After my husband died in August 2011, his family was gathered with us at our home as we were preparing to go to the visitation. I am quite sure it was the baby brother who asked, “Will we still have Thanksgiving here?” I remember replying something like, “It will be so important to the kids and I to have everyone here at Thanksgiving as we usually do.” We had a long standing tradition of having my husband’s family come for Thanksgiving and spend a few days with us. I was convinced from the beginning how important it would be for me as the mom of grieving children to keep as many traditions and connections going for my children and I as possible.
My husband comes from a huge, loving family that is so much fun and has brought our family so much joy through the years. They have continued to bring this unending love and joy even in the midst of our losses of my husband (August 2011) and then my only son who died in June 2013. My mother-in-law had 8 boys and 3 girls. These 11 children of hers have gone on to have children of their own, and our family is experiencing new growth with the continued additions of great grandchildren. I can honestly say that I have no idea of the exact number of how many nieces and nephews that I have on my husband’s side if we were to add in the great nieces and nephews. If I were to throw out a guess then it would be that we are in the upper 50’s… maybe 57 or 58 🙂 It is so much fun when we are all together, and we are always surrounded with the most adorable kids!
My children were the ages of 11, 14, and 16 when their dad died. I remember knowing instantly how key my husband’s family would be in their grief and also as they continued building their futures. In my heart, I knew Nana and all of his brothers and sisters would be crucial in keeping a lasting connection to their daddy. When a child loses a parent, then it is so important for them to continue to learn about that parent and to somehow to still feel connected to them as much as possible. I was absolutely determined to do my best to try to provide this for my children.
Back in the mid 90’s, my sister- in-law Annie tragically died of breast cancer leaving behind her husband (my husband’s brother) and four children. Her four children were all under 10 years old, and there were two girls and two boys. I remember being at her funeral and crying so hard as I thought of these four children who were so young and now had lost their mom. I have this image of my nephew who was the second oldest and maybe 5 at the time of this memory. He had a video that played a song as you watched the video. This video sang “My mommy is coming back…” My nephew, at 5, played this video again and again. I have tears pouring down my face as I remember this. This little boy, my 5 year old nephew, was expressing his grief of wanting his mommy by playing that song “My mommy is coming back” again and again. He so desperately wanted that to become truth in his life. I have watched my nephew, her oldest son, do everything that he can for his siblings through the years… he has desired to honor his mom’s wish for her children to remain together. I have literally watched in awe at all that this young man has done to try to help his siblings. All four of Annie’s children have continued to desire to somehow still remain connected to their mom. Children who have lost a parent even at a very young age still long to be connected to that parent somehow. Each time my nephews and nieces have done something great in their lives, then I smile and know that this honors their mom that they will always miss. Her children are her legacy.
I have had people ask me “well isn’t it so hard to be with your husband’s family and not have him there?” Of course it is. However, it hurts our family to not have him here no matter what we are doing so then we have a choice in our grieving. We could avoid anything that reminded us of him; however, this does not take away the pain of our loss. Another choice we have in our grieving is to continue to celebrate who he is and to keep my children feeling as connected to their daddy as possible. I, every time, want to choose the second one. I do not want to avoid our grief because it is hard or painful. For anyone who is grieving then they know that this does not make grief go away. I want to continue to celebrate him and have my children feel as close to their dad as possible. There are always painful moments. Watching the family line up for the family picture and knowing that my husband should be in that picture is heartbreaking…. in those moments, I feel like running out of the room in tears. However, all I have to do is look at the true joy in my childrens’ eyes and know without a shadow of a doubt that being with the family is right for all of us. When we spend time with his mom and brothers and sisters then my children have a connection to their daddy that no one else can give to them. When they hear all of the stories about their dad, then it helps them in so many ways. I watch my girls eyes light up when they hear about their dad. They love all of the stories, and I have learned that it really doesn’t matter what he was doing in the story. It is just they want him in the story just as they long for their daddy to still be in their story. The family understands the need and desire that we have to hear about Kirk and to continue to talk about him as we miss him.
I remember our first Thanksgiving without Kirk. I remember standing in a circle with all of his family. I remember looking around that circle and grieving that he was not there with us. I remember looking at all three of my children and seeing the same longing in their eyes for their daddy to be there. I remember silently screaming, “No! Why isn’t he here?” I also remember looking around that circle and being so thankful that Nana and his brothers and sisters and families were there with us. They continually remind us of the love that they will always have for their son and brother and uncle and for us, his family. I have seen that love continue now year after year as we have continued to gather at our home for Thanksgiving being surrounded in love by this incredible family. I have witnessed it again and again when we have went and spent time with them in their cities. This loving family was here with us when my son died and then we had to bury him.
I remember going to my niece’s wedding in Houston after my son had died. I was having such a terrible time. I was in complete shock that my 18 year old son was dead. I will never forget watching my daughters with our huge family and seeing them having such joy and laughter in the midst of their grief after not just having their daddy die but now also their big brother. I again was so thankful that we were all surrounded in such love. My girls have needed this connection in ways that I don’t know how to describe. The family has been there and continues to be there surrounding us in love.
When Kylee graduated from high school then we had many family members from Kirk’s family come. I knew that they were there to support Kylee and to represent their son and brother who could not be there. When MiKayla’s basketball team played for the state championship this past year, 5 of her dad’s brothers were there, 2 of his sisters were there, and his mom was there, and of course some cousins (maybe 10 or so) were there also. MiKayla had her own section. I remember looking at this group of family there. I remember watching my daughter’s face when she looked up from center court during the warm ups and saw so many of her dad’s family that were there. I asked her later, “MiKayla how did you feel when you looked up and saw so many of dad’s family that were there,” and she replied, “Mom, I was just so happy.” Again, just like with Kylee’s graduation, they were there representing their son and brother who we all wish was there. But here they were, again taking time out to let Kirk’s girls know, you are important to us. We love you. We are still and always will be family.
These are gifts that the family has given to my daughters and I that seem indescribable. I cannot emphasize the importance for those who are grieving to have love and support such as this. As I watch these moments and thank God truly for each one, then I also know that this is not just a one way gift. I know that for my husband’s family, that my children give that same gift to them right back. My children are his legacy. They are a part of him. For my husband’s family, just as it helps us to be with them and makes Kirk feel a little closer, so do my children provide that same gift to his family.
My oldest daughter has always been the most like her dad. His family sees it and often speaks about it as the similarities in expression, thoughts, and words make us all laugh. My youngest daughter is more like her brother PK and I. But I have learned that it is just important to my youngest daughter to hear how she is like her daddy. She wants to know how she is like him also. It became so clear to me at a lunch that we were at in Chicago in May 2015. My girls and I had went to visit my sister over the Memorial Day weekend, and during that time, my mother-in-law was in town visiting her son, brother, and sister. We met them all for lunch and there was a conversation about how much Kylee was like her daddy. I remember watching my youngest daughter’s eyes change and become watery. It hit me so hard at that moment… she wants to hear how she is like her daddy too. From that day forward, I have been determined that MiKayla would absolutely know what she does that is like her daddy. From her eyes to how she eats watermelons… I make sure to let my baby girl know how she is like her daddy too.
Not that long ago, another thing that MiKayla mentioned was how she couldn’t remember her dad’s voice and how much she wanted to. I am dedicated to prioritizing one of my next project’s to be turning our old family vhs tapes into dvds. Once we have those home movies on dvds, then we can all watch these home videos and they can see and hear their dad. As their mom, I will continue to pay attention to what they need and are searching for. Prayerfully, I will continue to help them along their way as my girls travel on their individual grief journeys as they are missing their daddy and brother so very much.
As I look at this picture from this year’s family reunion, I am so thankful as I see my two girls with their daddy’s mom, brothers, and sisters. I know that each one of these relationships helps them tremendously as they miss their daddy. I am thankful that we have spent as much time with them as possible and that they have continued to surround us with their love and joy. I am thankful that they continue to remind my girls of who their daddy was and how much we continue to be an important part of this huge, loving family. As I watched my girls eyes and faces during the time that we had with the family at the reunion this year, then I am ever grateful for these crucial connections in their lives. I know that each family member plays such an important part of helping them along their way. I am ever grateful for each moment, every laugh, smile, and memory that has been shared with the girls and I. I am beyond thankful for continuing to be included in all of the family gatherings and for giving my girls such a priceless gift in their lives… a permanent spot in the hearts and lives of their daddy’s family!! What a difference is being made in their hearts and lives… this mom is so grateful and loves the family so much!!
As the girls and I continue on our journey, I will always remind them that they are their dad’s legacy… each great thing that they do in their lives brings honor to him. He continues on through his beautiful and amazing daughters…