by Angela Miller
There’s not much I want for Christmas anymore. Not since you were stolen from us. Ever since, Christmas just doesn’t have the same excitement and joy it once did.
No offense to baby Jesus. In fact, I quite love him– a lot– but the sight of Him in the manger makes me ache for you, my own “baby,” beyond any words, in any language. Beyond any ache I ever knew was humanly possible to survive. The birth of Jesus completed the Holy Family. The contrast of that next to mine, a family forever incomplete, is too much for me to handle most Christmases as a bereaved mom.
Grief, Christmas and rooms overflowing with predominantly non-grieving people mix about as well as oil and water. I wish more people could really, truly get that. As in, get it without being bereaved, or grieved, or any of that. Just get it, period.
For every holiday picture taken, meal eaten, carols sung, families gathered, trees decorated, Christmas morning presents opened, are always achingly incomplete. The joy of the season and the ache of the ever missing you taunt me like a cruel, unending joke. Our family will be forever incomplete. And there’s nothing that could make that broken circle close the way it should– like a kiss beneath the mistletoe gone horribly wrong, two lips never meeting as one– the edges of our family circle are permanently broken, never again will we be a family complete.
. . .
Where it was once a season filled with overwhelming joy, it’s now, at best, one dominated by an undercurrent of deep sorrow. Insatiable longing. A constant hum of incompleteness. Layers of grief spontaneously unraveling before my eyes with threads reminiscent of the ugliest, itchiest, most uncomfortable Christmas sweater.
Every year I think, seriously, do I really have to wear t-h-i-s– again? Every year the answer is yes. Yes. A forever-without-a-choice-kind-of- yes. And every year I want to burn the wretched sweater and wear my old, comfortable, me-kind-of-holiday-clothes. The ones I wore last time I felt the spirit of Christmas deep in my heart. The ones that last touched your perfectly soft skin. The ones that forever hold the memories of the last Christmas you and I celebrated together, our hearts beating together– alive together–same planet, same room, same very chair. Our hands touching. Mine, outlining the shape of your perfectly plump toddler fingers as they gently rested in my open palm.
I’m tired of “celebrating” the season this way, wishing for impossibilities that can never be, longing for what is no longer.
Some moments are surprisingly survivable, sometimes even filled with unexpected moments of laughter and joy. Others are barely bearable– a land mine of grief explosions grinchingly waiting for me around every corner.
Oh. my. heart.
. . .
This is what Christmas without you looks like five years later– the undertow is relentless. Every step holds the very real possibility of getting pulled totally and completely under– of being over my head, gasping for air in a whirlpool of holiday induced grief. Drowning in a thick sea of Eggnog and misjudgments. If I don’t show up, it’s mistaken as, “Oh, she doesn’t care.” If I do show up, with tears and the real sound of my own heart breaking, it’s “Ohhhh, she mustn’t be OVER it yet,” or “Clearly she’s not doing (hush-hush, voice lowered) very well.”
If only it could be understood that it is exactly because of the holidays– the gatherings, the pressure to be merrily on, the exaggerated empty chair that is often unrecognized and not spoken of in a room overflowing with a family otherwise glaringly complete– that leaves a grieving parent spinning in the holy-daze of grief.
Just when I think I’m doing ‘ok’, a half cup of tears unexpectedly floods my perfectly measured Christmas cookie batter, and drowns me right along with it– a not so ironic analogy indicative of an entire season filled with far too much salt in a bereaved parent’s wounds. Or, if things have been feeling slightly jolly and even joy-filled, I’ll find myself perpetually holding my breath, shoulders up to my ears, cautiously waiting for the other shoe to drop without even realizing it. Or with the anxiety of a mother scanning the crowd for her lost child, one might find me relentlessly surveying every holiday gathering for mine, while also making note of every blessed Kleenex box, bathroom location, the quickest escape routes and nearest exists that will lead to a corner where I can safely let my tears for you endlessly fall.
. . .
If one were to meet me in my crying corner, I’d sob that all I really want for Christmas is this:
1) A normal life, one with you in it, growing bigger and older every day instead of this tide of grief washing me mercilessly up on its shore.
2) A Christmas card with our entire family, all five of us. Complete with your cheeky seven year old grin shining brightly between your two and three year old little brothers.
3) Your breath, your life, fogging up every pane of glass in our life– the kitchen window, car window, front house window, every mirror that now reflects my sad bereaved mother eyes back to me.
4) The untainted joy of Christmas, the birth of possibility, of dreams untainted by the broken, jagged, shattered pieces of our missing puzzle piece, our missing you.
5) To feel truly alive again, instead of trying to survive underneath the weight of life and death I feel in every single breath.
6) The empty chair at our table, full. Full of life, full of laughter, full of every amazing part of you.
7) A circle of loving hearts who could understand that although I carry both the ache and the joy of the season in me all at once, the ache often times feels stronger and more overwhelming, because the joy of the season is jollying everywhere, greeting my broken places with a slap in the face, and a swift punch to the gut. If only the world could understand that for me, the holidays feel more like an emotional war zone, than an exciting season of Yuletide cheer.
There you have it. One wish for every year you should have been alive with us to date.
. . .
The thing is, I don’t care about what kind of tree we have– real or fake, sparkly ornaments or dull. I don’t care about what kind of food we eat, or if we decide to put lights on the outside of the house or nowhere at all. I don’t care if anyone gets me a present. I don’t care about holiday fruitcake, or gingerbread houses or where so-and-so gets to vacation for Christmas this year.
All I care about is that we’re together as a family, creating priceless memories that money can’t buy and death can’t steal.
Oh yes, and one last thing. I hope to figure out how to keep your light on inside my heart bright enough to make my pores glow with the light of you all year long. That’s my Christmas wish.
If it happens, I figure that’s the closest I’ll ever get to having all I really want for Christmas–
Angela Miller is a writer, speaker and grief advocate who provides support and solace to those who are grieving the loss of a child. She is the author of You Are the Mother of All Mothers: A Message of Hope for the Grieving Heart, founder of the award-winning community A Bed For My Heart, writer for The Huffington Post, the Open to Hope Foundation and Still Standing Magazine. Angela writes candidly about child loss and grief without sugar coating the reality of life after loss. Her writing and her book have been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, MPR, BlogTalk Radio, Open to Hope Radio and Writerly, among others. When she’s not writing, traveling, or healing hearts, you can find Angela making every moment count with her two beautiful, blue-eyed boys.
Join Angela’s compassionate village at A Bed For My Heart.