‘There’s no wrong way to celebrate or mourn your loved one. There’s no rulebook for this.’: Widow honors husband on anniversary of his passing, ‘Do what feels good for YOU’

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“How do you honor the man you love that died suddenly? The father of your young children? How do you help them remember because they were so young when he died?

It has been 2 years since my husband, Marcus, passed suddenly while on a work trip. Our children were 5, 4, and 2. Marcus and I had been married for 9 years, a rarity for young kids like we were, getting married at 20 and 22. We counted ourselves the lucky ones, thankful we made such a good pick when we hadn’t experienced a whole lot of life yet.

When Marcus died at 32, death was an entirely new concept for me. I hadn’t lost anyone close to me, so I was shockingly unprepared. Everything I have done and figured out in the wake of his death has been a first-hand trial and error experience of what feels good to me and what has worked for the kids. The main thing I have learned is there is no wrong way to celebrate or mourn your loved one.

The week leading up to the anniversary of his death, we spent a lot of time talking about him. We went through their daddy books a lot and began reading the book he wrote for the first time with them. So while the day of his death anniversary was mostly dedicated to him, we tried to spend a lot of time reflecting on the week of as well. It is hard to consolidate the feelings and emotions to a single day, and I am most often affected the weeks leading up to a big date. The kids are usually affected behaviorally as well, even if no mention of the upcoming date is mentioned. My kids’ therapist introduced me to the idea of grief memory, where their body remembers significant dates even if they consciously don’t.

On the first year anniversary of his passing, we spent the weekend with our close family friends who have kids similar in age to ours. We spent quality time with the kids and their friends, shared lots of memories, had breakfast at our normal breakfast spot, visited the grave, and sent up balloons to heaven in his memory.

This year, we wanted to do things a little differently. We wanted to celebrate as a foursome, spending the morning with emotions and words uninhibited and reflecting on their dad. I kept the kids out of school and we deemed the day our ‘Remembering Day.’ We went out to breakfast (our favorite weekend ritual) and spent lots of time sharing stories and what we love and miss about daddy.

After a few hours alone, we joined up with my now-husband and our other daughter. We presented the Remembering Room we created to the kids in our new home. The idea behind it was to create a safe space to go and remember their dad, go through his memorabilia, and scour through pictures and feel all the feelings. Our new home had a small partially finished room in the unfinished basement that otherwise served no purpose, but it seemed like the perfect spot to have a small daddy shrine for us.

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

We had a little art session where the kids painted with watercolor, with the only prompt to paint how they felt that day. They intuitively were telling me what each color meant, sharing their feelings, or in Eloise’s case, painting the word ‘sad.’ The kids also wrote a letter to their dad (their own idea), which I will continue to do every year. I wrote a letter to them I gave on the first anniversary here.

After lunch we went to an indoor play place for hours! The kids had so much fun burning off energy and having a ball (hard to find fun things to do since it is the middle of winter). We then went out to hibachi, and then out for ice cream! We wanted to have as much fun as a family as possible. As sad as the day is and remembering what happened 2 years ago, we also wanted it to be a time where we could come together and remember this person who we love and miss so much.

The kids love to remember their dad, even if it is hard for Eloise to remember because she was only 2 when he died. Celebrating and remembering him is so important to all of the kids, but especially her, who needs us to help her know who he was. If you’ve lost a loved one, do not avoid talking about them to attempt to protect the kids from these intense emotions. The more we talk about their dad, the more connected they feel toward him, and the more they know the emotions they feel are acceptable and normal. I don’t ever want the kids to feel they can’t speak of Marcus because it makes me sad, because then they’ll grow up with all sorts of stifled feelings and pent-up emotions. I want them to know we can be sad together and even though our life looks very different now, it is ok to be happy and continue on with life while still missing and loving their dad.

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

If you have children, I encourage you to get them involved (daily, but even more so on these anniversaries). The more they feel a part of the process and they are a valued part of the remembering, they will feel more connected to the person and to you. Shielding them from the difficult emotions or remembering won’t do them any good, and they will have to deal with it harder when they are older. Invite them into your sadness and be sad together. And invite them into your memories and be happy together too. I respond to the kids’ cues and ask their input often, following their lead. The more I ask how they are doing or ask how they feel, the more often and honestly they open up to me.

There is no perfect way to spend the anniversary of your loved one’s death. I encourage you to do what feels good for YOU. You may have family or friends who have an idea of how they would like to do things, but when it really comes down to it, do what makes you feel comfortable. If you want to spend the day alone, do that. If you want to throw a huge party, do that. There is no rule book for this, and it is an entirely emotional and difficult thing to process.”

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Fergesen of West Des Moines, IA. You can follow her journey on InstagramFacebook, and her blog. Buy a digital version of Let the Socks Lead here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more stories from Nicole here:

‘At 20, people judged our choice to get married. ‘You have to experience your single years and party it up.’ I didn’t want it. I wanted Marcus.’: Widow remarries after loss, ‘I love two incredible men’

‘Your dad would be so proud of you.’ He honors their father and tells them he loves them too.’: Widow details helping kids adjust to bonus dad, ‘It’s okay to love both’

‘Do you remember your dad?’ She responded, ‘Which one?’ Our family dynamic changed completely.’: Widow shares ‘beautiful and complicated’ journey after loss

‘Let’s give this a go, shall we?’ The first time we met, I can’t even tell you how nervous I was. It’s about giving up control.’: Moms co-write blended family journey, ‘Life is humbling and messy’

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