September, the advent of fall, seems almost like a reprieve from the difficult summer months that bring with it concentration on family activities. Maybe you had in previous years rented a cabin on the lake or camped, held 4th of July picnics, days at the beach, and trips to the fair.
But with the death of your child, summer can be an excruciating time of year. Therefore, with August’s demise, September is almost a breath of fresh air. There are no major holidays to contend with. Granted, the “Big 4” is on the horizon, but still far enough away not to fret over.
Though, at first glance it may appear innocent enough, we may be surprised to find that September isn’t as innocuous as it appears and with it can come autumn angst. Personally it is difficult for our family because September is the month of Nina’s birth. In particular, this year would have been her Golden Birthday (24 years old on the 24th).
Even when Nina was very young she looked forward to this birthday, as if there was something magical about it. When her sister had hers at six years old and her brother at five years old, she would furrow her brow and say, “No fair! I have to wait until I am 24 years old before I can have mine!!” Sadly, Nina would never experience an earthly Golden Birthday, as she died much too young at 15 years old.
Then there is the beginning of school. I was surprised to find out how much this affected me. I guess our child attending school didn’t seem like such a momentous occasion; that is, when they were alive. For many, it was hectic and costly preparing them for the school year. But seeing the school buses on the road, advertisements for Back-to-School clothes and supplies, and the excitement and anticipation on the other children’s faces can bring a melancholy to your heart and soul.
This can happen no matter what age your child was when they died. For those whose children were never old enough to enter school, they can only guess what it would have been like to ready them for the first day of school; they picture how they would have looked with their new backpack and their lunch box in hand as they climbed the stairs of the bus. They would look at you with a nervous grin and a goodbye wave of their little hand— something that can now only be imagined.
If their child was school age, they see the other children on the school playground with the sad knowledge that their child should be among them and is not. Moreover, those with older and adult children recall those sweet school-related memories of the past. Maybe it was auditions for concert or band, homecoming dances, or attending high school or college football games. For me, my daughter Nina and I were the best-of-shopping buddies, so school clothes shopping for us was a most important event!
After she died, I tried to avoid department stores, especially in late August and early September; I just could not bear to see the parents and their children enjoying what I no longer had with my daughter.
Sometimes it helps to be aware that these feelings might occur and that the change of seasons is oftentimes surprisingly rough. Most bereaved parents aren’t quite sure why this happens, but most do note that it definitely does occur.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that we are entering a new season that contains what may be poignant memories of past seasons. Maybe it is because we are entering another period of time that our child is no longer a part of, or maybe we are getting that much further away from the last time we saw our child alive. When we know that these feelings are “normal” it is sometimes easier to deal with.
Now eight years post Nina’s death, I try to remember that fall was her most favorite time of the year; “Mommy, I LOVE sweatshirt weather!” she would say. She thrived in the crisp autumn air and the exquisite beauty of the trees in their leafy coats of crimson, gold and orange. It was always visibly apparent how much she adored the fall season and the thoughts of her precious face in autumn now make me smile, yet miss her just as much as ever.
Yes, September is fast approaching, with the difficult holiday season a little further down the road. Try to remember that these days to come contain tricky paths to navigate and that it is especially important to be tender with your fragile psyche. Please be as good to yourselves as you possibly can.
Cathy Seehuetter 2011