November 13th is a special day in our household. This day was the day my husband was born. The second year after my husband’s death, I wanted to find a way to commemorate his fun-loving and adventurous personality. In honor of Children’s Grief Awareness Day this year, I wanted to share how my children have navigated their grief by remembering their father on what would have been “his” day every year since his death.
In my home, grief has been a topic that has been discussed openly. I have been very transparent about my own feelings of grief and sadness over the loss of my husband and their father. My children have watched my grief cycle between various stages and whenever I have “big feelings”, as we often say to children, I have let them know the reason for my behaviors. I would do this in hope that they would see that grief and emotions are normal and that those feelings have a place, and that even adults may have a hard time processing those same feelings we are asking them to process and perfectly respond to. As I have always told my children, “You have a right to feel what you feel – just make sure that how you act on those feelings is healthy and safe.”
I began my search for ideas on how to make my husband’s birthday a special celebration of life. In my search, I ran into a blog post written about a concept that had just begun to get popular. Inside the post, a mother talked about how she changed her attitude for one day while interacting with her children. Instead of constantly controlling the household and telling her children what they couldn’t do, she decided to tell her children “YES” to anything they asked as long as it was safe and obtainable.
My children were very young (eighteen months and almost four) so I knew their requests would be rather simple. I began with this simple question:
“What would you do today if you knew Mommy wouldn’t say no?”
My daughter’s grin spread across her face in an instant, and she shouted, “I want McDonald’s for dinner!”
“And then, can we get ice cream?”
Then, I saw the wheels begin to turn when she realized I was, in fact, going to say yes to her. My daughter’s next request was one that felt like it came straight from my husband and it simultaneously brought joy to my heart and filled it with sadness all in one:
“Can we put up the Christmas tree?”
“…. Absolutely yes.”
After fulfilling the first two requests for McDonald’s and ice cream, I set in motion the third request. I went to the garage and drug out the boxes of decorations and the tub which contained our tree. We laughed and smiled as we decorated for Christmas on a day that others would consider “early”. The nutcrackers even came out of storage and got placed on the shelf designated just for them. I shared memories of their dad with them and told them stories from the times when we had first met.
To my surprise, there were no tears. We laughed and honored their dad in a way that made their hearts happy and appreciative of the life they have because he lived.
Every November 13th since then, we have had a “Say Yes” day. My children have never asked me for anything outrageous. Mostly, their requests are a special meal and a fun activity.
And of course, our tree goes up every November 13th.
Throughout the years since my husband’s death, I have watched my children in various stages of grief. My daughter was two and I was eleven weeks pregnant with our son when he died, so they do not have the memories other children may have who got more time with their fathers. Our daughter, Mary Madilynn, loves to make comparisons to the characteristics that she has that are just like her dad and she is proud of those. I have yet to see her cry over missing her father, even though she has said “I miss my dad and wish I knew him.” Our son, appropriately named after my husband, Sean Claude Miller II, will ask questions and has recently begun to express wishing he knew him as well. It has been interesting to me that my son has not shown resentment toward not having met his dad, even though his older sister has pictures with him. My son is a strong young boy and is full of joy, optimism, and a dash of silliness – just like his father.
My children know that they are safe to express their sadness, frustration, “big feelings”, and even anger at losing their dad. However, I have never seen this from them in the ways I was preparing myself for. I believe that by being so open about grief and accepting its place in our home, I have allowed my children to find some normalcy in the times when they do eventually feel discouraged or sad.
This year, my husband would have turned 30. We released balloons at the cemetery, shared cupcakes at the gravesite, and told stories about the man their father was. And as is tradition, I once again gave up control for the evening after school and the kids had their choice of dinner and of course, the Christmas tree is now proudly standing in the corner by the window.
My children have chosen to grieve with acceptance and gratitude. This has inspired me because my own grief has been sad, angry, and even disgusting. In a sense, I think my children have handled their grief far more gracefully than I have. I myself can learn a lesson from the way my children have decided to proceed forward with life. They have not let their hearts be hardened and have . They have not stopped moving forward.
Instead, they honor their late father in the best way possible: by saying yes to life.