The question is starting to pop up with greater frequency in our closed bereaved parent groups: How do you make it through the holidays after child loss?
So for the next few days I’m going to share again from the many posts I’ve written in the past four years addressing different aspects of holiday planning, celebration, family dynamics and just plain survival for grieving parents and those who love them.
Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.
We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive. Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.
For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.
Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…
I have so much more empathy for older folks since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
I’ve always tried to be a patient listener when hearing that same story over and over and over but have to admit that sometimes I’d drift off or internally mock an elder because I was tired of hearing it.
Because I understand now that it’s in the telling that one both commemorates and honors people as well as the past.
Stories are how we weave facts into narrative and give them meaning. It’s why so many of us love historical fiction or period dramas that not only reference actual people and events but also peek at emotions, motivation and draw conclusions.
I could hand you my daily calendar and you’d understand the outline of where I was and what I did.
But you wouldn’t know what I thought or felt that day unless I filled it in.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I was forced at first to deliver the most basic message to others who needed to know. I repeated it over and over, “I have to tell you something awful. Dominic is dead.”
I didn’t really know much more than that.
Details were added by friends and first responders in the days to come.
The story broadened to include how we reassembled our family from across the country, who showed up to help us through the first hours, where we chose to bury him, what the funeral service looked like and on and on and on.
For months afterward I found myself compelled to repeat the story of those days.
Compelled to rewind and play again the details, each time teasing out additional insights, questions and feelings.
It was an important part of unspooling and exploring what, exactly, it meant to live in a world that no longer included one of my children.
I know sometimes folks get tired of me telling the story. For them, it is a reminder of some awful event that is tucked neatly in the past. A date on a calendar somewhere that might occasionally tickle the back of their brain and evoke a, “that’s so sad” response but not something they live with every. single. day.
But for me, Dominic’s death is an ongoing experience.
Every day I have to fit his absence into my world. I have to find a way to live around the giant void where heSHOULDbe butISN’T.
So the story grows.
It’s not only what happened on the day he left, it’s what has happened since and is still happening now.
When you make space for me to tell, you make space for me to feel.
I know it is hard. I know you don’t truly understand how I feel. You can’t. It wasn’t your child.
I know I may look and act like I’m “better”. I know that you would love for things to be like they were: BEFORE.But they aren’t.
I know my grief interferes with your plans. I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years. But I can’t help it. I didn’t ask for this to be my life.
I know that every year I seem to need something different. I know that’s confusing and may be frustrating. But I’m working this out as I go. I didn’t get a “how to” manual when I buried my son. It’s new for me every year too.
When faced with the upcoming holidays and already rapid heartbeat and fading strength, the last thing a bereaved parent wants to hear is , “Make a plan”.
But the truth is, if you don’t it will be so. much. worse.
No one can tell YOU what the plan should be. Each family is unique. Each year brings different challenges-declining health, moves, children or grandchildren born and a dozen other variables that must be accounted for THIS year versus years past.
Thank you for the outpouring of encouragement, kindness and prayers.
You’ve breathed new life into this old and weary soul.
I can’t really walk away. Writing is what I do, it’s how I process life-the good, the bad, the sweet and the bitter.
But crafting posts is more than stream of consciousness journaling not meant to be read by another soul. It’s sitting with an idea long enough to be able to present it to others in a form they can understand, appropriate and use in their own lives.
It takes time.
So for the next two weeks (maybe longer) I’m going to recycle old posts and give my heart space to do some of its own processing and healing.
For many of you, they will still feel new because you joined us recently.
For some of you, they will be old and tired and not worth your time. Feel free to skip them.
I promise to alert you when I’m writing new things again.
P.S. If anyone has ideas on which topics might be interesting to gather and repost all in a row, add them in the comments. I did this once with *Prayer* and folks enjoyed it.