weekend. I laughed. I cried. I heard stories of incredible loss and shared my own story of loss in each of the “Sharing Sessions” for which I had signed up. I can’t begin to describe the feeling of belonging, albeit virtually, at this conference. (By the way, the conference is recorded, so if there are any bereaved parents, siblings, or grandparents who missed it, you can still register and view the sessions.)
Over 1,000 bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents listened to the inspiring, poignant message from keynote speaker Scarlett Lewis. (Scarlett founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, which helps people build a culture of love, resilience, forgiveness, and connection in our communities. Scarlett is the mother of Jesse Lewis, who was killed in his classroom during the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.) We heard from other keynote speakers; bereaved parents Dennis Apple and Peggi Johnson, as well as bereaved sibling Zander Sprague, who likewise shared their stories of loss with transparency and hope. No one left out the pain involved in their story, nor the difficulty of surviving, but spoke of, as the saying goes, “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
The conference is typically in July (though next year is slated for Aug. 5-7th in Houston, TX) which is, for me, a godsend. With our son’s death date of July 29, I look forward to the conference because I know it’s my safe place, a haven where I know I can gather with others who “get it,” who will never ask, “Haven’t you moved on?” or “Why aren’t you over “it” yet?” They understand “seasoned” tears and don’t negate one’s pain, no matter how long it’s been. They inherently understand the agony and anxiety which accompany the weeks and months prior to impending death dates; that painful, slow march to the “crapiversary” date year after year. They, too, taste the bittersweet of birthdays and holidays and affirm that there is never sweet without the bitter on these significant dates.
It was a great conference. There were tears, to be sure, but there was also much laughter and joy. There was happiness in sharing our beloved children, siblings, and grandchildren with others who welcome their name and life story, who aren’t just interested in how they died, but in how they lived and in who they were. It was refreshing to be with people who don’t look at you funny or stare back in awkward silence when you bring up the name of your child who has died. It was healing to share about Matt’s personality, likes, dislikes, and interests. There is a deep-seated joy in hearing the statement, “Tell me about your child” and being invited to speak his name. I tell almost daily of my surviving children, but when you have a child who has died, you don’t often receive an invitation to talk about them.
Yet grief is tricky, peculiar, and confusing. There are days the pain is too great, where speaking of them is too much for words. There is no rhyme or reason or warning for these days. They just show up. I’ve learned to accept them as they come, to lean into the grief, and try to remember that there are those who are holding hope for me when I can not.
June was rough. I don’t know why, except that it comes before July, before the worst day of my life/my family’s lives. The calendar page eventually turned to the dreaded month of July, and I expected that it would be worse. But at the moment, it has not been. It’s actually been better than June, go figure. I guess if there’s anything I’ve learned about grief in the last ten years, it’s that it’s unpredictable. I find myself grateful for so many things this month; for Matt’s siblings’ birthdays (three of them in July, two of which share the same day and one just four days before Matt died and then another one just six days after his death date), the TCF virtual conference, walks with friends, in person counseling appointments, women’s Bible study and book club in person, and the beauty of God’s creation, to name a few. We’re just 9 days from the 29th, and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. To not fall into the pit of grief in July seems incomprehensible, especially since this July 29 is a milestone-ten years. A decade without my son. A decade. However, I’ve learned enough on this journey to know that one had best take the good days when they come. Take them for what they are, cherish them, and be grateful as much as possible.
Grief and gratitude are the bitter and the sweet of this journey. Just as I try not to dwell on the details of that day ten years ago, I endeavor to find beauty, joy, grace, and gratitude this month. I may fall into the pit yet, but I know this: I won’t stay there. I won’t stay there because I know my God is for me. I know I am loved by Jesus who died for me. I know and believe that God purposes good from all things. I know that my son is alive in heaven and that some day there will be joy and only joy. Eternity awaits. Jesus endured because of the joy set before Him. I have endured almost ten years without Matt, my precious first-born child, a young man of 16 who was brilliant with computers and loved his siblings without shame, whose quiet presence and love for Jesus still lives on.
I have a son. His name is Matt. He lives in heaven. He’s been there for 10 years on the 29th. Some day we will miss him no more. Some day our hope will be realized. Some day we will see Jesus face to face and stand before God knowing our faith became sight. We will be in the presence of love. Sin and death will be no more. Tears will be wiped away by God himself, the Creator of heaven and earth, my Father who withheld no good thing from me. I am grateful. Whether the other shoe drops or not, I am grateful.
Grieving with hope,
Angie, Mom to Matt (died age 16, 2011), daughter to Mary (died 2018), sister to David (died 2021) All ALIVE in heaven. #grievingwithhopeFacebookpage