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The Lonely Year

For the last 18 months, I have opened my soul to the world through my posts. My feelings are raw and painful but this is the reality for a parent that loses a child. Julia taught me how to be optimistic during the worst life has to offer, but that positivity has dimmed over this last year-and-a-half. At times, I struggle to find Julia’s hopefulness and search for ways to feel her bright spirit once again surround my broken heart. At times it seems only dark, but there remains a voice in the distance, urging me to look forward to tomorrow.

The first year without Julia was so difficult. I was able to get through those initial holidays and days without her, preparing in some crazy way for all the “firsts”. But nothing prepares you for the second year. More time passes and clouds your thoughts of the past, leaving you hoping for anything that sparks even the briefest memory.

The second year of grief brings an interesting phenomena that some refer to as “the lonely year”. Some feel the name comes from a “loneliness” you feel as others return to their normal lives, when yours will never be “normal”. They say it happens because people don’t reach out any more because your child is gone and there is nothing left to say. Perhaps it is because you are a grim reminder of what their life could be like. The second year, this “lonely year”, brings with it a new unwanted silence.

But, the real truth is the second year brings a deep inner aloneness. It comes with a realization that this isn’t a nightmare that you will wake up from, but a reality that this loss is permanent. It comes with the reality that all that’s left are your memories. In my posts during the last eighteen months, I have not held back. I have shared everything – the moments of intense grief and the times of optimism. I cannot hide behind a façade that everything is okay. I won’t lie, it sucks. The reality is that I miss Julia more than I ever thought was possible. I get sad, I get angry, and I get lonely.

But, I can also tell you in the midst of this pain, I do remember what Julia taught me; how she showed me all the good in the world, how she shared with me how to be happy. These lessons of hope and happiness are at times clouded by my inner loneliness, but also by the recent silence. Julia’s list has gotten me through my most difficult days.

Around the time that I began to understand the new experiences of the “lonely year”, I spoke with a friend about the last eighteen months. He told me about my blog and how it tore him apart to read about our pain and because of that he avoided speaking of Julia; worrying it would add to our sorrow. I quickly explained that his speaking about Julia would not add to our pain. His sharing his memories of Julia, in fact, helped us.

At around the same time I had this conversation with my friend about my posts, my book club was reading A Husband’s Secret. In this book, one of the characters is thinking about how to speak with another women about her daughter who had been murdered years before. The author, Liane Moriarty, puts it best, “…she’d seen something in a magazine article about how grieving parents appreciated hearing people tell them memories of their children. There would be no more new memories, so it was a gift to share one with them”. It is always amazing to me how two separate things in your life intersect; coincidence perhaps or is it the universe’s way of sending you an “a-ha” moment? So here was one of my “a-ha” moments, one that helped me to better understand how we can all get through this “lonely year”.

I apologize if my posts have been strong, if they are hard to read. But this is my reality, this is a mother’s heartache. My grief is a circular process, bouncing back and forth from one stage to the next; rather than a straight line that will eventually come to an end. I do hope however that in the midst of my sadness, I have been able to share even the slightest glimmer of Julia’s love and hope. This is the gift she gave us all, one we cannot let fade.

So please do not handle John and me with kid gloves, worrying that we will be sad if we talk about Julia. It may bring a tear to our eyes, but that doesn’t compare with the pain of feeling Julia’s memory is fading away. The pain of silence.

Please share with us any stories and photos you may have of Julia. These are truly the greatest gift that you can give us. It is a way that we are given new memories to hold onto, a way to keep Julia alive. It is a way to break the silence we feel in this “lonely year”.

But most importantly, please share Julia’s enthusiasm for life, her hope, her compassion, her grace. Share with others Julia’s list of things to do to make you happy. Share her legacy. That is a gift you can give the world.

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