November 1st, my husband’s birthday, is a shared day of remembrance for me and my mother-in-law. It has been for the last two decades. Of course, no one will ever remember his birthday like his mom! Every year, it is important for her to share that day with me in some way. I listen as she describes the hours of labor ending with her prayer of surrender when her little son was placed on her chest. She gave him to God the minute he entered this world. Oh yes, it is necessary for her to relive that moment as much as it is crucial for me to revisit it with her.
Early on, we determined to work through the pain to maintain a valuable relationship, not only for ourselves but for my children, her grandchildren. This is not always possible, but for us, the Bible provided a beautiful model for a mother and mother-in-law after the loss of their shared man through the widows Ruth and Naomi: “But Ruth said, ‘Do not plead with me to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God’” (Ruth 1:16 NASB).
Grief is selfish at times, robbing us of the ability to see the perspective of others. It takes time for the self-centered filter to fade, allowing us to come to the other side, viewing pain from another’s point of view. Loss also points the finger of blame because there must be a good reason, a very good reason, why we are left without. It is important to understand that everyone suffers when our loved one is gone and allowing division only adds to the heartache.
My husband took his own life leaving no note of explanation, so there were a variety of suggested reasons why he would make this sad choice. However, even time would not allow us to resolve our theories behind his decision and even if reconciliation were possible, it would not bring him back to life.
In the midst of stanch disagreement, we came to agree that we both dearly loved the same man and missed him deeply.
Remembering his birthday with her:
- Invite her to tell the story of her son – the highs, the lows, the joys, and the sorrows.
- Ask questions – she may be the only one who has the key to information you might appreciate knowing.
- Validate her feelings by reflecting to her the emotion shared.
- Send a note of appreciation for raising a great man is a kind gesture.
- Take time to call on his birthday – there will be tears and that’s okay.
- Love each other through the tender times. It is impossible to understand the pain of losing a child unless you have experienced that same loss.
- Recognize her value – without her, he would never have been in your life.
- Cherish the memories you share together.
Remember the day he was born with her. Shared grief will outlast the condolences of others – mother and daughter-in-law understand the pain of missing the one we loved forever.