Kay's Blog


in Grief

Christmas Cards

Ugh. It’s THAT time of year again  the “Hap, Happiest Season of All.” Unless, of course, you’re grieving the loss of your child. There are painful reminders every single day of what has been lost, but the avalanche of Christmas cards sent by well-meaning family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and random businesses you’ve frequented take the knife that is in your heart and give it a hard twist. Believe me – I know the intent of every card sender – I’ve sent my fair share of cards through the years – so I am certain that no one ever MEANS to wound or cause pain. But on behalf of grieving parents (and others), let me give you a few words of advice: please, please, please be sensitive and look at your card through the eyes of the person on the receiving end. 

Christmas 2013 was our first Christmas without Matthew – I could barely breathe or hold it together in the grocery store, let alone the mall. So I stayed away. The internet became my friend as I shopped late at night in front of a screen without the repetitive sentimental mall music stirring up memories of Christmases past... Christmases where all three of my children were alive. I avoided people, places, and events that were sure to intensify my pain.

But the cards came uninvited into my mailbox every day. I hadn’t thought about the cards – hadn’t pegged them as emotional triggers ahead of time, and so when I opened the first batch, a wave of shock washed over me. Photo cards of beautiful, happy, INTACT families cascaded onto my kitchen table, most with a printed greeting wishing me a “Joyous Christmas.” Some had a scribbled handwritten signature and the words ”Hope you have a great Christmas.” Some sent their standard family newsletter, full of all the accomplishments, fabulous vacations, delightful family moments, etc that had filled the past year for them. What I quickly realized in astonishment and then anger was that none mentioned our grief... no one seemed aware that our precious Matthew had died violently six months earlier leaving us definitely NOT having a joyous or great Christmas. And then I opened a card that said, “I can’t imagine how difficult this first Christmas without Matthew is going to be for your family; you are in my prayers.” I forgave the other overly cheerful parts of her card because at least she had the sensitivity and kindness to acknowledge our loss and to let us know we were being remembered in prayers.

I thought that perhaps this first batch of cards were atypical – that surely, most people would be like the kind friend and say SOMETHING that let us know they were aware of how excruciatingly painful Christmas was going to be – but that isn’t what happened. Each day, another batch of cards arrived with the vast majority giving no thought to the stabbing pain their lack of sensitivity was causing. It didn’t take long before plucking the mail out of the mailbox became a task I left to Rick – and the cards remained unopened in the traditional iron sleigh that has cradled our cherished Christmas cards through the years until after Christmas was past. When I finally opened them up weeks later, I tore through them with angry tears pouring down my cheeks as I separated them into three piles: ones that didn’t mention our grief at all, ones that said a quick “Praying for you” and ones that contained soothing, comforting, loving, thoughtful words of compassion and empathy. The third stack was the smallest. 

I thought that maybe I was just overly sensitive last year – so immersed in the freshness of our loss that everything was like scraping a raw, open wound. I hoped this year I’d feel differently. But I opened the first Christmas card a few days ago – a one-sided, artistically designed card on heavy paper stock... with a printed signature from a pastor I don’t even know. I threw it away. 

What I’m trying to convey is this: please THINK about the recipient before you send a greeting card this year. If you’ve taken the obligatory picture of the “happy family,” consider sending instead a plain card to a grieving family – one that doesn’t smack them in the face with a reminder of how life used to be for them. Tell them in a few words that you are aware of how painful Christmas can be and that you are praying for them – tell them you love them and that you are with them in shared sorrow. Yes, it’s inconvenient – it will take more time than your rushed signature, and it will require entering into someone else’s loss, mourning, grief, and anger at a time when the world pretends that all our “troubles will be out of sight.” 

Christmas may always have a sting... I don’t know. My friend whose little girl was murdered two years ago in December says Christmas will never be the same. This is only my second Christmas without Matthew. What I do know is I miss my son. He loved Christmas. And I love him. 

So, on behalf of grieving parents everywhere, if you aren’t willing to modify your way of sending cards for a while, please do us a favor and take us off your list.

Posted by Kay Warren with

You Are Not an Island

“I wish you never thought you had to go
Wish you never thought you had to leave
Together we can lift each other up
We can build a shelter for the weak

No man is an island, we can be found
No man is an island, let your guard down
You don't have to fight me, I am for you
We're not meant to live this life alone

I see fear in your eyes
There's no safety here
Oh, my friend, let me in
I will share your tears

Through trouble, rain, or fire
Let's reach out to something higher
Ain't no life outside each other
We are not alone
Through trouble, rain, or fire
Let's reach out to something higher
Eyes open to one another
We are not alone

No man is alone
Why you try to fight me
We don't have to do it alone
We don't have to do it alone
We don't have to do it alone”

- Tenth Avenue North - 

I heard these lyrics while driving the other day and I had to pull over – the tears made it impossible to see where I was going. “Yes,” I said aloud, "That’s what I say in my mind to Matthew every day: I wish you never thought you had to go, wish you never thought you had to leave… no man is an island... you don’t have to fight me... I am for you... we’re not meant to live this life alone.” But he FELT alone. He saw himself as an island, far removed from any other land mass. Somehow I couldn’t reach him. Or maybe he knew he was loved but it wasn’t enough to counterbalance the unending litany of pain that flooded him every day. All I know is that he left.

I can’t bring him back. I can’t undo what he did to himself in one supreme moment of feeling alone. But I can sing this song to you: “Together we can lift each other up; we can build a shelter for the weak. We don’t have to do it alone.” No matter who you are reading this post, you ARE NOT AN ISLAND. Don’t believe it. It’s simply not true. You don’t have to do it alone. In the Body of Christ, we are one and you are a part of something bigger than yourself. We. Are. One.

If you feel strong will you sing it with me? Will you sing it to every person in your life? Will you let this become the refrain of your life? Will you move through each day aware that those around you may feel alone and as isolated as a tiny atoll in the vast ocean? Will you be a connector – a bridge-builder – a singer of hopeful songs to the weary? We. Are. One.

Posted by Kay Warren with

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