Grieving on the Fourth of July

When children are young many people will recommend not taking them to see fireworks. The bright lights and loud sounds can be confusing and scary. When our son Noah was a year and a half we took him to his first fireworks display. We choose a small town over the big city, carefully choose a seat in the grass that would give us an easy escape and prepared for the celebration to begin. When the lights dimmed I took Noah in my lap and explained that there were going to be bright lights and loud noises and to not be afraid. When the show started Noah’s eyes got huge and I thought this is when the fear will set in…instead he jumped from my lap and began to laugh and clap. He was so excited and the louder the better.

                  Noah died just three weeks before the fourth of July. It seemed wrong to me to not make it to see the fireworks. This time we sat up close where we would have had he been with us. The show started and so did my tears. The louder it got the harder I cried. I just couldn’t imagine how my life had changed in just the 3 years since that first time with him. Each loud crash I felt throughout my body, the sound and my grief became one and the explosions seemed to mimic my emotions, fiery and intense. At some point I looked around and realized that even though I was crying loudly it was all being drowned out by the sound of the fireworks. I was not being patted, hugged or handed tissues. I was simply allowed to experience the depth of my pain.

                  When we were walking back to the car that night I automatically put my chair in my left hand, just like every mother does to leave her dominant hand free for her child. As I was walking I felt the pressure of a little hand in mine. So much so that I thought that some child had mistakenly taken my hand instead of their own parents. I looked down smiling ready to redirect him or her back to the rightful mother. When I looked down there was no one there, just the pressure in my hand. It is hard to explain the feelings that I had. Was it Noah’s spirit, my imagination, wishful thinking or something else? I don’t know the answer but what I do know is how I felt. I felt a connection to him that night in a way I hadn’t for 3 weeks. I felt like even though I was going to miss him forever that he was still a solid part of me and would be forever.

                                    It has been 13 years since that 4th of July. I have watched fireworks so many times over those years. On the 4th, after ball games and other special occasions and sometimes I still cry. Not as loudly as I did that first year but I still feel an emotional connection with the holiday and Noah’s death. I am glad that he was never afraid and that I had 3 years of taking him to see the fireworks. It gives me a happy memory to mix with the memories of all those 4th of Julys without him.

                  Whatever you are doing this year to celebrate our Nation’s birthday may you in some way include your loved one even if it is your own heart. Whether you cry under the veil of the fireworks or celebrate with family and friends know that where ever they are they are always a part of you and everything that you do.

Happy Birthday America!



About the Author

Tanya Lord was a special education teacher when Noah died. After his death she read The Institute of Medicine’s report To Err Is Human and realized that the errors responsible for her son’s death were not unique. This created a desire and determination to better understand and work towards improving health care. Currently she has completed a master’s degree in public health and a PhD in clinical and population health research and is completing a post-doctoral fellowship. Lord shares her personal and professional experiences in presentations and workshops for medical staff and students focusing on the importance of effective communication with patients before and after an error. She also is a co-founder of The Grief Toolbox (, which offers tools to help those along the grief journey. Lord may be contacted at [email protected]

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