It is a great honor to be with you this evening. It is an inspiration to see how many families gather at the Angel of Hope, in spite of their pain and grief. It’s as if the Angel symbolizes that even though death may take a body, it cannot take away a child’s presence and it cannot take away the healing power of good grief or the life-giving power of family and connection. That’s what brings you here this evening, this longing to honor your child, and to be with others who understand you.
First, I want to say how sorry I am to each of you for the loss of your beloved child, your sibling, and your friend. Your child was deeply loved, a reason, a rock, and an anchor for you.
So here we are in the holidays caught between joyful expectations and the harsh realities of our losses…. It’s hard to be in the spirit of the holidays while we wait for some semblance of life to return, while we hope we won’t always hurt this much, while we long for a sense of their presence, some light from them and some new hope to live out of. How do we hope when we are feeling the weight of grief?
I know that each of you comes with private and tender hopes.
Some of you may be here with freshly broken hearts, still numb and in a state of disbelief. Your hope may be to face the reality of loss that every fiber of your being wants to refuse to believe. Some of you may have come with longing and aching hearts, hoping for a sign that your child is safe in God’s arms and still loves you very much.
Others of you may be here tonight with raging angry hearts. You may be hoping and praying that you don’t lash out and that somehow you can someday come to terms with that relentless question, “Why did this have to happen to my child?”
Still others may be here with hearts twisted in guilt. Your hope may be to somehow discover how to make things right again or find some kind of forgiveness.
And I know that many of you are here with surrendered hearts after long months and years of struggling with your grief. You may have come here hoping to find ways to celebrate and remember your children and discover ever new ways to allow their presence to live on.
So what do I have to offer you in these hopes? As a grief counselor it is a humbling experience to realize yet once again that really all I have to offer you in your hopes is my own hopes.
I have several hopes for you this evening. I hope you can give yourself permission to grieve. We must grieve because we’ve loved deeply. Grief is the price we pay for love, embrace your sorrow and who you are now, allow yourself to grieve and to trust that as you engage in the journey of grief, your love and your grief can change and heal you in powerful ways. Grief is hard work and deep sorrow. As we allow it to change us, we come back stronger.
In your grief I hope you can be gentle with yourselves. Pay much attention to self-care in order to be strengthened and comforted.
I hope you can reach out to safe people for love and support. Being with others gives courage and strength to face your sorrow. We gain perspective from hearing one another and our grief shifts as we hear their story and learn to claim our own resilience.
Another benefit in being with others is that we tell our stories, and as we tell our stories they change from sadness to the stories of love that were behind the sadness. In these stories we learn what they meant to us, and we claim what they left us, their faith, their legacy, their hope for us.
And my hope for each of you tonight is the hope of family. That you continue to discover how to be a family in spite of your loss.
Whether you are a small family of 2 (you and the child you lost) or one of those larger families that expands on and on, my hope is that you find ways to stay a family. Because it is through family that we have a place to belong. Your child belongs in the circle of generations before and after him. It is through family that we learn how to love and be loved. It is through family that we strive to be more of who we are for the sake of those we love.
And my hope is that you give yourself permission to allow that lost child to continue to be a part of the family. That child still has so much to offer even though his or her body is not here. Recognize that inner connection and their felt presence and realize that death ends a life but not a relationship. Look for ways to bring them forward in continuing your life story.
I was a big sister who lost my younger brother 26 years ago. He looked up to me to make things better for him calling me even on his last day to pray away the awful headache he was suffering with his brain cancer. I was devastated, when my prayers along with many others did not heal him. I struggled, needing to rework my assumptions about God, healing, and suffering. Through that wrestling my brother Ken has given me a deeper and more solid grounding. That God is not a genie God, rather a God who joins in our humanity and suffering giving us the courage and grace to go on. Ken’s spirit of trust and love in the face of suffering brought our family closer
If you are a YOUNGER brother or sister, I hope you will continue to let yourself look up to that lost sibling. Let yourself wonder how you two are the same, and then allow yourself to also acknowledge how you are free to be different AND BECOME YOUR OWN PERSON as well.
And of course, there is sibling rivalry. Isn’t it amazing how it still exists even if one of you is in heaven? It is this tension of sibling rivalry that allows us to grow and gently forces our parents to learn how to be parents to children living on earth and a child living in heaven. Don’t feel bad about sibling rivalry. Its normal. It’s a sign that you all are still a family.
If you are a parent my hope is that you are not afraid to talk about your child as time passes. That child is still so much a part of the fabric of not only your being, but your family’s life energy. I hope you can find ways to include him or her through memories, stories and even more important around the dinner table discussing about how he might have voted or what events of the day would have made her laugh.
And find ways to bring that child into the family holidays. Hang the stocking. Invite everyone to stuff it with written memories. Create a celebration tree (different that a memorial….. Recognize their presence and how that child still influences the family) Remember them in gift giving.
It is also my tender hope for your families that you will draw close and not allow pain or guilt or anger to drive a wedge between you. Rather I hope that your family will have the courage to embrace the hard work of your grief and be present to each other. Share your feelings and what you need from each other. This is what families are about….getting through the hard times.
And finally, I hope that your family will embrace joy again. Now I am no Polly Ana. I know that you will never be the same again. Happiness will be different. But you deserve it. Your family raised a precious child whether that child’s life was 50 years or 50 minutes. Whether that child was the rascal of the family or the peace maker. Whether your child died in peace or tragedy. Your family produced and nurtured that child to be someone who had a very special impact on the world. Your family did a good job with that child. And so you deserve to feel joy again. And I use joy here instead of happy, because it is a much deeper word. CS Lewis, a well-known theologian who also experienced great loss defines joy as a much richer experience than happiness because it can only be felt when we have also experienced pain. Joy is happiness tinged with loss, that allow us to appreciate more fully what we have and who we are becoming.
So as we go into the night, please take my hopes with you. Dare to grieve well, to take care of yourself well, and to stay a family. A family with all its members, it’s rich history and a future of wholeness yet to come.
Celeste Miller, MA, LPC, email@example.com
Porter Loring Family Care Services (210) 227-8221
Celeste Miller Speech
December 6, 2022