My grief journey has not only been filled with my grief but it has also been filled with the tremendous pain of my grieving children. My two daughters were 11 and 14 and my son was 16 when their daddy died, and my two girls were 13 and 16 when their big brother died. It has been heartwrenching to have my children experience so much pain and loss at such young ages.
When my husband had his accident at work that horrible day in August 2011, then he was immediately paralyzed from the chest down and was in excruciating pain. My children came to see him every day while he was in the trauma unit. My husband’s family was gathered at the hospital and seeing him and praying for him. My family came to help us and were driving my children back and forth while I stayed with my husband. His whole face would light up when they would walk into the room. They brought him joy all of their lives. When they would walk into his room, the concern was so evident in their eyes. Their daddy was a very strong man. It was unreal to suddenly have him lying there unable to hug his children. I could immediately tell that he continued to try to protect them even though he was in such excruciating pain. Those five days that my husband was in the trauma unit then he was in a completely coherent state. He would do his best while they were in the room to talk with them and reassure them even though he was dealing with so much physical and emotional pain and uncertainity.
The moment when I had to sit with my children and tell them that their daddy had died was pain beyond description. I can still hear their screams and crying in my head. It was so traumatic. Their daddy had been such a strong man physically and emotionally and to suddenly have him gone from our lives forever after 5 days in the trauma unit did not seem possible. After his death, I kept emphasizing to my children that I wanted them to be real… that there was not a right or wrong way to grieve. I kept telling my children, if you need to cry then cry, if you have angry moments, then be honest and let’s talk through them, and if you are having happy memories or moments then smile and laugh and enjoy them as your dad always loved to see you happy and would want you to whenever you could.
I remember the times my son would come home from school or practice and would lay across his bed and he would cry so hard. I remember just laying there with him and rubbing his back while he cried. I tried to be so careful to not utter any words or phrases that would make him think that he needed to stop crying. He needed to know that I was comfortable with his tears and that he could be real with me. I remember how Kylee begin asking for a punching bag. I begin searching for one and found one for her as I believed that if this would help her to express some of her grief then she was going to have one. MiKayla was experiencing a lot of fear of being alone and anxiety. I got her two kitties that she carried around in a basket, and these two little kitties became her focus and how she wanted to spend her time. She was continually loving on her kitties, and still does almost six years later.
Every day I would learn something new about how my children are grieving and how they expressed their grief. I still continue to learn something new day after day about their grief and pain and needs. Of course, children and teenagers grieve differently then adults. I had to learn how to let them grieve in whatever ways that they needed and to be sensitive to what each one needed. As I had shared in an earlier blog on September 15th on overcoming fear and anxiety, I had taken the girls and I to trauma based family intensive counseling in the summer of 2014. I am sure that I will continue to share about this counseling when I write and about our experiences and what we learned there. In this current blog, I just want to highlight one family exercise.
Each of the girls and I were asked to complete a family sculpt where one of us would set up a scenario that would demonstrate what life was like at home for us. Kylee’s sculpt, my oldest daughter who at this time was 17, had herself and MiKayla in some chairs or couches and they looked somewhat relaxed. However, how she portrayed her mom was very eye opening to me. She had me traveling around in a circle, busy and continually interfacing with each of them and always saying, can I help you, can I help you. We had to physically demonstrate this scenario for the family sculpt. As I acted out how my daughter had wanted me portrayed then the counselor begin to laugh. She said “Kristi, you look like an airline flight attendant.” What I had not realized was that my own anxiety about how my two daughters were doing and were dealing with their grief was controlling my actions and my constant questioning of them. This family sculpt made those things painfully clear. It is always beneficial and challenging for each of us to look at ourselves through someone else’s eyes. It sure was for me that day.
I was so concerned about how my daughters were dealing with their grief that my constant checking on them was becoming irritating to them. When I saw myself through my daughters’ eyes in this sculpt then I knew that I had to reevaluate how I was interacting with them. I had to reexamine and tone down my questioning of them and how they were doing. It is always good for each of us to see ourselves as others see us and to stop and challenge ourselves. What I had to evaluate was this: are my intentions truly what is coming across in my actions? My girls and I developed a check in plan where we would sit down and talk about how each of us were doing a couple of times a week. I agreed to try to tone down these constant questions in the meantime, and they agreed that if they wanted to talk to their mom about their grief that they would. I had to recognize that my anxiety about my daughters’ processing of their own grief and my desire to help them as their mom through it was needing to be put in check. I had to calm down and quit letting my anxiety control my interactions with my two grieving girls.
I have and continue to learn so much from my daughters each day about their grief journeys. These two girls are both processing and handling their grief in very different ways. However as I continue to watch in amazement how well they are functioning in their own lives and all that they are doing and accomplishing then I am convinced that we must be doing a few things “right”. This Father’s Day truly highlighted this for me once again.
Of course, Father’s Day is a very difficult day for my two girls. However, they don’t just really miss their dad on this day. They miss him every day. They sure miss him on this day but they have countless other moments, hours, minutes, and days that they miss him all year long. When they are watching a dad walk his daughter down the aisle at a wedding or missing him at each of their special events or not being able to pick up a phone and call him or hug him or just knowing that this strong man is still in their lives, whichever moment highlights their grief, each and every day, their hearts feel much grief and loss. On this Father’s Day I witnessed such a special way that my Kylee was dealing with her grief.
Each of my daughters has been blessed with many wonderful friends and their families that have been crucial in walking with them in their grief journeys. I am sure that many will be highlighted as this blog continues; however, this blog will focus on two special families. Kylee has her best friend Emma and her wonderful family and MiKayla has her best friend Olivia and her wonderful family. Both of these besties and their families have been walking with the girls and I on our grief journeys and have given all of us so much love and support and moments of true joy. It was very special for me to watch and see how this Father’s Day unfolded. I always leave it up to the girls how we spend Father’s Day and often they have chosen to have us all stay at home. This day was going to be different though as my Kylee girl had made some additional plans for us.
As a mom, I have been wanting my kids to expand their cooking skills. I love to cook and hope to instill that same love in my children. Kylee has really picked up on it and is beginning to prepare more and more meals independently. MiKayla has cooked a few meals, and I am convinced that she will continue to cook and learn. Kylee had shared with me that she would be making Chimichangas and that she had planned to do this on Sunday evening and that she had invited Emma and her family and Olivia and her family. As the night unfolded, it truly touched my heart to see what was happening. I am not sure if it was a conscious decision on Kylee’s part, but it was very special to us that these two dads chose to bring their families to our home on that night that was their day. It was profound for me to watch what was happening.
My girls miss their daddy every day and most definetly on Father’s Day. Kylee chose Father’s Day to bring these two dads who have been very special and have had an important part in each of their lives as they go through life without their own dad. I could see that it was my girl’s special way of honoring these two dads that are important to her and her sister. It meant so much to me to watch the interactions and to see the joy in my two daughters’ eyes. Kylee had prepared the entire meal with some assistance from MiKayla. It was so special.
As I have continued to reflect on this Father’s Day, then I keep thinking of course this is so important on our grief journey. As we miss those who have died and do our best to honor them by doing great things in our own lives, then it is also so important for us to pause and say thank you to those who have continued to help us along our way. I believe this dinner on Father’s Day that Kylee prepared was her way of doing that… of continuing to honor and miss her daddy but to recognize two dads that have and continue to play an important part in Kylee’s and MiKayla’s lives. Wow. My heart was so blessed to see my girl doing this… this indeed is an important part of our grief journey as well.
As Kylee was missing her daddy, she found a very special way to honor two dads that have and continue to play such an important role in both her life and in the life of her sister on Father’s Day.
These two dads are both great men. They probably haven’t spent much time realizing that they each are playing an important role in two girls’ lives that are so desperately missing their dad. Yet they have been steadfast and a constant source of care and concern and encouragement for my girls. Thank you Lance Schmidt and Joe Difani!! I am so thankful for these two dads and all of the other great men that have taken time to be a blessing to my two daughters as they miss their daddy. As I watched the interactions that Sunday night, I had many moments as I watched them all eat and talk and laugh where my eyes were filling with tears. My eyes fill with tears often. These tears on this night however, were tears of pure gratitude. I am ever thankful for each one who has and continues to be a source of encouragement and support in our lives as we continue on with our grief journey. I am thankful beyond words to have witnessed my sweet girl expressing her grief in such a special way on this day. As I always tell my daughters, they are their dad’s legacy. Each day as I see them shining so brightly, then I have true peace knowing that they are continuing to find peace that passes understanding. They are continuing to give their best and live with no excuses and no regrets. This mom is beyond grateful.