By now I'm sure you've read or seen the story about the Santa who visited a terminally ill child who passed away in his arms. I started seeing the story a week or so ago (I think it actually happened in October, but that doesn't really matter) and it got me thinking about what that family is going through as they prepare for their first Christmas with one less around the table and Christmas tree as they open presents. It got me thinking...
Then I started seeing a few friends of friends post about loved ones who have passed - both young and old - and the feeling I had been thinking about and pushing away came back. It was a feeling of wanting to share a little about our experience with loss and to help those who aren't sure what to do / say because let's face it, when you get a call that someone you know has passed, or one of your close friends loss a child, parent, grandparent - your mind races as to what you can do, what you can say. And when that happens around Christmas, it only adds to the pressure of wanting to make sure you're saying the right thing.
I'm going to preface that the rest of this article is coming from my experience of losing our child, our son. We lost our son 5 years ago this October. I can remember the first month after we lost him where I literally was in bed for almost all of it. When I wasn't in bed, I was downstairs on our couch. Blinds closed.
Then came our first Thanksgiving. What did I have to be thankful for? God took my son and I just couldn't bring myself to be in any sort of thankful mood. Then came our first Christmas. Take my thoughts / feelings from Thanksgiving and multiply that by a gazillion. I can remember being at midnight mass with my parents and even before the service started, I couldn't help but cry. This wasn't supposed to be how Christmas goes. I was sad. I was angry. I was frustrated. I wanted to just get through the holiday's so that everyone would stop being so cheerful.
I will say this. Everyone grieves differently. This was how I was grieving - which is absolutely, totally, 100% different from another grieving parent. In my grieving process, I feel I've come leaps and bounds...while others may not see anything, because I got good about just putting on a smile and trying to change topics to avoid really sharing how I was feeling.
With every holiday, I always have a feeling that there should be one more around our table. One more hand to hold when we pray. One more singing happy birthday, Merry Christmas, or jumping out saying "BOO!" While I still get angry and frustrated, I also have good moments where I watch our three girls and am so thankful for them. But it's taken YEARS for me to get to this point.
This brings me to what I really want to share. I think the hardest part of grieving is a) dealing with what people say and / or b) knowing what to say. Before losing a child, there were the Hallmark category phrases that came to mind when I heard someone passed. Phrases such as:
- Heaven must have needed another angel
- God doesn't hand us more than we can handle
- There's a reason for this...even though we may not know what it is
No. No. No.
I will admit, I've probably said these and after losing Ethan, if I could take them back I would. Again, this is just me talking, but let me just say that if Heaven needed another angel, surely there is someone who is nearing triple digits in age or someone else who is hurting more that would benefit more from seeing the pearly gates than my son. God may think I can handle this, but guess what, I don't want to. I never wanted to know what losing a child felt like and it broke me more than I ever knew a person would break. I struggle with what good reason God has for taking my son from me. I now know (and feel) that God doesn't do things like that...he doesn't "take" someone because he wants to and he hurts along with us, however not a week goes by without me pleading with him to share with me the reason, because I can't wrap my head around why my son is a memory.
Geez. Writing this, and re-reading it, makes me sound kind of angry. Let me say that yes, I am angry I don't have my son with me physically, but I know I'll see him again. I know he sends me signs when I need it - the smell of what would have been his bedroom, a penny or feather out of nowhere, a tug around my neck. I've gone from angry to acknowledging that this is my life, this is who I am. I can't change what happened, but I'm hoping I can help others who may be going through a loss in some small way.
If you're still reading, THANK YOU! This is really what I'm hoping will help those who maybe don't know what to say or do when they see their loved one, family member, friend who has suffered a loss or going through a tough time during the holiday season. Consider saying these phrases:
- I'm so sorry and I'm here with you and for you - whatever you need.
- I've been thinking about (insert name) and your family lately...how are you? Really, how are you?
If you aren't comfortable saying or asking the above, consider making a donation to a cause the family is involved with, a cause that relates to the person who has passed, or if it was a child, think about purchasing a gift from your local Angel tree in the child's name.
I know some of you may be wondering, won't saying his / her name just upset my friend or loved one? I don't want to make things awkward for them. Here's one thing I've learned. Whether or not someone asks me about Ethan or how I'm doing, I think about him every day. EVERY DAY. Just hearing his name, or knowing that someone cares enough to ask, makes me thankful for that person in my life and helps me know that, as a mom, I'm not failing him.
In the end, holiday's are a time of togetherness, love, kindness, and thankfulness. While there may be arguments around the table (I mean seriously, who doesn't have at least one argument), there's probably nobody else you'd rather have at that table.
For those of you missing someone this year, whether it's the first or the 21st Christmas without them, take comfort in the fact that on some level, they are there with you too.