Smarties, this is a beautiful story written by April Drobnick, (Daria’s mom) It is absolutely powerful and we ask that you please make sure you support the 9th Annual Hope Floats Duck Race this Sunday. ~Jen
“Mommy, will his dad be home when I go over to play?” my five-year-old son, Elliot, asks as I round the turn up the steep hill to our home in South Charlotte. I glance behind me and see my full-of-life fourth–born looking down in hesitancy and momentary anxiety as the question falls out into the open van space. I feel the weight of the words and ache as I feel the underlying reminder of the loss my son is living out. The discomfort and insecurity Elliot can feel when away from me and in the presence of another family’s father is so natural for him to wrestle through in his story at this season.
Upon the sudden loss of his father, Jeremy, three and a half years ago he, his three sisters and I were ushered into a journey of unknowing sorrow, loss, and hope. In the weight of the crisis before us, we were handed an invaluable gift of presence and compassion in the organization of KinderMourn through a reference by a crisis officer within the police department. How comforting and inviting it was to walk through the doors of their lovely, brick period home that was so “home-like”—filled with murals and images of life and hope–and hear “we are here to walk with you for the distance” by the children’s director, Judith Allen, just weeks after our loss.
It was the first of many visits that invited my then 8-year-old daughter, Daria, and 7-year-old daughter, Isabelle, to be offered a place of belonging and grace. They felt the safety to not be “ok” in a social realm with others who were similarly struggling as they grieved the loss of a parent or sibling to an early death. “Group’s tonight!” hopefully and loudly sounded through the halls of our home every Monday night for a year and a half by first the older girls and then toward the end of that time, their sister, Sophie, who had turned 5 and could attend group as well. The group times brought laughter, games, and engaging activities to process their feelings and provide a place to speak truth and encouragement to their battle-worn hearts. The exciting snacks each week were a huge hit as well ☺ The blessing of being with other kids their ages in community who truly understood the unknowing heartache my girls were walking through lifted some of the loneliness of their experience.
Soon the girls developed a vocabulary for how they felt and a “toolbox” of practical and encouraging helps to access on their own when the pain and loneliness would bear up against them. Now, three and a half years since Jeremy’s passing, I see them growing into a new place of using some of those early-learned tools. Craft/pottery work, drawing, or writing poetry offers dignity and an outlet for their hearts when the pain/ache bears up. It is a joy to see them giving some of these creations to others struggling in their own difficult paths of loss. We borrowed books from KinderMourn’s ample library of resources that helped normalize to their hearts that they were not alone in the pain and sadness they were experiencing. I think the desire for presence in our suffering is a universal gift we all long to experience in our human journey—no matter what pain we are met with in life. KinderMourn’s staff offers the gift of presence with humility, gentleness and confidence that hope will come—not by navigating away from but moving into and through the dark spaces of sorrow.
When we heard of the “Hope Floats” Duck Race for the first time in spring of 2009 we laughed☺. And then we laughed some more when we saw a picture of the yellow stream of sunglass-clad rubber duckies catching the waves down the U.S. National Whitewater Center rapids here in Charlotte. Laughter is such a balm to the sorrowing heart. When a friend offered to head up “The Drobnick Quackers” in memory of the kids’ dad in 2010 we felt some joyful, silly expectancy at seeking “quack pack” owners.☺ It was such a lift to the kids to be honored as the team with the most duck adoptions that first year. The kids enjoy the fun of the race anticipation and actual race event each year and it is a privilege to be able to support a ministry that serves children and families in need of mercy so well.
I’ve personally been so blessed by KinderMourn’s grieving parent’s program that provided a safe space to process with other parents who were walking out the loss of a spouse. Some weeks I would just weep and listen in community with others who knew a piece of my pain. Other weeks I found I had something to share that grew courage, acceptance and healing within. In this time each week I learned to do the “work” of grieving that is often so hard to initially lean into when you feel it will swallow you in its fierce emotions. I have also come to own that I am a steward of my children’s grief process. There will be new places of awareness to loss they have been entrusted with as they walk through each developmental stage—it is a lifelong journey. There is more of a comfort now in leaning into the process—and experiencing life and closeness as a family coming as we walk out the path.
There is a freedom space that has been born in my children and in me as God has given us strength to move through the suffering into a new place of hope and life. KinderMourn’s presence in that journey as witnesses who have gone before us has been such a balm in an unknowing land. I find a joy in this new season of walking in greater light and hope that is allowing me to pour some of the comfort I’ve received into others just beginning their walk through sorrow. It is a redeeming place to be. And what a gift to know as Judith Allen shared one day soon after we had ended attending weekly group, “We are here for you whenever you may need us in the way. There is no need to say goodbye.”