We survived our first holiday without Brian. All of us. On Wednesday we had Thanksgiving at Ashley’s. It was good to have all of the cousins together, and Adrianne and Chris, Ashley, Kim, Grandpa Branch, Bill and Janet. Ethne went out with everyone to get Ashley’s Christmas tree and Elliot and I ran errands and then met up at the house for dinner. It was easy for me to pretend that Brian was just in a different room. For so many holidays there, we would just mingle and were rarely in the same room at the same time.

My family came to my house Thanksgiving day. Brian’s absence was much more palpable. Our house is smaller for one, and the void left here without him is immense. I wrote about how our house felt like such a sacred space the last week he was alive. Everyone was here and it felt more like home than it ever had. And once again, its been affirmed to me that Home really is the people, not the walls around you. Because when Brian died, this house became so foreign to me almost immediately. I spent the first several days after he was gone just wandering from room to room like I was in a trance. Like I was looking for something I couldn’t find. It felt so foreign, vacant, unfamiliar.

I’ve spent the last two, almost three (has it been that many?) weeks trying to make our house into a home again. Its been difficult to strike a balance between the overwhelming emotion and keeping his memory strong here.

And these are the lessons grief is teaching me in these first weeks without him. There is active and passive grief. Most of the time, I am so busy with the children that I don’t allow myself to sit with my feelings. I am passively grieving. I go about my days and my symptoms include forgetfulness, did I eat or shower? Aches and pains, sleeplessness, fatigue, and feeling crushed by the weight of all that demands my attention including children, bills, appointments, housework, and my own health.

Then, there are moments scattered throughout each day and night when I am hit out of the blue by bolts of bright, frank grief. During these times of actively grieving, my heart is clutched, my throat burns, and waves of anguish wash over me. These moments come without warning. Loading a movie for the kids, waiting in a check out line, taking the dog outside; there is no rhyme or reason. These are the moments I expected. This is what grief is “supposed” to look like. The passive grieving, the automatic survival mode I spend most of my time in has been the surprise. But this phase is all so brand new to me; I won’t pretend I have it figured out. I am just trying to let the feelings come as they will and be present, which has never been easier. I can’t help but take one hour at a time.

On the way home from Ashley’s the other night Ethne got really upset. She shouted at me from the backseat that she couldn’t remember all of the fun things she and her dad used to do. So we spent the rest of the drive home recounting all of our good memories. We went for a carriage ride with Santa last weekend and Ethne was uncharacteristically quiet. Until Santa asked where her dad was today, if he was working. She said, “my daddy passed away. He had a tumor in his brain.” Santa was very apologetic, how could that detail have slipped his mind? After all, he knew she was four and that she went to preschool and that she has tried her best to be good all year.

I am so continually impressed by my strong, brave girl. She isn’t aware of how uncomfortable death is for everyone because she’s spent the last six months, an eighth of her life, watching her dad decline. We tried to be open with her always. And Brian had brain cancer for her whole life so his illness was her normal. I am so proud of her, but I also understand that this is a heavy weight for her to carry so I am continually looking for ways to help her feel secure.

This holiday season is bound to be intense. We lost two integral parts of our family in a very short span of time, first Grandma Branch, and then Brian. But as Grandpa Branch said to Ashley on the way home the other night, “Thanksgiving wasn’t so bad.”

10 thoughts on “Thanksgiving

      1. Lindsey, I continue to pray for you Ethne & Elliot at Mass twice every week, for your physical healing and emotional strength & healing for all of you. Your Mom is one of your rocks and I love her for that. She is one of my rocks on my WW journey. I’m also praying for peace for all of your family.
        Norma, Ethne’s birthday buddy


  1. I loved the photos beautiful babies. As you are finding out things won’t ever be the same. And you described it right on. Every single one of us get hit differently. Mine usually come on when I’m driving alone and a song with come on. And I’m crying my eyes out. Still 5 years later things hit me out of nowhere. Im still not used to all the changes. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries… those are the toughest. The last month he was alive always the hardest. As different memories come up and different times. Then you have the mile stones on your children… it’s never ending. It’s comforting to think they are hanging around watching and seeing it all.
    Willow would always ask Santa in a letter and on his lap to make her dad better. It grows them up too fast and robs them of childhood innocence. Will was 8-11 years old but she only remembers him being sick. I have a tough time myself remembering before.
    You’re doing a great job of just getting through and living the best you can. That’s all we can do. Those babies are so blessed to have you for a momma. And goes without saying how unfair life can be sometimes. I will always be thinking good thoughts for you all. Hugs!


  2. You are amazing and so loved by so many people. Ethne is amazing too. What a wonderful person you are and a fantastic mother. I pray for you and your family daily. I hope one day you publish your writing, I feel the emotions as if they were my own, I believe it could help so many people.
    God bless you and your children and family with profound peace.


  3. You don’t know me but I am a friend of your lovely mother. I have no words for what you and your precious family are going through. This is an article I stumbled upon once regarding grief. I pray you can find some hope in it.

    I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not.

    I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents…

    I wish I could say you get used to people dying. But I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it.

    Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

    As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

    In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

    Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

    Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.


  4. Thank you for continuing to share. You and your babies are never far from my thoughts and prayers. I thought of Brian at mass this morning.


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