I still remember the day, nearly five years ago, when our life changed.
As a young married couple, my husband and I had big dreams of building a family. We both come from large families, and we couldn’t decide if we wanted four or five kids. Or maybe just three.
Turned out we would move mountains to have even one. After suffering through failed fertility treatments for years, our son was born, and I was able to be in the delivery room when his birth mom proclaimed me his momma.
Two years later, I laid on the table for a special ultrasound that would tell us the genders of our babies. Yes, we were having twins!
Thank the Good Lord for in vitro. Our dreams were coming true.
When the doctor came in and told us there was a problem with one of the babies, we tried to prepare ourselves for whatever may lie ahead. More bedrest, possible surgery, even having a child with a severe handicap. We could handle it.
When we found out that our baby only had a 5% chance of survival, we didn’t know what to think. We weren’t prepared for that.
On September 26th, 2011, we went in for an ultrasound, and discovered only one heartbeat.
Eli was born the same day as his twin sister Abigail, in December of that same year. He had brown hair, blue eyes, and perfect fingernails. He was a miracle.
Our love for our baby boy hasn’t diminished. We miss him at every family vacation, in every family picture, at every major milestone in Abigail’s life. We’re so happy she started preschool and music lessons…but he should be there with her. Learning to ride a bike and play soccer and mimicking his older brother and teasing his little sister.
There is an empty place in our hearts and at the dinner table. But we can still find joy in our relationship with our boy.
Our other two kids know they have a brother who lives in heaven, and he’s real to them. Every year, we celebrate Eli’s Day by having a treat.
We get ice cream and go out to the cemetery.
And make it a party.
We always invite family and friends to join us, wherever they are, and share a picture with the hashtags #LoveforEli and #Elisday.
To us, it’s a happy day. It’s the day we celebrate Eli and his presence in our family. We give thanks that he’s ours and we’re his.
Grief is a funny thing, though. When a loss anniversary creeps up on us, we respond in different ways. Some years, I don’t want to get out of bed. Other years, I feel so full of love and gratitude. I always celebrate to make it a positive day, though. It’s about Eli, not me.
If you have a loss anniversary coming up, here are a few things I suggest.
- Feel what you feel. You can be sad. That’s allowed. You can be cheerful and in a good mood. You can be quiet and pensive, or full of peace. Cry or don’t cry. Feel what you feel and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not ok.
- Celebrate. For me, we have a party. For other’s, celebrating means taking a moment and reflecting. Or lighting a candle. In other words, remember. On whatever scale you want, just remember.
- Remind others. Our hospital gave us a bereavement packet, and one of the most helpful things it taught me was to remind others of the anniversary. They may not remember the day my son died, but I do. And chances are, they WANT to remember. So tell them. “Hey, Eli’s Day is coming up, and we’d love for you to celebrate with us by having ice cream!” Loved ones will jump at the chance to support you!
- Honor the day in your own way. This is like the first suggestion. You do it however you want, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong. Here are a few ideas for things you can do (and invite others to do with you):
Collect and donate blankets to the local NICU
Have a treat
Do random acts of kindness
Walk the person’s favorite nature trail
If you’re not ready to celebrate on a grand scale, feel free to check out for the day. Take a drive in the mountains. Call in sick and read a good book. Go hiking. If you need time away, give yourself that too.
Grief is a funny thing. It tears us apart inside, but it can also bring us closer to others. You’re not alone. Loss hurts. No matter the size. If you haven’t tried celebrating your loss anniversary with others, try it this year and see how you feel.
If you have a special way to honor your loss, please share it! And feel free to read up on a few things no one tells you about grief.