Traditions are pretty common in families. You get together at the same place for holidays or you look to the same people for guidance and support. What happens when one of the members of the unit is no longer here in physical form? Do traditions stop? Do you stop looking to them for strength? Do you avoid doing things that remind you of them? The answer has to be NO! Doing so takes away the value of those moments and those memories. Our natural reaction when processing grief is to avoid or stop doing things that will make the upset greater. As the months have passed and we have been facing events like birthday parties and holidays, we have seriously considered not participating in those things to spare ourselves the pain of being there without Pheonix. We quickly realized that we could not look at participation in those events as anything different than every day living. Frankly, every day without him feels pretty awful. Special occasions are a time to be with loved ones and those times are easier to manage because you are surrounded by others who are processing the same feeling of absence that you are. I would rather go to his favorite parks and think of his beautiful face looking up at the trees with wonder instead of sitting on my couch thinking gosh I miss him. I would rather think about his tiny hands pushing into the bread dough for Thanksgiving and the excitement he had holding onto the mixer watching the blades spin the mixture. If my niece and I had not made the bread for Thanksgiving dinner, it would have only taken one person asking where was the bread to send me into a pool of tears. If I had not put up the Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, I would miss thinking about hiding the R2D2 ornament on the tree from Grandma when it didn’t match that year’s theme. Pheonix always felt super sneaky and watched when she went by to see if his ornament would be discovered. We have nerf battles with the kids and laugh that Pheonix would not like Drew chewing up his nerf ammo and would likely have insisted he use the automatic nerf blaster to dominate all of the smaller children. We are still going to make cookies and think about his sugar covered face because he HAD to taste every kind of cookie dough. We are going to still buy a race car for Christmas and donate it to his school so that another child can have the thrill of high speed rc car collisions with furniture and people.
We look for his face still whenever something funny happens and see that face of uninhibited joy. It is so clear in our minds that we can see it and feel his positive presence. I am sure he would have had a face of shock and dismay that his family did not know every single trivia question about super heroes for game night. He, of course, would have known them all. He would have known the names of the turtles from Finding Nemo and the main character from The Fast and the Furious. He would have laughed at his Grandpa slamming down on the trivia buzzer just to take 2 minutes to spit out the correct answer. He would have eaten nothing but green stuff made by Aunt Stephie and macaroni and cheese made by Aunt Robyn. He would have snuggled his Aunt Jenny and been thankful that his Grandma cooked the food and not his mom. He would have looked past ALL of us to find his cousin Dane and tried to persuade his cousin Robbie to dance. He would have loved watching all of his cousins play in the yard together. He would have done all of those things because he DID all of those things. Every memory and tradition is special because our time together here is precious. We have to hold onto and focus on those things. If we skip them or avoid them, then we are only left with our current state of missing him. We don’t want missing him all we are left with of him. We would rather he feel the joy of laughter and love than the pain of our sorrow. Grief is the price of love. We knew loving him and living life the way that we did meant loving something fragile. We regret nothing! Accepting the impermanence of life does not mean you try to protect yourself from pain. It means you live every moment with happiness in your heart and a love for others. Our son was a great teacher of what it means to be human, face challenges, and overcome them with a smile and a laugh. Life was never easy, but he loved who he is and the life he lived. We honor him by keeping up traditions and thinking of the wonderful memories we have with an incredible soul. Don’t wait until you are faced with the knowledge that someone you love may have less time on this earth to live every day to the fullest and make memories and traditions that you can carry for many lifetimes.