One of the things that is so hard after the death of a child is the holidays. From November until January these special days come that are focused on togetherness and family. After an intense loss, though, togetherness and family are both permanently and painfully altered. Holidays serve as such a painful reminder of that alteration.
Something I have had to do is realize that just because something worked one time doesn’t mean it will work the next time. Likewise just because something went terribly doesn’t mean it will again.
The first holiday season after Gabe died was brutal. We were in a lot of shock and were clueless about how to approach anything. We stayed home for everything. We stayed home for Thanksgiving, and home on Christmas. The time before Christmas was great though- some good friends gave us a few days at their time share. We went to Busch Gardens and Williamsburg, and it was wonderful to not be at home dwelling on the approach of Christmas. On the way home we celebrated Christmas with family, and that was difficult. Gabe’s absence was excruciatingly loud. He was such a joyful kid and loved opening presents. It felt like he had been erased from our family. We stayed a few hours and left, and it was a very sad ride home. The next day we mulled through Christmas at home just the four. We made the cinnamon rolls that had been a tradition since the boys were tiny. It hurt that there were extras cinnamon rolls. Eventually my family came to our house and spent the day with my then toddler nephew to bring some joy.
Last year was year two and I think we went into it feeling too ambitious. It was after all the second year, so theoretically it should have been better right?! We found that it really wasn’t any easier. We tried to go visit family but even the drive there was so painful. I drove through tears, feeling so wrong about going to visit family on a holiday without one of my children. We were tentatively going to stay two nights but even one was pushing it and we left the next day. I wasn’t ready. Not even close. The funny thing is I don’t remember much about anything else of the holiday season last year. It happened and we got through it, but I don’t remember details.
So here we are, another year to figure things out. We decided to stay home again for Thanksgiving. Just the four of us. I made a traditional dinner and my youngest was my kitchen helper (the role Gabe used to play). My turkey took forever to cook and I was in a bad mood. Partially because of the turkey but probably moreso because nothing is how it should be anymore. We haven’t even contemplated Christmas yet. It seems that we have to just decide things at the last minute and be OK with whatever feels right.
Part of the reason I write this post is for those who know someone who is hurting. As you go through this season filled with so much happiness realize that there is much pain. The songs on the radio (I’ll be home for Christmas, All I want for Christmas is you, and so many others) can be EXTREMELY painful yet they are everywhere. Merry, Happy, and family are the focus. When you are at that family gathering realize how huge that loss may feel to someone. When someone chooses to skip a gathering- for a year, or two, or 5- realize that the pain of seeing everyone else there without their loved one is just too much. And realize that as hard and stressful as the holidays are for normal people with no loss to contend with, it can seem impossible to someone who is grieving. Please understand that we may do or say things that seem selfish, or it may seem like a cop out to skip events, but for us it truly is about surviving. We will do it the best way we can, and we appreciate your love and patience as we navigate life with a very important piece missing.