The holidays are just a hop, skip, and jump away.
For most people, that means happy gatherings, shared meals, and family traditions. But for those of us who have lost a child, the holidays are an ever present reminder of what once was and what can never be again...and that is hard on the heart!
Strength seems to wane as the holidays get closer. It takes an incredible amount of energy to remain “present” for holiday celebrations when there is an empty chair. It’s not that our hearts don’t want to hop out of bed and celebrate the holiday, it’s that we are innately aware that we will never again be able to celebrate like we once did; too many dreams have been shattered beyond repair. The future no longer holds the promise it once did when we believed our families would only get bigger and better with the addition of our children’s spouses and their babies. Instead, we find ourselves living in survival mode.
Often, parents who have buried a child want to skip the holidays. While there’s no denying that many days can be tough, the agony associated with holidays is another whole level of pain...maybe it’s the memories of the fairy tale days, the pictures and sounds of “before”, or the new home videos that now must be filmed missing one of the main characters. When a big piece of the soul is ripped out in the form of child loss, it feels impossible to recapture or resurrect the holiday magic of old. We know in our hearts that the magic has not totally disappeared, but the journey to rediscover that magic feels unmanageable, unlikely, and unfair.
Friends and family members are often quick to jump to the conclusion that grieving parents neglect their remaining children. In all actuality, grieving parents desperately want to protect their remaining children and mend their broken hearts. We want to see them happy and to make things as normal as possible for them again; we just don’t know how. Truth be known, grieving parents already feel like failures for being unable to save the child that was lost, so misplaced judgment about how we are not performing up to par just serves to heap additional shame, guilt, and pressure on an already overburdened segment of the grief population.
While there is no way for friends and family members to make the pain go away during the holidays, there are some things that can be done to help grieving parents find hope throughout the holiday. As in most tough situations, kindness, love, and sincere compassion have a magical way of ushering in hope. A nonjudgmental listening ear is a rare treasure. Often just recognizing that the season is difficult and giving someone permission to share their grief is a blessing. A small remembrance or memorial gift is another way to show compassion. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. Time, a hug, a cup of coffee, or a shared tear might very well be the most meaningful gift of the season to a heart that is desperately searching for hope but simply doesn’t know how to get past the pain.