By Sue Gilbert and Suzanne Redfern –

The following is an excerpt from The Grieving Garden, authored by Suzanne Redfern and Susan Gilbert (Hampton Roads Publishing, 2008). In this excerpt, Susan Benveniste, one of the book’s 22 contributors, speaks of her family’s first celebrations, including Thanksgiving, without their daughter, Shelly.

Enduring the “firsts” can be one of the hardest obstacles to face.  Examples of the firsts are:  holidays, birthdays, Mother’s or Father’s Day, and the death-day anniversary. These days can hit with a vengeance, like a blow to the gut.  Planning in advance how to celebrate or spend these days gives us some control and can help soften the hurt.

In our case, the first major event we faced without Shelly was my husband’s 50th birthday.  Not being up for a party, I packed him for a “surprise destination.” We flew to Palm Springs (not a normal vacation spot for us) and were met by our son Josh, who flew in from college also as a surprise.

As we celebrated over dinner in a restaurant, it quickly became clear we would have to learn to be a family of three. Even the conversation dynamics had changed.  The celebration was bittersweet.  On the positive side, we had changed our routine and discovered we had the strength to face other such events.

Our first traditional holiday without Shelly was Thanksgiving.  Instead of our annual sit-down dinner with our small family, my mother planned a buffet so that Shelly’s absence wasn’t so “in our face.”  The following year, we were able to resume our normal routine. The second Thanksgiving was still very difficult, but the pain was lessened by knowing we had gotten through it the year before, and would again.

For us, holidays are difficult especially now that our parents are deceased and our son isn’t always in town to celebrate with us.  We prefer to avoid restaurants or other public places where those celebrations are taking place.  A good movie in a dark theater can be a wonderful escape.  Some years, we find comfort in going to the cemetery; other years it’s just too painful.

I have shared some of our experiences to illustrate that there is no right or wrong way to endure these “firsts.”  Each of you will find your own way.  I hope with passing time, you will be able to celebrate the joy your child brought to your family, as we do Shelly.

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Susan Gilbert & Suzanne Redfern

Suzanne Redfern (left) is the president of Redfern Ranches, Inc. Her thirty-two-year-old daughter died of lung cancer in 1999. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Susan K. Gilbert (right) was a pharmaceutical executive for many years in the Silicon Valley and is now active in the community, serving on a board for the San Francisco homeless. Her eighteen-year-old daughter was killed in an automobile accident in 1993. They are co-authors of a book entitled The Grieving Garden. Susan & Suzanne appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss “Living With the Death of a Child.“ To hear them being interviewed on this show, go to the following link:

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