Holiday Grief Support Resource Link

With the holidays quickly approaching, I would just like to share this link that lists some helpful suggestions concerning grief and the holidays: http://ididnotknowwhattosay.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/holiday-grief-support-resources-2/ This site contains suggestions for those who have lost someone close, as well as suggestions for those who would like to support someone who has lost a loved one.

There is no “magic pill” that will make the holidays easier to navigate nor any article that will provide all the answers to handling grief during any and all occasions. Grief isn’t a “one size fits all” thing, and neither are suggestions for walking through grief during any particular period of time or occasion. There isn’t anything that will take away the deep grief of the loss of a loved one, but perhaps there are suggestions on this link that will help in some way during this holiday season.

Becky

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

I did something the other day that most people probably wouldn’t understand. I specifically went into the Christmas aisles at a our local big-box store to test myself. I wanted to see how I would react to seeing all of the Christmas stuff that is now arriving on shelves in force. I wanted to see how badly the vise would constrict around my heart this year as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach. Perhaps I wanted to begin preparing myself for the onslaught of reminders that “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – or, at least, the implications that it should be. For some people, it’s not. You see, this time of year as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach is always a tricky time filled with potential landmines for a parent who has lost a child.

The vise doesn’t constrict as much as it once did, but I don’t think there’s any getting around the fact that it still does and probably always will. I find that I still have to concentrate on breathing the first time I see a Christmas display. I feel it like a jab right in the heart. I see people already posting online about being so excited that Christmas is coming, that they are already playing Christmas music, that Christmas is the best time of the year for them. For some people, it is. For others – for me – it’s not exactly the Hallmark/Norman Rockwell Christmas or Thanksgiving any more. I feel like it used to be that way, and I had so much fun planning the Thanksgiving menu and couldn’t wait for Christmas to arrive. Oh, the traditions, the food, the conspiring on what special present to buy, the music, the lights. I loved it all!! I could barely function that first Thanksgiving. That first Christmas was torture. The second wasn’t much better.

I have to admit I still feel like I trudge through part of it at times – not all, but part of it – because I don’t feel the unabashed wonder and enthusiasm that I used to. It’s hard to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas (or even most holidays) without acutely feeling Jason’s absence. What I try to do now is to focus on making Christmas special and meaningful in some way for those I love. But, it’s still a tricky time for me, and I sometimes really have to concentrate on focusing on the positives while being aware of the holes in my life and sidestepping the landmines that are inherent with the holiday territory.

As the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons approach, I’d like to offer an early reminder. If you are a bereaved parent, I hope you will take time to be gentle with yourself. I hope those around you take time to be thoughtful, kind, generous, and gentle with you. You don’t have to do it all. Do what you can and let the rest go. Try to remove as much pressure on yourself as you can. You don’t have to do everything you used to do. You may want to keep some traditions and/or start some new ones. It’s okay. Do what feels right to you for your family and whatever you feel honors the child you lost.

For those who know a bereaved parent, perhaps you could start thinking now about how to do something kind and thoughtful for that parent that may take a bit of sting out of the season. You can’t “make it better,” but you CAN do something. Perhaps you could send a note, telling of a special memory you have of their child. A parent never gets tired of hearing that his/her child is not forgotten or hearing a story that brings a memory to life. Perhaps you could include the bereaved family or a sibling in something. They may say no, so don’t take it personally. But they may need something to look forward to and say yes. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, assuming everyone else captures the same joy at Christmas, and forgetting that there are those who really struggle with loss and its aftermath during this time of year. It’s easy to assume that everyone else is enjoying the holiday season as much as you are. Even after eleven years, I still struggle with the approaching holidays and still feel at times that I’m on the outside looking in at everyone else’s joy and enthusiasm. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the holidays. It’s just that they aren’t quite the same for me any more.

I’ve written before about Christmases after Jason died: A Bereaved Parent’s Christmas; My Christmas Wish for Bereaved Parents; Christmas Day; Christmas Season – Not the “Same as Always” This Year; Caution! Rough Sea Ahead!. Here is an entry from my journal dated 12/25/2003:

It’s Christmas Day. It’s sort of been a mixed bag. I have had such a hard time getting anything done to get ready for Christmas. Doing things to get ready for Christmas meant that I had to focus on another holiday without Jason. How can we celebrate when Jason is gone? I have been trying so hard to figure out how to keep Christmas special for the rest of us without it seeming wrong to celebrate when Jason isn’t here to celebrate with us. It’s just not easy. When I went into stores to look for presents, my heart just felt like it was being crushed or squeezed by a vise. I couldn’t breathe. I would feel panic-y and have to leave before I got anything. It’s so hard to do the things we used to do. It’s just not the same.

No more all going out together on a Christmas-tree-finding adventure. How can it be the same to find and decorate a tree without our boy? Jason was the one who put the angel on top of the tree. We’d bring the tree home, put on some Christmas music, and then all decorate the tree together. I’d unwrap the ornaments and everyone would put their own ornaments on the tree. We’d put up the stockings by the fireplace. Our stockings would eventually be filled with fun stocking stuffers we had bought each other. Such a fun, festive, family time.

It’s been so hard to figure out what to do with the stockings. What do we do with the stockings now? Do we hang them up? Do we put things into the stockings for each other? How do we fill four out of five stockings? Jason’s would look so empty. We can’t not put his up. Every decision seems to have so much emotion tied to it. Everything seems to emphasize Jason’s absence.

It’s been such a hard Christmas. I tried so hard to get in the “Christmas spirit,” whatever that is any more, but I don’t think I ever succeeded. I really tried, but just couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm.

On Christmas Eve, Joe, Jenna and I went out to dinner. We honestly were all trying our best to put on our happy faces and have a good time, but we just seemed like a sad little group, I’m afraid. It just wasn’t the same. We all used to go out to dinner for Asian food and then to the candlelight church service. We’d talk and laugh and have the grandest time, full of joy at being together and anticipation of Christmas morning surprises. It was part of our Christmas tradition. Now what do we do?

We came home after dinner and watched Miracle on 34th Street. Both Jenna and I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of it. When we went to bed, tears just started flowing. I couldn’t keep up the pretense any more. I am just so sad.

I got up really early this morning to make cinnamon rolls, just as I used to do. I just wanted to cry the whole time. Do we try to keep traditions we used to have or what do we do? It’s just so hard to carry on with things we used to do. It hurts so much. I don’t know what the balance is. Both Joe and Jenna came down as I was mixing up the dough. I guess they couldn’t sleep, either. After I got the dough made to rise, we went back to bed. I realized that Joe was crying. I asked him if he was okay, and he said he was just so sad. We just held each other and cried.

The day improved once Eric arrived to eat cinnamon rolls with us and open presents. Later in the day, [our friends and their family] came over to have Christmas Day dinner with us and we had a good time together. We played games and went to see a movie. Don’t know what we would have done without them. I’m afraid it would have been a long day.

I don’t know. It seems at times we just go through the motions, but it doesn’t seem to have the same “heart” as it used to. How can we? Our hearts are broken. A huge part of our family is gone. Nothing is the same.

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

A Bereaved Parent’s Christmas

Christmas…

I’ve been sitting here, listening to Christmas music, and thinking about our Christmases since Jason died.

The first Christmas when I was so numb, hurting so bad, and at a total loss on how to “do” Christmas any more without our precious boy. Finding a chair in the corner at a Christmas party and trying to figure out how not to be the “wet blanket” at the celebration…and trying to be social so people would quit avoiding me – I failed miserably at both of those attempts. Sitting all by myself in the midst of the Christmas decorations strewn all over our family room floor, crying my eyes out as I tried to figure out whether it hurt more to put up or not put up the stockings and decorations we’d collected over the years. The friend who stopped by to pick something up while I was sitting there on the floor, surrounded by decorations and grief, and who couldn’t get out the door quickly enough after she collected what she had come for. When absolutely everything about Christmas emphasized Jason’s missing presence and pierced me to the bottom of my very soul. Picturing Jason helping pick out and put up the tree. He was the one who put our angel up on top of the tree every year. I was supposed to teach him how to make my “famous” Christmas morning cinnamon rolls and I added my heartbroken tears to the dough that year. Everything about that Christmas hurt to the core of my being.

The Christmases when I tried to shop, but couldn’t figure out how to pull up any enthusiasm, and left the stores empty-handed and trying to keep my emotions and tears in check until I could get into a private place. The ones when I fought down panic as I tried to shop for presents. The one when we couldn’t travel to extended family and they couldn’t travel to us…and no one had time amidst their own holiday hustle and bustle to do anything with us. One gal told me they would have time the week after Christmas. That was a bad Christmas.

The ones when I drove by brightly-lit houses as families or friends arrived for some type of Christmas celebration, watching people hug each other with the joy of the season…while I felt like an outside observer to the warmth, welcome and celebration of the whole season in general. The warmth and glow of the season seemed like it was for others and not me. Ours used to be the home brightly lit and welcoming, so full of family, love and laughter. I used to look forward to Christmas so so much excitement. It seemed as though I “used to do” many things that no longer applied to me. I struggled for many years as I approached so many Christmases with dread…wishing I could just skip over the whole thing, knowing how acutely and painfully I would miss Jason’s presence. Some days it was more than I could bear.

Christmases are hard for bereaved parents. The memories of what “used to be” are ever present and everywhere. I miss the pure excitement of a Christmas without the shadow of loss.

Christmas doesn’t hurt as much as it once did. I wish I could say it didn’t hurt any more, but that wouldn’t be honest. It’s been a process over the years to make new traditions while not totally scrapping the old. I haven’t gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to make cinnamon rolls from scratch for years – perhaps I will sometime in the future. We have started some new traditions and have started a new collection of Christmas tree ornaments. We try to make Christmas a special and meaningful day and season as best we can for those we love. We try to notice the small things and don’t take anything for granted.

We will always miss Jason every day, and especially during the Christmas season feel his loss acutely, wishing he were celebrating Christmas with us. I’m sure every bereaved parent would say the same thing about his or her own child…

Merry Christmas to each bereaved parent who may read this. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

My Christmas Wish for Bereaved Parents

This is my sincere wish and prayer for all bereaved parents this holiday season – and all through the years that it takes to integrate such a huge loss into the fabric of our lives – that more gentleness and caring would be shared with those who have lost someone especially dear, that more gladness and warmth would be unconditionally shared, that time would be time taken amidst the daily and holiday bustle to recognize the depth of grief behind the mask and the silence of the face, and that a hand of genuine and continued friendship and love would grasp those who are hurting and who so badly need comfort. Sometimes those who deeply grieve aren’t transparent with their grief (for wide and varied reasons of their own); sometimes people around those who deeply grieve don’t take the time to notice or don’t take the time to do anything about it.

My Christmas wish is that you feel loved and cherished this holiday season.

If I Had Known
Mary Carolyn Davies (1888-1940)

If I had known what trouble you were bearing;
What griefs were in the silence of your face;
I would have been more gentle and more caring,
And tried to give you gladness for a space.
I would have brought more warmth into the place,
If I had known.
If I had known what thoughts despairing drew you;
(Why do we never try to understand?)
I would have lent a little friendship to you,
And slipped my hand within your hand,
And made your stay more pleasant in the land,
If I had known.


[From The Sabbath Recorder: Volume 82. American Sabbath Tract Society, 1917]

For all the hurting hearts this holiday season

Memories of past Christmases have been on my mind lately. This time of year is still hard for me. I miss Jason so much at Christmas. I miss the way things were. I miss the “used to be.”

As I walked this morning and then watched the sunrise, I noticed a heart shape in the clouds and it made me smile. I looked up toward heaven and said, “I love you, Jason.”

Those of you who are hurting are in my thoughts and prayers today. Sending love and hope for a holiday season filled with good memories (both old and new), family, friends, and peace and comfort for your heart. May the God of all comfort hold you close in a very real way.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Caution! Rough sea ahead!

I can feel it starting – that restless feeling, that vague agitation that seems to rise from the depths about this time every year.

This is a hard time of year for me. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. They march toward me in rapid, unrelenting succession. Jason loved doing fun things on Halloween. Carving pumpkins. Christmas surprises. Thanksgiving and Christmas were fun, family holidays. Traditions. Hearth, home, family. So much has changed.

All holidays and “event” days (such as birthdays, March 3rd, etc.), to some degree,  can trouble the water on which my boat of life sails and rock my boat in ways I may not expect. I used to feel like the waves of emotion and longing would capsize or sink my fragile little boat out there on the huge sea of grief. The waves aren’t as high and scary as they used to be, and I’ve learned to recognize why my boat is rocking and try to roll with the waves until smoother seas prevail. I’ve learned, however, that the potential for rough seas continues to lurk not too far below the surface.

When I was in junior high, our school had a living biology lab (pond included) out in back of the school that was surrounded by brand-new barbed wire. The site had a stile over the fence on the far right-hand side that we were supposed to use for access. Most kids, though, would separate the two rows of barbed wire and climb through at the most convenient location. The first time I climbed through the fence, as someone held the two rows apart for me, I didn’t get my left leg quite high enough and a barb on the lower wire sliced my left knee open diagonally from one side to the other. I ended up having nine stitches and still have a large, prominent scar on my knee cap. I also ended up being used as an example to the entire school of why we are supposed to obey school rules.

It surprises me that, even thirty-something years later, my left knee is still much more sensitive than my other one. When I bump it a good one, I cringe from the pain. It hurts! People notice the ugly scar; little kids ask what happened.

That’s similar to what happens the first time I see the Christmas displays go up in stores each year. I feel like someone just walked up and thumped me in the chest right where my broken heart resides. It hurts! It brings tears to my eyes. It brings front and center – smacks me right in my face – how much I miss Jason, all the things that were, and the things that might have been. All the things that could have been, should have been.

I take a deep breath and take a minute to recognize where my reaction is coming from. Sometimes just the recognition of why I hurt helps. Sometimes I have to leave the store and come back another time. Sometimes I just miss Jason too much to keep on shopping or going on like nothing happened. I need to stop, recognize what’s going on, and take time to think about Jason. Sometimes I need to cry. I need to take time to pay attention and carefully navigate the rough sea I’m on.

The impending approach of the ten year anniversary of Jason’s and Alina’s deaths, in addition to the approaching holidays, seems to be making me more reflective and emotional than usual. It looks huge to me. Ten years. How can it have been ten years? How can I have lived ten years without my precious boy? Have I lived them well? Have I made a difference? Have people forgotten him? Have I honored his memory adequately? Would he be proud of me? What can I do that’s meaningful to signify the loss that day represents? What can I do to bring something good and meaningful out of this terrible tragedy?

All I can do is the best that I can do. I’m taking the time now to realize there might be rough seas ahead and to think about how to navigate them to the best of my ability with the resources I have.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

I Don’t Understand!

From my journal dated January 1, 2003:

Jenna said two gals [friends from homeschool days] stopped by while she was working yesterday. They’ve been home from college for a week and a half. Since no one had asked her to do anything on New Year’s Eve, Jenna decided be bold and ask if they wanted to hang out with her last night – watch movies or do something. They used to hang out all the time together, along with other friends. She just wanted to do something fun.

Jenna said both of them stood there like deer in the headlights, hemming and hawing.  Obviously, they were doing something else, but didn’t want to include her. Or didn’t know if Jenna should be invited or would be welcome. I don’t know. It would have been better if they had just told her they had other plans and made arrangements to see her another day. They just got their coffees and left.

My poor girl. She’s just hurting so much. She’s so lonely.

When Jenna told me about it this morning, she was so upset. She said that everyone she knows has either deserted her or treats her like crap. And she said she expects it any more! She’s surprised when anyone is actually nice to her, wants to be around her, compliments her on something.

My heart breaks for my precious daughter. How can they treat her like this?? She’s a wonderful, kind, caring, giving, beautiful young woman. She deserves so much better. She did nothing to cause this. How sad! I don’t understand how people can treat her like this. She did nothing wrong!!

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney