Last week my sons performed in a Veteran’s Day concert at school. They invited all of the community veterans to attend and then these adorable elementary- aged children sang their little hearts out for all of those who have served our country. They even had a bake sale and gave unlimited free treats to the veterans as a small way to say thank-you.
At one point during the concert, they had each veteran in the audience stand up when their branch of the military was called. They also had them stand up depending on which war they served in. When they called out for all veterans to stand up if they had served in the war in Iraq, my eyes instantly became watery and I couldn’t hold back the tears. My cousin served in that war and shortly after returning home took his own life. As I saw his fellow soldiers stand up to be honored, I couldn’t help but think of my cousin and how much I miss him.
I went to the concert to watch my kids. I wasn’t even thinking of my cousin before the event but once they mentioned the war in Iraq, I was instantly brought back to thoughts of him and the devastation his suicide brought upon our hearts. I was in tears and unable to fight them back. This is how grief works. It just finds us when we are least expecting it and forces us to respond, even when it is not convenient.
I tell you this story as a form of encouragement. Sometimes we kick ourselves for “losing it emotionally” or having an off day. Sometimes we get mad that we are still crying or not “further along” in our grief. The reality is grief comes and goes. Some days (or seasons) are harder than others. Some days we go to a concert to see our kids sing and we leave crying because we are reminded of a family member gone too soon. Grief triggers can come in all shapes and sizes and, usually, they are unexpected. A familiar song, an old friend, or a photograph from yesteryear can all act as triggers that remind us of our loved ones and bring about a wave of grief we were not expecting.
The next time this happens to you, I encourage you to embrace it. Grief is never easy but it is healthy and part of the process. Although I was brought to tears at the concert, it was still a great time to honor my cousin for his service to our country and remember him fondly. I do not get to choose when grief comes into my life, but I do get to choose how I respond. Last week, I chose to embrace grief. Embracing it always gets me further along than avoiding it.
Here’s hoping you, too, were able to honor your military family and friends last week!