When my son died from SIDS, these empty arms cradled three shattered, confused, and heartbroken siblings. Their eyes, hearts, and words questioned “Why? Why Cullin? Why us? Why? Why? Why?” I didn’t have the answers to “Why?” But I was certainly determined to find out “What now?”
As a teacher and mama, nurturing answers and creative activities come to mind easily; it is my nature. But my quick thinking was impaired by the weight and newness of grief, and the only words that came to mind were, “Turn the whys into thank you.” As a family, we began to say things like “Thank you for six blessed months,” rather than “Why did we only get six months with our baby?” We still had questions but began to see positive effects from choosing to turn the innate negative effects of grief into positive affirmations, thoughts, and creative actions.
When the kids were in such pain that they acted out, bawled, and withdrew into themselves, we decided to “Turn the pain into passion” and reconnect with our collective and personal passions in life. The more our hearts hurt, the more we helped others. We began to repair our grief-riddled relationships with ourselves and one another through games, outings, and uplifting others.
“Turn the triggers into ammo.” We know that the triggers, milestones, anniversaries, and holidays will continue to inundate us with grief, so I encourage my children to plan for pain and celebrate these special moments in unique ways to honor their brother. We have set the table at Thanksgiving and held “birthday parties.” We have released flying and floating lanterns, balloons, and seeds and rice paper. Together my children and I have become masters of making memories with the loved ones of today while remembering and incorporating the loved ones of the past.
When children grieve, they feel just as many emotions as we do but are not equipped with the strategies for processing such trauma. I have taken note from the grieving siblings in my life: “Turn the emotions into creativity.” Anger now inspires me to break stuff and then create something new and beautiful with the shattered pieces. Despair drives my determination to share my written words.
My grieving children have taught me about this life of grief. They have cradled this mama and nurtured my heart. The students have become the teachers. The siblings of loss have become the parents of healing. Though we will never know the answer to “Why,” we will always love the “Who” and work together to figure out the “What now.”
Photo credit: Ginny Limer / Chalk art by Cullin’s sister