As I sit on my porch listening to the faint sound of fireworks in the background, memories take me back to what Independence Day looked like when my family of four was intact. I remember carefree family get-togethers celebrating our country’s independence, enjoying family picnics, and standing in awe as my heart captured our sons’ mesmerized faces reacting to the splendor of a firework display. But since the auto accident six years ago that took Aaron’s life and left Steven with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), holidays have been filled with both pain and celebration. Pain from grieving the loss of our first-born son coupled with celebrating the miraculous life of Steven. Aaron and Steven were not only brothers; they were best friends, our only children.
After the accident, we knew nothing would be the same, but we were not prepared for how strongly our emotions would swing during holidays and changes of seasons. For our family, each season encompasses more than a change in weather. Arriving with spring and summer is the plethora of holidays and celebrations. The same celebrations that we used to look forward to with sweet anticipation now require us to be mindful of how our hearts will react. No matter the holiday or special occasion, each offers a bittersweet effect. Each year, as the busyness of summer subsides, we find ourselves releasing the breath that we weren’t aware we were holding. Saying goodbye to summer is saying hello to fall, which was Aaron’s favorite season.
Fall has also become Steven’s favorite season. Like Aaron, Steven embraces the gift of spending time in nature, where he feels the closest to his brother. Followed by the beautiful fall season, it doesn’t take long before we hear the dreaded moaning and groaning that arrives with the first bite of winter. The sting of winter for us is not equated to the temperature; it’s the harsh reality of celebrating another season and Christmas without Aaron. What takes the bite off is not layers of clothing, it is slowing down and focusing on the birth of our Savior, the one that provides the healing to our wounded hearts, and reminds us that when the calendar page turns once again to a new year without the earthly presence of Aaron, we are not alone.
I don’t share our feelings to gain sympathy. I share them to give others a glimpse of what life is like for those that live with grief and invisible disease. We never want to be excluded from celebrating special occasions, but at the same time, we do not want our pain to be a dark cloud on your special occasion. There are times when no matter how much we physically want to be included in celebrations, we must listen to our bodies and do what’s best for our family, this could mean celebrating with you in spirit, but nonetheless, we are with you. It’s these times that we desperately ask for patience and understanding.
Back to Independence Day. This year, when I think of Independence Day, I am reminded of how the accident totally stripped Steven’s independence away. As parents we watched Steven grow through each stage of life, from infancy to adulthood all over again, and trust me, that experience was not for the faint of heart! The second time around was so grueling at times, I didn’t know if we would make it, but, together as a family, we did! Steven has fought long and hard, physically, emotionally, and financially to be able to experience another “first” this fall as he has spread his proud wings and flown to his own bungalow. I know in my head that Steven is ready, but my heart needs a bit more convincing. Ten minutes away for this Mom might as well be ten hours. I find comfort in knowing Aaron will take over my role of providing a watchful and protective eye.
My husband and I are already attempting to prepare our minds, but mostly our hearts, for this new season: empty nesters! Our feelings are like most emotions since the accident, two-sided. We’re happy for Steven, and we are so proud of his accomplishments, but I feel anxiety kicking into high gear, and he hasn’t even moved yet! I’m sure there is an empty nest anxiety support group (like I need one more support group). Seriously, I’m so thankful that Steven is patient with me. He understands that my anxious feelings go hand in hand with experiencing trauma, and these feelings are escalated due to double trauma. Right along with bumps in the road that will come along with this new chapter, we will do what we have done each step of the way—cheer Steven on, stay strong as a family, and take one step at a time as we depend on our faith and each other.