A Season of Sadness: Facing the Holidays After Loss

It was December 2008 and  our first holiday as parents. What should have been a wonderful time was instead a complete nightmare. Our firstborn son, Liam, had died just three months earlier due to a congenital heart defect. Heartbroken and anxious to find a new place to live, my husband Brian and I went apartment searching. During one appointment, I noticed the realtor and owner in serious conversation.The owner said, “This holiday is going to be hard, it is the first one without her.”  I looked over with both curiosity and sympathy. Who was “her”? His wife? Mother? Daughter? I would never know. All did know was that it was someone he loved. For three months, I had felt as we were in this hell alone. Obviously, we  weren’t. There were others. Others that had to spend what should be a joyous season in devastation. No, we weren’t alone after all.

For many, social media has made us even more aware of loss. It is pretty much impossible to get through any given week on Facebook without a death announcement or other tragedy. Often it is a celebrity. But,  sometimes it is more persona.l It may be someone’s grandparent. Or father. Or mother. Or  spouse. Perhaps even a sibling.  Most devastatingly, it could be someone’s child.

We continue to read these posts. Some of us are just grateful it wasn’t our own father/mother/spouse /child. Others are sympathetic. Still others believe that these things should be kept private; that there is no need for an online “pity party.” During the holiday season, these posts become more frequent. It is a very bittersweet time of year.

I have been writing about loss for awhile now. It do it in memory of both my son and mother.  It never gets easier. It is hard for me to hear of other losses. I have many to remember this season. Obviously, I remember the deceased. But, I also remember those left behind. We are the ones that are suffering. Many of us  are living hell on earth. For some it has been only weeks. For others, it has been years. For all of us, we mourn. No matter how much time goes by.

With two subsequent living children, I had no choice but to move forward. I love my children with all my heart, but they don’t replace Liam. There will always be a piece of our family missing.

As I recently thought of my losses, the tune “Happy Birthday to Jesus” popped into my head. Yes, some may think it silly to sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus” but for my family it was tradition. Every Christmas, my siblings, cousins and I would gather with my mother and two aunts. We would all would sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus.” All three amazing women leading the pack. Unfortunately, all three women have since passed on. To me, it  signaled the end of an era. Will we ever have special moments again? Both my aunts and my mom endured their share of heartbreak and tragedies. But yet, they always had laughs and love to share. Now it was our responsibility to keep the memories going. Our turn to “lead the pack.”

Now that my children are growing up, we are making our own memories.It is not their fault that some family and friends have passed on. For kids, it is only the beginning.They know  no different. It is now our responsibility to continue where they left off.  Early on, I chose to hang on to anger. “Screw Christmas” was my mantra. It wasn’t long before I realized that this bitterness would be hurting my kids the most.

Of course, there is that tricky part to “moving on.” Nothing will ever be the same. Sometimes, we struggle with guilt. Is it okay to be happy again? Should we put up that tree? And the answer is yes. Mostly, because our loved ones would want us to. Early on, friends and family told me the same. At first, I ignored them and considered such a notion insulting. I thought it was just their way to get me to stop wallowing in self pity.  As if my sadness was starting to annoy those around me.  However, one day I started to “get it”.  My sister told me that Liam would want Brian and I to be happy again. At first, I didn’t agree. If that were me I would my parents to be sad at every occasion. “Not Liam”, my sister said. Because Liam was a better person. He was our angel .With this sentiment, I couldn’t possibly disagree.

We all have our own special ways in remembering those who are gone. Last year, I wrote a piece explaining our own way of keeping Liam’s memory alive. Every year, our living children pose with his picture in the background for our holiday card.It is our way of paying tribute to him during the holidays. For my mom, I carry on her love of Santa Claus. Santa was a big deal in my house. I want my kids to experience the same magic. Their grandma wouldn’t want it any other way.

Inevitably, there will come a time when my kids will face the holidays without their parents. Hopefully, if I continue to do my job right, they will make their own memories.  I know life will go on without us, and that is okay. We also know that there is a possibility we won’t live to meet our grandchildren. Either way, my biggest hope is for them to be happy. We all want the same for those we love. We want them to experience joy. Life goes on, but so does love. For all those suffering losses this season, I will remember. And I hope for some smiles in spite of the tears. Most importantly, I wish love for us all.

 

For Liam, in honor of his sixth birthday……..

The last couple of weeks have been bittersweet. On September 8th, I watched my daughter begin her very first day of Kindergarten. As her mom, I was very proud. And a little anxious. But she was ok. At dismissal, I was greeted with a bunch of smiles. In return, I smiled back.  As it was pushing three o’clock already, we couldn’t waste any  time. We had a lot to do.  We also had another occasion to commemorate; our firstborn Liam’s sixth birthday. Liam is not with us anymore. He died at nine days as a result of a severe congenital heart defect.

Each year, we get him a little balloon and release it. It is our way of saying “Happy Birthday”. In the only way that we can. On our drive over to the park, I wondered what Liam would think of his cranky siblings who were busy bickering in the back seat after a long day.  A great sadness came over me. He should be right there with them.

Often called “trigger days”, days such as these are very emotional for a grieving parent. It doesn’t matter how long it has been. Liam would have been six years old, but in many ways, I miss him as much as the day that I lost him. Time passes, but never heals. It never will. Liam would be starting first grade this year. It is a very hard reality that we are living with.

As much as I love my other two children, they are not replacements. They will never be. They are two other beings that have helped me smile in spite of my tears. I am very grateful for them. But, I still miss my firstborn.

Throughout the years, I have received some interesting comments. “Oh my God, if I were you, I don’t know what I would have done. I would be in institution by now.” These comments can be hurtful, but I have learned to shrug them off. I am that lady that you see on the street. The one with the adorable two kids. The perfect family. Little do people know, it will never be perfect. Many times there are tears behind my smile.

I often wish that more people would remember Liam on these particularly difficult days. I think friends and family do not know what to say or do. They don’t want to upset us, while in reality, someone just mentioning his name brings me comfort.  Today, September 16th, is another difficult day. On this day, six years ago, we got “the call.” Liam wasn’t doing well and we had to get to the hospital as soon as possible. He died before we got there.

While at the cemetery a couple of weeks ago, my five year old daughter took notice of all the little toys and stuffed animals placed at the gravesites. “Mommy, I am sure these other babies are missed by their mommies and daddies. The same way that we miss Liam. They put down these toys because they love them too.” Out of the mouth of babes.  Each day I say a little prayer for Liam. And for all of the other children gone too soon. They are missed. They are loved. For always.

For My Beautiful Daughter As She Begins A Very Important Journey…….

I finally went through that bag today. You know the one. It was tucked in the back of your closet, taking up way too much room. Your daddy has been urging me to empty it. To just “give the stuff away.” He is right. I can no longer fight him on this, especially since we need to get organized.  Furthermore, our friend Holly needs them for her baby girl that is coming this November. You no longer fit into these precious clothes. You are going to be five years old. You, my dear, will be starting Kindergarten this week. My angel. My only girl. My world.

Funny how each article of clothing has a memory attached to it. The little Baby Gap sweater dress you wore the very first time that you sat on Santa’s lap. Daddy and I laughed as you posed so calmly with the bearded man who was very far from jolly. “Cranky Santa” may have been a disappointment, but you weren’t. It was a beautiful moment nonetheless. Our baby girl celebrating her first Christmas. Then there was the beautiful pink tutu that you wore at your first birthday party. It was a carousel themed birthday party at the park. It was a perfect autumn day. We were blessed.

You came into our lives under very bittersweet circumstances. In September of 2008, we lost your big brother Liam to a congenital heart defect.  In February of 2009, we found out we were expecting you.  I was excited, but very scared as well. I wanted you to be healthy.  I wanted everything to be okay. That October, we finally got to meet you and things just haven’t been the same since. Eight pounds ten ounces of pure joy. I remember taking you home. I put you on the bed next to me in your little carrier. I cried. I loved you so much. But, I was so nervous. I wanted you to have a happy life. I wanted to be a good mom. I wanted so much for you. I also wanted to be happy again after the loss of your brother.   I will always call you the baby that made us smile again. In many ways, you saved your daddy and I. You were our reason for being.

In the past few years, we have watched you blossom into a sweet and happy little girl. You are loved, not only by us, but by a whole bunch of extended family and friends. You are very special.

Getting back to that whole Kindergarten thing. Yes, I am excited for you. But, I am nervous as well. This is a big step. New school. New friends. New experiences. I see it in your eyes. I know you are nervous. And, as your mom, I just want to protect you. Every time I think of you getting your feelings hurt or feeling scared I want to break down in tears. Believe me when I say that it will hurt me more than you.  I don’t ever want you to feel pain.  Never.  Unfortunately,  every journey includes some tears and disappointments. And, perhaps some pain to go along with it. But, I know we will get through it. Together. One day at a time.

I haven’t really told you about my own school experience, but it was very painful. As a shy and insecure little girl, I was never sure how I fit in. I want it to be different for you. Life, although hard at times, can also be very healing. It has already brought me great joy in seeing you make some wonderful memories. School will be no different. You have some fabulous years ahead of you.

I do have a few things I would like to ask from you. Firstly, never be afraid to go after what you want. This world is yours for the taking, and it needs your participation in order for it to be great.  Always believe in yourself, even if no one else seems to.  Be strong. Be humble. Always treat others with the same amount of respect that you deserve. Surround yourself with quality people. Be a good friend. Be a good listener, but make sure you surround yourself with others that do the same. Be a good person. Give as much as you can, but always know your limits. Be happy. Be proud. Mostly, embrace this life. Even when it gets a little rough.

This Thursday I will walk you to your very first day of Kindergarten. It will be you and me among a sea of scared kiddos, nervous parents and a whole bunch of clicking cameras.  There will be tears behind my smile. Both sad and happy. But I know you are going to be just fine. I love you so much, baby girl. I look forward to what the year brings.  Thank you for choosing me as your mom. Thank you for being the little person that you are.  Continue to make us proud.