In the wake of the horrific Parkland, FL mass shooting and in addition to the sudden and recent deaths of so many children in our country that have died due to the current flu epidemic, I have found myself turning off the TV only to relive Riley's last days and the morning of his passing over and over again in my head. Although the Parkland shooting and recent flu epidemic are two completely different situations, there is one common theme: the sudden and unexpected loss of a child.
Riley's birthday is tomorrow. He would have been 12 years old. Approximately two months from now will be his two year angel-versary. Needless to say, these next couple of months will be very painful for Rob and me as our grief is triggered by these recent horrible events and magnified due to the anniversaries of his passing.
I have found myself these last few days about what I would say to the parents going through the excruciating pain of losing their children in such a sudden and unexpected way, such as how we lost our Riley. Considering my own personal experience, you would think that I would know exactly what to say, how to comfort them and to be able to give them some advice on what lies before them in the coming times. However, this is not an easy task, especially if you are currently in the middle of the trenches yourself. That being said, I have learned a few things along the way and that is the meaning behind this post.
I am no writer by any means, nor am I very comfortable with expressing my feelings on paper much less social media, so please try not to judge my grammar, etc. I just want to express what is on my heart. During times like these I often feel compelled to make my best effort to speak out but usually do not for fear that my words will not be of help, or even worse, may not come out as I intended and inflict more pain somehow.
I would like to tell you a quick story pertaining to this. The other day as I was getting ready to vacuum my floors I thought to myself, "I am just going to scrap this article. It won't help anyone and I just can't write it the way it should be written." No sooner than these words entered my mind did I hear a still, small voice come to me that calmly said, "Write the article." I believe that was the Holy Spirit reaching out to me. I don't know if this post will help anyone, but if it helps even one person I will feel like I have done my part and glory be to God that I was able to do just that. With all of that being said, I have now decided to attempt to give some comfort, insight or advice to the bereaved parents of these two terrible events, so here goes...
Love. The love between a parent and their child is a love that is greater than any love a person can behold. Because of our son Riley's incredibly huge heart full of love, kindness and affection, Rob and I have chosen to spread his legacy through our foundation, Riley's Rainbows. Through Riley's Rainbows we have chosen to honor our son by passing his love and kindness as far and as wide as we possibly can. We also hope to help the bereaved by dedicating a page on our website designated to referencing online resources that we have found helpful throughout our own grief journey.
There are so many different ways that bereaved parents can choose to continue to love and honor their children in the wake of their passing. For example, on Riley's first angel-versary we gathered with our immediate family members to release biodegradable sky lanterns including personalized notes of love written to Riley on them. This year, on his birthday, we plan to plant a tree in our backyard as a tribute to how much he loved nature. Some other suggestions may be to create a scrapbook of photos, memorable stories or sentimental items your child may have worn or used, etc. You could choose to journal (an incredibly healing tool for me) or to begin a blog to share the heartfelt memories you have of your child. Have a blanket made from your child's favorite tee shirts. Some bereaved parents decide to get a tattoo commemorating something special related to their child. The options are endless but the main objective, and a critical point of the healing process, is to express the love you have for your child in a tangible way.
The club. One thing I have come to realize through personal experience is that we are a club that no one would ever want to join, basically we are every parent's worst nightmare, but once we find others going through the same experience we are bonded for life. Losing a child is the loneliest, most unbearable journey a person can experience within their lifetime and the only people who can truly help you to understand it are those who, unfortunately, are experiencing it for themselves.
In this club, we know that anytime one of us is having a particularly rough time we will always be there for one another. Whether it is a phone call during the day or a text message during the middle of the night, we will always answer and we will always be a listening ear to do our best in helping our bereaved friend on the other end of that conversation. In addition, we will each most likely be in a different stage of our grief journeys and for this reason will be able to perhaps provide a different perspective.
A choice. You must eventually make a very difficult choice. Admittedly, a choice that took me a very long time to come to terms with myself. You must attempt to choose to wake up, go outside and make yourself search for beauty in the little things every chance you get. This is difficult to do in the midst of your grieving when all you want to do is to close your blinds, turn off the lights and isolate yourself from the world.
Our Riley taught me how to do this. He taught me how to notice the sometimes small but always important things in life like colorful rainbows, gorgeous sunsets, bird nests gently resting in a tree, starry nights and the wonders of how each tiny star fits together with other bright and tiny stars to make beautiful constellations. He taught me these things from his childlike perspective, a perspective many times overlooked by us adults who are too often distracted from carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Please remember to stop and take the time to enjoy these things as it will also honor the memory of your child. Your child would want this glimmer of happiness for you and by doing this you are also taking care of yourself, which we all need to do in the midst of a tragedy such as ours.
Triggers. There will be triggers all around you. An example of this is when I once found myself waiting in line at a sandwich shop just up the up the street from our home. There were two young boys waiting in line with their mother in front of me. Suddenly, I was on the verge of a meltdown. Usually if I was out in public, which was rare in those days, I could contain myself if I felt my emotions overwhelming me. I could compose myself long enough to finish what I was doing and then get into my car and let my emotions out freely without feeling self-conscious. However, this was a very long line to wait in, and to think in, while my emotions kicked into overdrive. Let's face it, what else do you have to do while you are waiting in long lines but to think? I knew the sandwich had to wait.
Triggers like this can come from things such as a street you often drove down with your child, a sign or advertisement for an event you once attended, seeing a child that reminds you of your own child or a grocery shopping trip where you walk down a particular aisle only to see your child's favorite food staring you in the face. These are just a few examples of the triggers you may experience, but I can share with you that the more you bravely face these triggers the less they will affect you.
Moving forward. The passing of your child completely breaks you in a way that is unimaginable. Your life will never be the same but you will eventually get to a place where you can move forward. Please understand that no matter what anyone tells you there is no specific timeframe for you to grieve. There will always be an everlasting grief for your child that never goes away. However, as a wise friend further along in her own grief journey once told me, your grief becomes more manageable as time progresses.
The what if's. This is something that I still struggle with 22 months into my own grief journey. I recently read in a news article of a man who lost his teenage daughter in the Parkland, FL shooting. He was struggling with the fact that he couldn't remember if he told his daughter that morning before she left for school if he loved her. He mentioned that, in the hurried moments of that morning, she left quickly and although he always took the time to express his love for her before she left to go somewhere he could not remember if he did so that morning. I suspect that he asks himself frequently, "What if I didn't tell her?". I have something that I would like to share with this father, something that I try to remember each time I feel these same emotions coming to surface. It is this. Regardless of whether you told your daughter that you loved her or not, she knew in her heart that you loved her. From what I read in that article, I could tell that you took the time to express your love for her each and every day through your words and through your actions and just one morning will never ever change that.
For the parents that lost their children due to the deadly flu epidemic, they may ask themselves what would have happened if they hadn't taken their child to a movie theater, or a park, or some other public place where their child could have picked up the virus. This is another question that I grapple with myself due to the similar passing of our son Riley. There is no way that a parent could have ever known what would happen to their child in that moment.
I have learned the hard way that these questions only lead you down a dark rabbit hole of more depression and heartache. Questions such as these will never bring you comfort. The what if's are hard to overcome, but try to remember that they are of no use to you throughout your healing process.
Finally, to all of the the bereaved parents that I refer to in this post and to bereaved parents everywhere who have lost their child in a tragic, sudden and unexpected way, I have this to say. You are not alone. We feel your pain. We wish you the strength, comfort and grace that only God can bring to you throughout this difficult journey.
"Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you." Psalm 55:22.
Here is a story from our Riley's Rainbows Facebook page that I would like to share with you from a sweet friend of ours named Sherry: “Not too long ago I paid for the person behind me at McDonalds. But that's not why I tell this story. A few days later I was in the drive thru again. But this time I couldn't find my card and didn't have enough cash. I pulled up to the window to explain and was told that the person in front of me had paid for mine. What a blessing!”
This story makes my heart SO full and that is exactly why we do this on behalf of our sweet Riley! Not only do I LOVE that Sherry shared her own story of showing kindness to another with us, but to know that only a few days later, in the same setting where she had shown an act of kindness, she received an act of kindness herself.
It gives me chills that she couldn’t find her card and didn’t have cash (Trust me, I’ve been there!) and that she then received a random act of kindness from the customer in front of her. Not only this, but that it was at a time where she needed a little help as well. There is no way that the customer could’ve ever known that she was in a situation like she was.
That is just an affirmation, in my opinion, that God is working on the behalf of all of us to help spread kindness throughout our communities and beyond. If we all just take a small amount of time out of our day to do something kind for one another it can create a domino effect and hopefully spread like wildfire!
Sherry’s story is truly an inspiration! I am so grateful to hear the circulation of love and kindness she received through her experience, especially in the climate that we are unfortunately experiencing in our country today.
I can’t thank Sherry enough for sharing her story! She is truly a testament to the fact that showing kindness to one another can make a difference in this world. If I could, I would reach out and give Sherry a huge hug right now! #rileysrainbows #randomactsforriley #kindnessmatters
Dropped a little Valentine by the Youngsville Fire Dept. yesterday. I thanked the kind fireman for everything they do for our community and told him that the teddy bears were for any children that may need them in crisis and the candy was for the firefighters. He said, “We’ll give the candy to the kids also.” Talk about paying it forward, he sure didn’t waste any time!
#rileysrainbows #randomactsforriley #youngsvillencfirefighters#valentinesday2018
Join us on April 8th at the Barnraiser at the Battleship event sponsored by the Pure Energy - Katie Moore Real Estate Team! The event will benefit Rileys Rainbows, Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project and Indojax Surf Charities. Come join us for live music by Barn, food trucks, craft beer, and more!
Out of town friends, this would be an awesome opportunity for a fun Wilmington weekend or day trip! We are super excited and hope to see you there! #katiemoorerealestate #indojaxsurfcharities
#wrightsvillebeachseaturtleproject #rileysrainbows #rememberingriley
We received this beautiful thank you note from the Duke Children's Hospital today and it really made me stop and think about the fact that we all need to spread love and kindness every chance that we get. Thinking about bringing a smile to those sweet children and their family's faces makes my heart so full!
Please take the time to spread kindness throughout your community! It can be as small as a compliment to a co-worker. You never know what kind of day they may have been having so far and maybe your compliment is just the thing that he or she needed to turn the remainder of their day around. In turn, they may pay it forward and do something kind for someone else. It is a domino effect of love that everyone can benefit from!
If you need ideas for acts of kindness, please visit our printables page here to print out our Riley's Rainbows Kindness List. In addition, we would love to hear about any stories you may have of receiving an act of kindness or performing an act of kindness. Feel free to share your story with us on any of our social media pages. We would love to hear from you! #rileysrainbows #randomactsforriley
Do you and your family shop on Amazon (I know we do!) and want an easy way to support the Riley's Rainbows Foundation? Help us to spread even more kindness by going to smile.amazon.com whenever you would normally shop from amazon.com. If you shop from the smile.amazon.com link and then choose Riley's Rainbows Foundation as your charity, a portion of your purchase will go to support Riley's Rainbows Foundation and we would be super grateful! You will get the exact same selection of items as you would at the regular amazon.com link and it is an easy breezy process that doesn't cost you a dime (other than the money you spend shopping each time you visit!) #rileysrainbowsfoundation #smileamazon #helpustospreadkindness
A couple more sledding photos of Riley from the winter of 2015, one of which Rob is giving him a good boost down the hill in our backyard!
Snow was one of Riley's favorite things for sure! His teacher once told him if he wore his pajamas inside out it would snow the next day and, sure enough, he came down the stairs that night with his pajamas on inside out full of enthusiasm for what the next morning would bring! #rileysrainbows #rememberingriley#snowydaymemories
This photo is from a snowy day in February 2015. Riley would get so excited the second he saw a snowflake outside! I even remember a teacher telling him that if he wore his pajamas inside out to bed that it would snow the next day. Of course, he did that! Riley loved to sled down the huge hill near our house, build snow forts and have snowball fights, as any young boy his age would.
I am not a big snow person, or cold weather person at all for that matter, but I wanted to take some photos of Riley in the snow and this turned out to be one of my favorites. I am so glad that I took so many photos and videos of our sweet boy. They are precious memories that we can hold onto forever. #rileysrainbows #rememberingriley #snowydaymemories
As Rob was packing up Riley’s room for the move, a chore that I had to leave for him because I could not handle it emotionally, he came across Riley’s soccer jersey from when he played for the YMCA team in kindergarten. Riley would always want to play goalie! It brought back so many special memories of him playing on his team, the "Spiders". We would attend the games and practices, and actually Rob was the Assistant Coach for the team!
This was by far one of the hardest things Rob had to do, but as he shared what he found with me and we were looking at his jersey number we realized that ten was the age that Riley passed away. This was just another reminder that Riley is with us as we make this extremely difficult journey and very emotional move. #rememberingriley #rileysrainbows #foreverten —
Hello, and welcome! My name is Sonya. I am forever Mom to Riley, our sweet angel in heaven, a photography lover and Founder of Riley's Rainbows Foundation.