Hello, I’m so sorry you’re here.
There’s only one place you hear that greeting- at the beginning of every meeting of The Compassionate Friends.
This past weekend we had the privilege of attending the annual national conference. This year it was held in St. Louis, Missouri.
The conference is a place for healing. Gathering with our fellow bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents without judgement. Trying to fit in the usual norms of daily life where no matter how long ago our loved one died we still at times feel like we don’t belong; here on this weekend I am Nicholas’s Mom once again and it feels good.
This is the place where I'm not the square peg trying to fit into the round hole.
The conferences we attended in the past were such cathartic experiences that we were anxious to be able to go again. In the early throes of grief a griever has a need to suspend life for awhile to create a space that allows them to cope and internalize their loss, but you know what? No matter how long you’ve been on this journey, the desire for the opportunity to have these times again are a precious blessing.
Over 1000 people had preregistered for the conference and and though I don’t know how many more registered between Thursday and Friday there were many, and we were blessed to be among them.
An added benefit for us this year was the opportunity we were given to give back or pay it forward like those that helped us in previous conferences because we too were presenting a workshop.
This year Jay and I had the honor of presenting our Navigating Life workshop. There were about a dozen or so offer d simultaneously with ours and being new we just hoped not to be sitting in a room by ourselves! We knew of at least 2 people attending- 2 friends we made back in 2012 when we had first begun our grief journey and we were invited to a regional conference in Overland Park, Kansas. So thankful for Collene and Damon. We had Matthew and Michayla with us too, so we knew that there would be at least 6 of us.
Our room was rather large, set up with 90 chairs in 9 straight rows with 10 chairs in each row. Not the workshop set up we had planned on, because we didn’t have tables and being that participants build a compass throughout we were going to need to improvise. We rearranged the chairs to try to create a warmer space, set up our materials and began to wait. We had enough materials for 50 participants. We thought that was going to be more than enough. But it wasn’t. Folks started to wander in 30 minutes prior to the workshop and just kept coming. We had more than 50, more 75, 100, or even 125. Our total count was approximately 150 participants!
In a world where everything good is a double-edged sword due to our loss, we were beyond excited to think people wanted to hear what we had to offer. The session was extremely well received, participants interjected and shared throughout the workshop. We felt absolutely blessed for the opportunity to try to offer hope to so many at one time. Jay and I have come so far in this wilderness. The lessons we have learned are revered by us and sharing some of that is a humble experiences. Helping others helps us too.
If you ever went to summer camp or a religious retreat for example you can understand the bonds created and the ties that forever bind you to those with which you’ve shared an experience as special as this. The TCF conference coordinators manage to create a safe space for the bereaved on a grand scale that involves tremendous preparation. The hotel staff is even given sensitivity training in order to help extend the safety zone for conference goers. Their work is so appreciated.
At the Compassionate Friends we build bonds with one another over the course of the weekend. We are connected by the similarities of the tragedies in which we became bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. Like in the story “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst we have an invisible string that ties us to our beloved children in heaven we are also tied with invisible string to those we meet with at our TCF conferences.
I am so thankful for Collene and Damon from Topeka. They are Brittany’s Mom and Dad. When we were just beginning to scratch and scrape at the surface of this wilderness, they were parents already on the other side of the grief mountain. Just like David’s parents George and Joan, Kelly’s mom Bonnie and Karen’s mom Barbara from our Rochester TCF chapter, each of whom helped us find our own trail.
It remains tragic that the need for the Compassionate Friends exists and that new members join us every day from all over the world. No matter how far we come in our grief journey the loss is ever present. I thank God that The Compassionate Friends is there to walk with me. I truly am not alone.
I will hope to see you in Philadelphia my TCF family.
Age is just a number.
Whenever summer rolls around it's time for another birthday. This year is "big" one, but I'm okay with that. Here's why:
When you’re a child you eagerly await the next birthday. You want to get older. Some of those early milestones include turning 5- one whole hand and time for kindergarten. Double-digits, and then becoming 13, an official teenager. Of course you can’t wait to be 16 years old (in NYS) and get your driver’s permit and get a part-time job. Eighteen and you are now an official adult, you can drive past 9:00 PM, you can join the armed forces and you can vote in local, state and national elections. Then the big “21” and even 25. All such substantial milestones and reasons to celebrate!
Unfortunately not every child reaches those milestones. Whether they were an infant, child, teenager, or adult; when you have experienced the death of a child it leaves you feeling justifiably robbed. Not only robbed of the life of your child but robbed of the life you imagined you’d live with your child present. You lose your child's future and the trajectory of yours is altered greatly. Besides losing the milestones of the child who died, any living children's milestones are also robbed because they will forevermore be missing their deceased brother or sister in everything they do from that moment on. Both the big things and the small will be affected to some degree.
It is hard to reconcile yourself to the idea that you no longer get to celebrate the milestones of that life. In turn it may become more than difficult to celebrate your own birthdays. My husband and I struggle to celebrate our birthdays now. Are we glad we’re alive? We are. Life is sacred. We are glad to be alive because we have each other, our living children, the family and friends that make our lives so rich and so valuable; however, counting every additional year that we are blessed to be alive is just another way it hurts to face the fact that our son is not.
Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said something like “It’s not the number of years in your life that matter but the life in your years,” and that’s very true. So how do you put life in your years?
I think it starts with kindness. Show kindness in all you do, first because it’s right and second because you never know what someone else is carrying around in their backpack or maybe in their arms. We are not God. It is not okay for us to pass judgement. It is not okay for us to be indifferent. Our world will not become a better place to live in without actively putting more love and kindness into it.
Be sure to become engaged in life instead of passively watching life happen.
So what are some goals we have to look forward to as we get even older?
There are some great things- graduating high school and moving onto college, a college graduation and then hopefully you get the opportunity to fulfill the personal goals and dreams you’ve set for yourself and the life you want to live. Marriage and having children are great life events, if that is your vocation.
...Question for you- you’re already an adult. Can you get more adult as you age? Do we become adult “er” or adult “est”??? Not really. Wisdom sometimes comes with age, and the possibility of contentment too. If you realize you haven’t found happiness in your personal life or your career, it may be difficult but not impossible to stimulate change. We are always growing and evolving. Stretching ourselves to become the person we were created to be. Becoming the best possible version of myself that I can is what I strive for every day.
Now being an adult means you have other things to look forward to besides just a bigger number. No, we get to put so many things on our list of accomplishments - like mammograms, hot flashes, menopause, colonoscopies, wrinkles, gray hair and gravity (pulls EVERYTHING down). These are things only slated for those of us who are blessed to live long lives...just kidding, but not really...
In all seriousness, age is just a number. The bigger the number, the more life you have lived. The more chances you have had to love and be loved; that is a blessing.
Seven is the world's favorite number. 7 days of the week, 7 colors in the rainbow, 7 continents, 7 seas and even 7 notes on a music scale. The world loves 7. I do not.
“Fearless” Nicholas ended his battle with leukemia and all of its complications today, unfortunately for us, it is not the ending we had all prayed and hoped for. Nicholas was able to remain comfortable throughout this last fight. His lung disease, however, progressed at a very rapid pace. He was not able to overcome his Graft vs Host disease. Finally, finally he will not suffer anymore. We that loved him and knew him so well understand his abundant love for life and for living. He taught us so much. We are such better people for having his bright light in our lives! We pray that God’s peace and love is with all of you. We are truly blessed for every day we had Nicholas with us. Nicholas now walks a path beside Jesus- He is victorious after all.
I wrote this 7 years ago...in some ways I feel as if I was more positive and accepting at that point in time than I am today. It's difficult to show positivity and cheer today. Today, on this day now for 6 years I have allowed myself to do nothing more than just be. I don't make big plans, I did for a few years, but it was difficult and it filled us with trepidation. I don't engage in a lot of activity, I don't place myself in any type of social situation, I don't allow myself to feel obligated to anyone or anything and I do so guilt-free. June 29 belongs to Nicholas.
Every day of the year I remember my Nicholas, but on the 29th of June I pause from existing in a parallel universe where I walk in the past with Nick and the present/future with the rest of my family and I allow myself the freedom to put him first above all other responsibilities. Although those who haven't walked in my shoes may be quick to question my choices, rather than feel the need to explain, I simply hold them away at a safe distance. No one will have the power to deny me this time to be Nicholas' mom.
The past 7 years have brought some tremendous changes our way. The oldest of our clan finished high school, went to college, technical school and entered the working world. Feeling unfulfilled he joined the armed forces. He also married the love of his life. Child #3 finished middle school, ventured to a brand new high school to search for peace of mind and solace of the heart, graduated and moved through a successful first year of college. Child #4 closed out the Kovaleski years in elementary school, middle school and is now eagerly embracing his senior year. The younger two have surpassed the age Nicholas lived to be. All 3 have turned 16, learned to drive and gotten their driver's licenses. We've had proms, graduations, recitals, religious sacraments, school musicals, band and chorus concerts, holidays and birthday parties and of course a marriage all without their brother beside them.
That doesn't even take into account the day-to-day interactions we've missed, the bickering we didn't miss, but wish we had had, the being here and being with us that we took for granted and assumed we'd have. The loss is too big. Not only was Nicholas' life taken from us, but the present and future for each of us was stolen to some degree. We are getting used to the day to day missing Nick, but those special moments are still difficult to handle. We still look at 3 children where 4 used to be.
Thank God for child #1, #3 and #4. Every moment of every day that they depended on us to continue to be their parent and BE present. THAT was our saving GRACE. THEY gave us purpose. “The most precious gift we can offer (our children) is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
Lucky number 7 is not so lucky in this case. It's just 7. 7 too many. We are thankful for the grace and blessings God has given us during these 7 years, however; if we could have our Nicky with us, we'd much prefer that instead.
I hope you're keeping an eye on us, Nicholas and that we are making you proud...