It’s Okay

Nov 16, 2020 | Survivor Voices

By Joan Gilbert

The following is the opinion and personal experience of the writer.

I’ve learned so many ways to cope with the murder of my son, Jaron, in 2006, thanks to Homicide Survivors and all my HSI ‘family’. One of the most important lessons I learned is to know when to say “it’s okay”.

It’s okay to say, “that doesn’t work for me”. It’s also OK to say, “that is exactly what I’m looking for”!

The holiday season, in particular, is always challenging. Perhaps you feel the same.

During many HSI activities, such as Support Group sessions and Candlelight Vigils, I’ve had opportunities to hear from others how they honor and remember their loved ones taken too soon. I’ve adopted some of those ideas, tweaked others, and mostly realized that whatever I choose to do is okay for my journey.

I’m learning! Over the many years since Jaron died, I’ve found that what I do sometimes changes or maybe even disappears. Letting go of certain habits was at first very difficult, trying to figure out new routines and traditions. And then I found that even rituals can adapt and be reimagined, with positive consequences.

I’m never sure what sparks a change – usually, something happens a little differently, and then I find a new or different way to stay connected with Jaron. A new way that feels just right for that time and space.

Here’s an example. My family was fortunate to install a memorial bench for Jaron at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. For many years I visited every month and wrote reflections in a journal while sitting on his bench. I loved those moments of peace. What I wrote didn’t matter – some days I just made observations of what was happening at the Arboretum as the seasons changed. Some days I wrote a memory I had of Jaron. I was content.

As the years passed, I realized I was visiting less often – every other month, sometimes skipping a couple of months. I also wrote less and less in my journal. At first, these changes worried me a bit. Was I not being true to the special remembrances of Jaron that I had established? And then I would hear another HSI friend mention that their rituals also changed over time. It’s okay, they reassured me.

Holiday rituals may be the most challenging to manage after the death of our loved ones. Our families and friends often have expectations for how certain traditions should continue. All of us at HSI know that nothing feels the same, and what was once a cherished tradition may now feel out of place or even hurtful if our loved one can’t be a part of it. It’s okay to let those expectations go. We may or may not replace them with something new.

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