Keeping Your Child Present

Death ended Jonathan’s life but if didn’t end his relationship with me. I learned to keep him present in my life by doing outreach in his name.

Countless books have been written on the process of mourning and what’s become known as the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Few books mention the stage of giving as part of the healing process. It was in this last stage, memorializing our son through philanthropy, that we finally healed.

After our son’s car accident we had no idea how to deal with our son’s death or how to honor his memory. We just knew we had to get out of the house. We stumbled into the nonprofit world when our family lawyer and friend steered us in that direction. Little by little we reshaped his presence on earth by doing small meaningful acts in his name, things Jonathan would be doing if he were still alive.

Our non-profit took shape in a very grassroots way. Jonathan was a freshman in college, a talented musician and committed social activist. He had a couple of unfinished projects he left behind; raising monies for a well in Africa and collecting band instruments for a school in rural North Carolina. We were given a chance to pass Jonathan’s future on to those less fortunate by simply picking up where he left off. We raised money to build a Playpump well in Malawi and eventually we delivered those instruments to Gaston College Prep in N.C.

Beyond the satisfaction we experience by helping others, I feel rewarded by one simple gesture. Thirteen years later, I experience the joy of hearing Jonathan’s name spoken. Because of our outreach, our son is still included in conversations; in a new idea, an act of giving. He is present.

I gained perspective on our loss from the insightful writings of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He explained that God kept the “gap” – Jonathan’s absence – empty, so we can still feel our son’s presence. Over time I started connecting the small yet significant acts that happened in those empty gaps. As I made the connections, our outreach took on new meaning and I began to end my mourning. This is how I found my way back from grief: I kept my heart and mind together and did the work our son didn’t finish.

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Comments (14)

  • I loved reading this for two reason’s #1,my son’s name is Jonathan, forever 20 ,8/17/1988-7/18/09.#2 have kept your learning the way that you kept your Jonathan present in your life to bring more peace in yours.Thank you I can now prepare a way to things in motion to give my Jonathan a tangible presence not only for myself , but others.:). Janett Cooper

    • Janett – Thanks for sharing this with me about your Jonathan. I hope my book will help guide you in your work. Peggy

  • My daughter passed away May 6, 2019 and I have done a couple of things and i am trying to figure out how to start a foundation in her honor. I think it would help me

    • Sherline, I am so sad to know you lost your daughter. Our son died in a car accident 13 years ago. I recently wrote a book, rather a small guide, to help bereaved parents get through their grief by helping others. A lawyer and family friend in our small town set up a foundation in our son’s memory and working in it, well, continuing the work our son would be doing if he were still alive, has saved me. ….. and our family. I don’t mean to promote, I just want to help. I wrote my book because I couldn’t find one to help me get through the process. I’ll be at the conference this weekend and will be honored to give you a copy. Or you can see it at this link: keywords=grief+to+generosity&qid=1563213267&s=books&sr=1-1

  • Hello My name is niecie I lost my daughter August 2, 2019 I have never experienced such pain this would have caused me. I am raing my granddaughter now and am trying to pick up the pieces of my life I still cannot make any sense of what happened but I am still very said and have lost all of my hair I do not know how I will ever get over this Please help

  • Sherline – I also wanted to say, take your time. Take plenty of naps and take plenty of time to grieve. . No parent should outlive their child. Again,my dearest sympathies. Peggy

  • My son, Kyle, and Jonny were very good friends, and the work that Peggy and her family are doing in his memory is nothing short of spectacular!! I have not walked in their shoes, I cannot even imagine those circumstances. I can say it is an honor as a friend to help keep Jonny’s name alive and spoken, thank you for sharing this path to healing.
    Connie Loughran

    • Thank you for the card you send on Jonny’s birthday, even 13 years later. It means a lot to me, and so does your comment here! Peggy

  • Peggy,
    Chuck shared your email with me and —-27 years after my son Lucien died — I learned something new about dealing with grief. The “gap” concept so resonates and fills. Thank you for that and for continuing to lead the way for other parents who have lost a child.

    • Daphne – Talking with you about Lucien helped me realize I needed to write my book. Thank you. Peggy

  • Hi Peggy, I just lost my 13 year old son on June 2nd. This loss has left a huge hole in my heart. I have good days and bad days. I miss him so much.

    • Beej – I am so sorry to read about the loss of your young son. I found the meetings at Compassionate Friends very helpful, especially in the first few months after our son died. You may find some comfort too. Peggy

  • I lost my daughter May 15th of 2019. The pain hurts so much that I can’t function. My heart is broken and I need help

    • Dear Barbara, I am very sorry to read of the loss of your daughter only three months ago. Your grief is very new and I know your heart breaks. I am also a bereaved mother and what helped me more than anything was finding and becoming a part of a chapter of The Compassionate Friends. Being with other parents who have also suffered the loss of a child helped me realize that I was not alone, and connecting with other parents, even outside of chapter meetings, and become friends who support each other and understand has helped me on this most difficult journey. I would like to help you find a chapter in your area. If you give me your zip code I will gladly look for you. We can also email you a packet of helpful information on grief,as well as resources from The Compassionate Friends. If you give me your email address, I can email it to you. If you do not have an email address, we can mail it to you through US Mail. I hope you will reply back. We truly care. In compassionate friendship, Cathy, Nina’s and Chris mom

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