Grief And The Holidays

Holidays and Grief are a very tricky combination.

For me, the holidays are a time to refocus my heart and my mind to the things that matter most: God, family, church and friends. I turn my reflection of the year upon the goodness and faithfulness of God in my life. I can see things more clearly when I reminisce on the year and look back upon all He has done to hold my feet in place and steady my wandering heart. The holidays allow me to simply slow down – even if only for a little bit.

When we lost our son in October of 2013, right before the holidays, there were days I couldn’t even get up off the couch. I couldn’t hold a job and my focus was only on Christiano. When there isn’t much else stimulating you, it’s easy to dwell on the pain that has overtaken you. I sort of wanted to crawl out of my own skin. I wanted to escape my own reality, yet I clung to my pain because I felt closer to my son.

I’m not quite sure when I got off the couch, but this year has been a very different year for me. I literally went from 0 to 1,000 – from doing nothing to never stopping. Now, along with being a mother and wife, I’m a full time college student who also works 30+ hours a week. Now, I long for the time on the couch and cannot begin to express how I value my down time. Second to spending time with The Lord, being with my family is, and always has been, my greatest pleasure in life. I cherish each and every moment; I do so even more now that I have known the lifelong pain of losing a child. But, for most of us, enjoying family time includes taking trips down memory lane. Memory lane is a road that all of us travel down during the holidays. We rewatch all of our favorite holiday films, we decorate with all of the ornaments of old, and we continually live out all of our family traditions. Family conversations include all the memories of Christmas past. Of course we will all make some new memories, too, but the yesteryears flood our souls. We pull all of the memories out of the Christmas bank – La Sallette, driving around to look at Christmas lights, Christmas Eve pajamas, Advent Calendars, Christmas lists, and so many more. Reminiscing is especially necessary as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. Renditions of the Christmas Story never get old for, in these moments, we are reminded of the love our God has for us.

Grief in the mix of the holiday season, and especially Christmas, is a remarkable challenge. Our new moments cannot include our oldest son, and our memories will serve in  making the void more evident. We will try hard to incorporate our son into our Christmas experience, but every effort will feel awkward. Believe me, I know. I will read ’64 Things Grieving Families Should do to Include Their Lost Loved One This Holiday Season,’ and I will maybe try a couple. It won’t help, and then I will feel even more disconnected. Trust me – when I, a grieving mother, can’t even connect with another grieving mother, this leaves me feeling all the more alienated. I am thankful for the ones I have been able to connect with – the ones who understand that my grief is my own and that I have to walk or crawl it out with the Lord.

It’s like I am desperate to remember, yet desperate to forget; each happy memory inevitably turning sad. I hate the absence of my son’s laughter. I hate that we have more leftovers when we should be having less. He would have been 21 in February. Maybe he would have brought a girl home for Thanksgiving. I hate the extra room on the couch where his 6 foot 9 inch body used to lay. You would think that everyone having their own spot now would be awesome, but it’s not. We were always ‘one too many.’ For Disney family packages, for movie packs, for Christmas tree cakes… Every candy pack or stocking stuffer thing comes in 3 or 5 packs. So, I always had to buy two of everything. To be honest, Christiano spent most of Thanksgiving evening sleeping, but I would give anything just to watch him sleep. That’s what I want… I don’t want to hang a stocking that will never again be filled or light a candle or buy another blue ornament. I mean, I did already buy a blue ornament, but I don’t want to. I even might hang his stocking or buy a tree to put at his grave again, but it’s not doing for me what I need it to. I want to feel better about doing these things, but I don’t. But, maybe I will tomorrow. Because that is grief in a nutshell – you never know how you’re going to feel. You don’t plan to be sad for the only four days you get off at thanksgiving. You don’t plan to have no desire to visit the cemetery. You don’t plan to argue with your husband only to realize you’re just missing your boy.

So, you see, I can’t offer you any list of perfect do’s and dont’s. I always think maybe I can… And maybe one day I will. But, it really might not matter. Every day of grief is different – the same list that I once got something from now annoys me. Or, the list that once annoyed me – well, now it’s just great. Grief is unpredictable and rocky. For me, Jesus is the ONLY constant. He never changes even when I do. He handles my grief perfectly – every time. He’s behind me, He’s ahead of me, He’s all around me. Covering me. Calling me. Guiding me. Loving me. Letting me be me. He’s my guide – for the holidays and for life.

I Get to GIVE Thanks

Thanksgiving or Thanksgetting?

My youngest introduced me to this new word a few days ago. He said he had heard a radio DJ saying that we should remember that it’s Thanksgiving and not Thanksgetting. I thought that was a pretty clever word to come up with, and, of course, I agreed with his sentiments. Then, last night, my husband showed me an actual ad for Verizon wireless that said something along the lines of, ‘Come Celebrate Thanksgetting with Verizon and get a great deal.’ I couldn’t believe it. 
This is a mindset that can ‘get’ us into trouble pretty quickly. Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks! In our family, Thanksgiving has always been a day that we forget about our lack and focus on all that we do have. It resets our focus, and, suddenly, the pile of bills, the unfinished business, the overload of school work, and the pile of laundry don’t seem to matter as much. 
I understand that we all have some sort of void in our lives. Maybe it’s peace or hope. Maybe it’s finances or family or friends. Perhaps your marriage is suffering or someone you love is sick. Maybe your children aren’t with you this Thanksgiving. Maybe you’re missing a loved one and that empty chair  wants to steal your joy. Don’t let it. Don’t let lack ‘get’ you this Thanksgiving. Shift your focus to all that you do have. Don’t wait for Christmas to thank God for giving His only son in hopes to gain you as His forever child. 
We all have things we’d like to get. For starters, I’d like my son to be here with us for Thanksgiving. I don’t say that to make anyone feel like ‘Wow, with what that family is going through how can I ever complain?’ Because I know that what you are going through is real, and it hurts. I’m the one who lost her son, and I STILL get frustrated over petty things sometimes. Yesterday, I was crying over what seems like spilled milk in the grand scheme of it all. I am still human. Of course, there are times I wonder what is taking God so long in working everything out in our lives! But, my husband so lovingly reminded me last night that we have SO much to be thankful for. And, I will say, if we can choose to see that – so can you.
This Thanksgiving, choose with us. Choose to give thanks in everything and for everything. Maybe it won’t diminish the needs in your life, but it will diminish the power they have over you. 
I’m thankful for so much this morning: my loving husband and all four of our amazing kids, for my other family and my friends who ARE family, for my pastors and my church, and my amazing work environment, for coffee, for sweatpants and so much more. But, mostly, I’m thankful for my Savior, Jesus Christ and the hope I have in Him. Even though it’s been pretty dim the last two Thanksgivings, His light has shone for us. Because He gave, I get to give thanks for eternal life in Him. 

Happy ThanksGIVING from our family to yours!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.“ John 3:16