One of the pieces for me to figure out after Lach died is how to acknowledge his place in our family without him here. I didn’t know other people who had pictures of their dead children on the wall. Is that poor taste? Is that clinging to something that I need to move on from? Should I hold on to him and his place in our family, or is that morbid? Am I honoring him by making a point to keep him as part of who we are, or am I a crazy lady who can’t let go? How do you integrate a deceased child into the life of your family in a way that is healthy?
Different people have different needs and will come to different conclusions on those things. The way I see it, even death does not change the makeup of a family. It may change the way a family looks and it may change the way the family functions, but it does not change who belongs. I wouldn’t think twice about a picture of deceased grandparents on the wall. It is an acknowledgement of people who were loved and a recognition of where we’ve come from. A picture of a deceased child is really no different. We keep Lachlan as a part of who we are by keeping his pictures up along with the rest of them, by openly talking about him in our day to day conversation, and by keeping him in our prayers at night. I hope that by doing so, it sends the message to my other children that they, too, are so important to me that not even death can take away their belonging here.
I do my best to honor Lach’s place without letting him run the show…just like I do with each of my other children. We have days and times that more attention is devoted to him, and other times when he falls to the backdrop. Sometimes there is more discussion of Lach, we stop to note his birthday and his angelversary, and he is included in our Christmas celebrations and twice a year we take a time-out in the other things we’re doing to put on what is often referred to at our house as “Lach’s run,” aka Run for Their Lives!.
Life is a balance of holding on and letting go. I hold on to Lach’s picture, but let go of the fact that he won’t grow with the other kids. I hold onto including him in our Christmas celebrations, but let go of not getting to see his eager smile as he opens his gifts. I hold on to the legacy that he left here, but let go of the fact he didn’t get to create that legacy himself. I hold on to knowing that he is part of our family forever, but let go of having his physical presence in our midst.
On the day of Sacred Spaces, I touched a little on how Lach is a part of who I am and that thoughts of him are never too far away. He’s in the dragonfly that passes by, the sunrise, and the play of a group of boys. He’s in church, in every 10 month old baby, and in my nephews. He’s in the smell of baby spit-up, CeraVe lotion, and the stain of the chest that holds his belongings. He’s in the song on the radio, in the family of 4 boys and a girl, and in the question of “how many kids do you have?”
Spring is a notable “Lachlan” time. May and June are my special Lach months. We came home from his funeral to a tree bursting with beautiful pink flowers. Every year my chest aches and my eyes get leaky when the trees start to bloom. I find it fascinating that the ache of the season is knit right into my bones. I will FEEL the ache or the unrest often before I have really even recognized that it’s coming. It’s often only after I’m trying to figure out what my problem is that I remember it’s because the trees are blooming and May is right around the corner. There’s something almost comforting in that for me…it’s not just my head that remembers him, but my body does too. Lach’s birthday is in June, so naturally that is the time for special memories of the joy he brought to us. We use May and June to do the Run for Their Lives events to honor his birth and death.
There is something mysterious in the passing of seasons. When spring comes around, time can somehow both stand forever still and continue to move forward. It brings both remembrance and growth. An honor to what was and a nudge to keep moving. The picture is of my beautiful niece and the Kansas Lachlan tree. It is a striking reflection of that quirky way time stands still and moves by leaps and bounds all in the very same moment.
One of the things that makes the 3rd, 4th, 5th years and beyond after loss a little easier to bear, is that you have had time to start building some of these grief rituals. Funeral rituals we are taught by our culture, and we can be guided through those motions with some pre-existing mental framework on what to expect. But then the funeral is over, and life begins without your child in your arms, your home, or even on your planet. How do you express the love that continues when your loved one isn’t here to receive it? At first, it’s completely foreign. These are ideas that you’ve never thought to consider, and all at once you are searching helplessly for some way to remember and honor your baby in their absence. At Christmas, we remember and honor a living child by buying gifts, sharing time with them and making special meals…those things don’t work anymore. So now what?
I feel like holidays, birthdays, and anniversary days are so much easier to bear when you know what to expect from those big days without them here. These rituals that develop over time bring a calmness to my heart, a framework to build the day around, and the satisfaction of an outlet to express the undying love that continues for them. For Lach’s birthday, we will usually try to find something fun to do together as a family, celebrate with cake, and send a bouquet of birthday balloons to heaven. For his angelversary (the term often adopted to refer to the anniversary of death), again, time spent together is important, and when the weather cooperates, we’ll try to plant something in his garden, combatting death with new life. One Halloween, our family went as Avengers and the Captain America costume held Lach’s place. On Christmas, we buy an Angel Tree gift for a boy Lach’s age, and his stocking is filled on Christmas morning with little things a 10 month old would enjoy that can then be donated to a child in need.
These are small and simple rituals, but they honor his place in our family and offer some structure to help us through those days that are especially hard not to have him here. While small in outward appearance, those little rituals transcend the physical act itself to communicate a love that never dies.
Today, the suggestion for the prompt is to take a picture of the moon, and take a break from all the feelings just to meditate and breathe. I had planned to write a post anyway, but it seems to work out that the retreat day gives me a chance to catch up!
According to the University of Michigan symbolism project, “The moon is a feminine symbol, universally representing the rhythm of time…The phases symbolize immortality and eternity, enlightenment or the dark side of nature herself. It might reflect inner knowledge, or the phases of man’s condition on earth…In astrology the moon is a symbol of the soul, and in the horoscope it determines the subject’s capacity for reflection and adaptation…” There’s room for lots of reflection there!
Little Lachlan, I love you to the moon and back, with all my soul, through all time and eternity. We don’t have to live in the same plane of existence for me to continue to love you with the unconditional love of a mother.
The image of our family is always hard. It’s not what I planned. It’s not the complete picture that I had envisioned. There is something missing. What we have makes it hard to answer “How many kids do you have?” An innocent question that can’t be answered without what feels like an awkward exchange. When we have a formal family picture taken, I bring a dragonfly to mark his spot in the photo. That's more for me than it is for anyone else. It's better for me to have his spot marked in some tangible way.
In my mind’s eye, the picture is as it should be. Four stair-step boys and their baby sister, but what I have to show to the world is something different. Lach’s pictures are on the wall in line with the rest of them, but it isn’t right. It never will be. I should have a school picture of my second grader on the wall with the standard head and chest shot and smooth gray background. It should be right there, between my 4th grader and kindergartener, instead of the close up snapshot of his adorable face with a laundry basket backdrop.
While Lach leaves pictures on the wall missing something, I think the images in our hearts are enhanced. When we imagine our family together, it has to be with heaven as the backdrop. With his place being in heaven instead of our home, we are left with a constant reminder that we are destined join him and we destined for something beyond here. The kids all know that Lachlan is in heaven and that if we play our cards right we will someday have the opportunity to join him in paradise. We dream together of what heaven might be like. Emmett grins and giggles at the thought of a new and improved body. Leo will at times ask in exasperation, “When can I die? It takes sooo long! I want to go to heaven!” While it’s a little disturbing to hear your preschooler whine about why he can’t die already, I love that he is looking forward to his place beyond earth where we can be together forever and where our family picture will finally reflect what’s in our hearts.