Christmas - with its treasure-trove of family memories - is challenging for those of us who have lost a loved one. For those who have lost a child, the emphasis on children and Santa and toys, etc. brings excruciating reminders that some of the magic of Christmas as we're used to experiencing it is gone. This is our 4th Christmas without Matthew and here's what I'm learning about grief. When you CAN, you WILL. The first Christmas without him, I reluctantly put out a few Christmas decorations because the entire family always gathers at our house on Christmas Day. I felt that everyone had lost so much already and to lose Christmas as well would only add more layers of sadness. So I decorated the tree, joylessly. The only way I could get through hanging all his childhood ornaments was to treat it as task to be accomplished, not a sweet memory to recall. No music, no lingering over decisions as to where to place the ornaments. "Just do it. Get it done!" I said to myself through gritted teeth and heavy tears. The second and third Christmases without him were not much better. Decorating the tree was still only a task to be endured, a box to check on my to-do list. But this year, I decided to test out my theory about myself - the one that is learning that when I CAN do something, I WILL. I wondered if it was possible to add a tiny bit of joy back to the tree decorating - a way to start to allow "life" and pleasure to be incorporated into the sadness and desperate missing of my youngest child. I decided that I would put a Christmas movie on the TV as background noise and accompaniment to my decorating. I grabbed the TV remote and scrolled through the offerings. Then I saw it: ELF- one of Matthew and Josh's favorite Christmas movies. I've always hated it - sorry all of you who adore ELF - but I dislike slapstick, predictable humor and corny jokes that you can smell a mile away. But last Sunday, it seemed almost like a gift from God - a movie that my sweet boy loved - a movie that made him laugh loudly year after year. If I was going to watch a movie, this was the one. I started watching in between unwrapping ornaments, untangling beaded garland and searching for the perfect spot to display the ornaments that speak so loudly of our family life. I have to admit - I smiled a lot, giggled a few times, and even laughed aloud once or twice - finally understanding all of the silly lines from the movie my boys loved to quote. The movie ended before I finished decorating the tree, and I was tempted to extend my experiment by watching the movie that followed ELF (National Lampoon's Christmas) but decided that might be pushing it, But here's what happened: a dreaded, horrible, painful task had some happy moments this time. Not only were my spirits lightened by the goofy humor, but I also thought of funny memories of Matthew and Josh enjoying time together bonding over ELF. A task that became 100% negative in 2013 became slightly positive in 2016. The first three Christmases I couldn't do it - so I didn't. This year, I COULD, and I DID. I guess what I'm trying to say is: don't be afraid to challenge yourself even in deep sorrow. Take a moment to consider the possibility that even though you haven't been able to do XYZ during Christmas before, maybe this is the Christmas you'll be able to do it. You'll never know until you step out in faith. No one else can push you to try, or force you to try - it has to be your decision. If you try and find it's still too soon, don't feel bad - don't feel guilty - don't beat yourself up about it. Maybe next Christmas. When you can, you will. Sending love, big hugs and hope to all of you missing a beloved one tonight.....
The New Year is almost here. And amid all the news and entertainment personalities who chatter mindlessly about New Year’s resolutions, I wonder how many other grieving mothers are dreading the end of 2015? Call it denial or an unhealthy unwillingness to face reality, but I find myself mentally clutching at the fleeting seconds of 2015 the way my fingers grasp the sleeve of a departing friend, and plead “Don’t go! Not yet! I’m not ready for you to leave.”
It probably sounds weird and even stupid to say I’m dreading the New Year- but for many of us grieving mamas (and dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts and friends), the end of a calendar year means we have to emotionally gear up to face another year without our beloved son or daughter.
See, I survived 2015. I survived the year Matthew would have turned 30; the photo album I would have created and presented with joy never started. I survived the 3rd Christmas without his silly, loving presence opening gifts in my living room. I survived 365 more days without hearing his voice on the other end of my phone or seeing his name pop up in a text. I survived seeing his dearly loved Toyota truck parked in my driveway every day with no deafening raucous music playing. I survived all the birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and our family vacation without him. I made it through 2015.
But starting at midnight tomorrow night, I have to start all over again. Another 365 days without Matthew. All the birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and family vacations will occur as they do every year, but they will go on without him. Another 365 days of no texts. No phone calls. No late night “Hey, Mom! Can I come over and watch a movie with you and Dad?” No outrageously inappropriate but loving greeting cards on my birthday or Mother’s Day. No “I love you, Mom.” Of course he wasn’t perfect – not even close – and in fact, mental illness brought tremendous suffering to him and our family. But he is my son. And I miss him. And to think of beginning another 365 days without him? Can I emotionally survive next year and the year after that and the year after that and all the years between now and my own death?
Those who aren’t in the middle of grief probably stopped reading after the first paragraph. That’s ok. I understand and don’t resent them. The Bible says in Romans 12:15 (NIV) says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” For any who are in a vibrant season of abundance and pleasure, I rejoice with you! Truly! I laugh with you! I cheer you on! I’m grateful for these days of strength and well-being you are experiencing. And for those of you dear ones who are mourning, I mourn with you. I ache with you as you long to hold your son or daughter one more time. I weep – sometimes quietly and sometimes till I gag – with you. I make room in my heart for your grief. As Pastor Brady Boyd says,” We have to make room for those who can’t celebrate (New Year’s).”
And yet, like the Psalmist in his laments, I must circle around to my only hope of emotional survival as I finish 2015 and begin 2016. Rev. 21:3-5 (MSG) promises, “'Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.’ The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new.’”
One calendar day – God knows when – everything painful and broken will end. The countless tears spilled through the millennia, the innumerable deaths, and the immeasurable pain human beings have endured will finally reach their limit. They will end. The God who “moved into the neighborhood and made his home with us” will make EVERYTHING new. Because of that, I will survive every calendar page allotted to me until calendar pages themselves are gone and I find myself in that place of never-ending newness. Grieving friends, hold on. What we long for is coming...