Grief journal (3 years)

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Three years sounds like a long while, but it’s really not. Time can do many things, but healing all wounds isn’t one of them. The pain of losing Vincent hasn’t subsided, yet the rhythms of grief have changed, at least for me.

Generally speaking, daily functioning has gradually grown easier, but anniversaries and birthdays seem increasingly difficult. Each anniversary is like an ominous semester deadline, when your list of unfinished assignments can no longer be ignored. Grief will let you procrastinate, but only for so long.

My tears are due today.

Vincent

With the help of Holy Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer, I’ve drawn up a short liturgy in memory of Vincent. Our family will be using it when we visit the cemetery today. You are welcome to pray along with us, or adapt it for someone you have lost.

A Liturgy in Memory of Vincent 

Leader: Today, we remember the life of our beloved son, brother, grandson, and nephew, Vincent Wing Seun Stringer. On the third anniversary of his passing, let us pray to our Lord Jesus Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Reader 1: Lord, you consoled Mary and Martha in their distress. Draw near to us who mourn for Vincent, and dry the tears of all who weep.

All: Hear us, Lord.

Reader 2: You wept at the grave of your close friend, Lazarus. Bring comfort to our family, and shepherd all who grieve in sorrow.

All: Hear us, Lord.

Reader 3: You welcomed and blessed the little children. Vincent is now victorious and safe in your arms. Fill us with the hope of reunification.

All: Hear us, Lord.

Reader 1: The Lord has come to comfort all who mourn, to provide for all those who grieve in Zion, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

All: Thanks be to God.

Reader 2: The Lord Almighty will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.

All: Thanks be to God.

Reader 3: When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

All: Thanks be to God.

Leader: Most generous and loving God, we give you thanks for Vincent’s life. Give us grace to treasure Vincent’s memory and help us bring comfort to others. Grant us faith in your goodness and strength to meet the days to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

All: Hear us, Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Happy 4th Birthday Vincent!

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Today is your day, Vincent. Happy birthday! We’ve got cake, presents, and a song for you. Your mom, brothers and I are ready to celebrate.

For the past two and a half years, your memory has been mostly about me. It’s been about my loss, my sorrow, my questions, and my feelings. My thoughts about you often became more about my own grieving process, which isn’t always a bad thing.

But today is different, Vincent.

You are the star of the show today. You are a special kid, not because of how we felt when you got cancer and had to leave us, or because of how much we’ve missed you since, but simply because you are a gift. Always were and still are. We didn’t make you or give you breath. You were given to us. All we did was receive you and pick your name.

So today is not about me, Vincent. This birthday celebration is all yours. Four years ago, we welcomed you into our family. You were incredibly perceptive from the beginning, recognizing faces and knowing exactly what you could get from each one. You were an inquisitive learner, always studying your surroundings with intense wonder. You were joyful and relational, eager to pull Theo’s hair or hand your magnetic letters to anyone nearby.

Special thanks to our church friends for the cake!

It’s incredible how much Andre resembles you, your face, your voice, your lack of hairnot unlike the way you resemble Theo. We can only speculate on what you would look like at age four, but it’s not super hard to guess.

Forever the middle brother, you are today’s center of attention.

Happy birthday, kiddo.

Grief journal (2 years)

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“There’s a hole in the world now. In the place where he was, there’s now just nothing. A center like no other, of memory and hope and knowledge and affection which once inhabited this earth is gone. Only a gap remains.”

–Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

It’s been two years since we said a short goodbye to Vincent and a long hello to grief. Two years have passed since I reluctantly wrote these words, then struggled to stand up and speak more reluctant words at his funeral.

Much around us has changed in two years, but it’s mostly the same stuff on the inside. No new revelations. No writing in the sky. As was the case two years ago, I still miss Vincent and wish he were still alive—with us. Period.

I took this photo at the cemetery this morning. You can see what I saw: some flowers, a bronze marker and a little blue pinwheel spinning in the rainy trade winds. His name might be there, but I assure you Vincent is not. There is no 3-year-old chasing after birds or tramping mud into the car. No requests for piggy-back rides or other bedtime delays. Only a gap remains.

So I’m not a huge fan of November 20th, the day that devastated our family. It’s a day that annually seems to call for succinct explanations of lessons learned or sturdy assurances of comfort found. But even as the brightest fresh flowers can never sparkle like Vincent’s eyes, the most eloquent words of Wolterstorff, Sittser, Lewis or Dickinson are no match for the silence of his absence.

It’s especially loud today.

Happy Birthday Vincent!

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Dear Vincent,

I wish you were here today. There’s plenty of birthday cake and ice cream, but I’ll be helping myself to your share since that’s how I self-medicate. You’re either 3 years old but not really with us, or somehow still with us but not really 3 years old. Maybe I’ll borrow your birthday wish and ask for the impossible: that I could wake up tomorrow to the sound of you playing with your big brother in the living room. He misses you so much.

People do strange things when their kids die. I got a tattoo (my first and only?) because I miss you. Then I ran a marathon (my first and only?) because I miss you. It clearly didn’t work because I still miss you even more than before. God only knows what I’ll try next. When I first held you in the delivery room 3 years ago, I never thought you’d make it to heaven before me. Hopefully the angels are taking better care of you than your mom and I did on this lousy planet. I’m so sorry we let you get sick.

But today is not about me. You’re the kid who stole our hearts and made it look easy. You’re the one we can’t stop talking about. This is your day. Happy birthday, son.

Love, daddy

Grief journal (1 year)

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I’ve been dreading this day for quite some time. It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since we lost Vincent. He seems further away than ever. Since I don’t want to write anything new today, let’s instead take a look back at the journey I’ve documented these past 12 months:

November 20, 2010:  “Yesterday, there were two cute little boys under our roof. Tomorrow there will be one.”

December 3, 2010: (Memorial service) “Tonight, as we honor the impact and influence of Vincent’s life I am no longer in the role of a grieving son. This time, I am the grieving father.”

December 20, 2010: Vincent’s memorial video: “Victorious in Jesus’ Arms”

January 20, 2011: “I don’t always want to talk about Vincent, but I do. I don’t want to change the subject, but I do.”

February 20, 2011: “We  visited his grave twice last week. The soil is still soft, no marker yet.”

March 20, 2011: (from Chicago) “If heaven is real, my son’s value is rooted in far more than an earthly family who misses him or a cemetery marker bearing his name. And if Vincent is now truly safe with God in a place beyond this world, there is now hope of an expiration date, both for my despair and the sufferings of humanity across the globe.”

April 20, 2011: “Next month is going to be especially difficult. Mother’s Day is May 8. Vincent’s birthday is May 10. My graduation is May 14. We fly out May 16 to visit Rebecca’s parents in the Philippines. Plenty of significant events in the month of May will remind us exactly how much our family shrunk on November 20, 2010. We’ll always be one Vincent short of a complete family. I’ll always be one Vincent short of being a happy daddy.”

May 20, 2011: (from Manila) “He was such a great kid, that boy. Inquisitive and curious. Playful with a sneaky streak. Good instincts, big heart. Guaranteed handsome and talented. So much potential. He wasn’t ready to go. Kept fighting to the end. He loved all of us.”

June 20, 2011: (from Manila) “I wish Vincent could have seen the Philippines. I wish the Philippines could have seen him… I’m still not ready to admit that I’ve accepted Vincent’s death, but I’m starting to think that tears are not the only way to honor his memory.”

July 20, 2011: “I’m just thankful we got to say goodbye… I wouldn’t trade my time with Vincent for anything, except maybe for more time with Vincent.”

August 20, 2011: “Nine months before Vincent was born, I had no idea we were having another son. Nine months since his passing, I have no idea how to live without him. He was an unexpected gift; neither did I foresee giving him away.”

September 20, 2011: “There’s only so much to say, and I’ve already said plenty. I don’t want more words, just more Vincent. He was super.”

October 20, 2011: “We still miss you, Vin.”

Today: I’m not sure I can keep doing this every month. I don’t have much more to to say, so this could be it for a while.

Grief journal (11 months)

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–Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

Let me tell you a story. I’ll make it quick so I can get back to fantasy football.

Vincent was our son. He was astonishingly cute and we loved him accordingly. Then he got cancer. Then he died. Then we cried, buried him, and cried some more. Then we started missing him incessantly.

Then my wife and I started writing introspective, blubbery blog posts about him. It didn’t do much to ease the pain, but a few kind people started reading them anyway. Then the topic got really old so I ran out of things to say (until next time).

True story.

We still miss you, Vin.

[photo by Luminosity]

Grief journal (10 months)

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[Insert profound grief quote here. Translation: Nothing impressed me this month.]

If grieving were easy, it wouldn’t be grief. But if it’s supposed to be a rotten experience, then I guess we’re right on track. I feel a self-absorbed rant coming on, but those are so unoriginal these days.

What’s the payoff for this blog-my-grief-once-a-month ritual? Answer: Not much when there’s so little to say. Numerous pastimes are more enjoyable than probing my emotions and memories for the words to describe what losing Vincent means to me. Sitting in traffic or paying bills, for instance. At least those activities don’t involve a futile search for words that don’t exist.

And that’s exactly the trouble with grief—the words. You can’t make it with ’em or without ’em. The only thing worse than suffering in silent, unspoken grief is trying to manufacture phrases and sentences that will do it justice. Pick your poison. It’s not that I regret the time I’ve spent journaling, processing, counseling, praying and support grouping through grief. But those activities can become painfully wordy after a while. There’s too much pressure to summarize, theorize, draw conclusions and resolve the tension. Maybe that’s why I can barely blog about this once a month, yet still find myself attempting it often enough to document the difficulty.

There’s only so much to say, and I’ve already said plenty. I don’t want more words, just more Vincent. He was super.

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