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.