There is an empty seat. An agonizing hole in our heart, in our world. Others may have become invisible already (or by now) to the place we hold for our children during the holidays (and every day) but we feel it. Something is wrong. And yet others laugh and find pleasure and meaning in purchasing gifts. How can that be? How can everyone else’s world go on without our children in it? How can we be expected to go on? Yet we do.
I am many years “out” from the trauma of Daniel’s death, but nowhere near through the trauma of losing him, if you know what I mean. However, I have made a life with him carried in my heart instead of in my arms or walking by my side, and I think I have adapted to the situation, if not to the loss. Then, at church, we’re invited to buy a poinsettia in honor of our dead. That simple thing pulls off the scab and causes my heart to bleed again. I ask my husband to pick it out and to make the arrangement because I know I would cry at the florist’s shop or get caught up in picking a blemish-free plant, strong and healthy, because if it wilted, it would crush my spirit even more. A plant. My son’s “presence” at church on Christmas has been reduced to a plant on a shelf.
But we have created new traditions, and that has helped. I’m playing hand bells for a midnight Christmas Eve service — something I never did when Daniel was alive. We go out to my cousin’s house for dinner (I used to make every Christmas dinner). I don’t want to do the same things I did, so I go caroling with an adult choir. I helped our hometown launch a parade of lights, and worked to bring Santa back to town. My children are grown, we’re finally beyond the stockings and the things I couldn’t do any longer for Daniel, and we made it through and past those first Christmas holidays. Now I try to help other children find joy in Christmas.
And so will you, and that’s my gift to you this year — the assurance that you can and will make it through. It will take a toll and you need to be patient and forgiving if you don’t feel like buying things or cooking or caroling. You need to be able to set boundaries. But open your heart (it will, in fact, help with your healing) and do what you can. Don’t shy away from what you can do. It helps to be as charitable as possible, as focused on others as you can manage. Reach just a bit beyond yourself, and then be happy with yourself.
I am with you in spirit as we go into our respective holiday celebrations, just as my son is with me. I do pray for your peace and that you can find some measure of joy in the season. It is possible, please know and have faith that it is possible, and let your child’s love shine through you. Kindle that flame. It will shine again, with time.