by Angela Miller
This is what Christmas without you feels like seven years later.
I miss you. I always miss you, even when I don’t say it, I’m always thinking it. It’s an ache that perpetually aches– in my heart, my head, my soul– deep within my bones. The you-shaped hole in my heart will always remain.
There are few people left in my life who knew you when you were here. Few people who know or say your name.
I’m not sure why that is. Honestly, I’ve stopped wondering about most of life’s whys. The whys and what ifs, they all end the same– a dizzying clusterfuck of senselessness that will never make sense to me, no matter how long I ruminate. It all ends in one big, giant headache. That and a whole lot of suffering mixed with endless tears. With no consolation prize, and with no more answers than when I first started asking why, seven, long years ago.
Like that song says, “It’s just a different kind of Christmas this year.” Different, is certainly one way to put it. I could also fill-in-the-blank with a number of other descriptive words, that would all be equally accurate. The thing is, Christmas without you isn’t just one emotion. It’s a jumble of emotions, that still leave me spinning. You’d think after seven years of living without you, I’d be getting the hang of it. But honestly? I’m not. There’s no “getting the hang” of living a life sentence without you. Grief still has a way of sneaking up on me without notice, grinchingly lurking around corners, and ruining otherwise “good” moments. Especially during the holidays. Grief is a bitch like that.
But here’s the other thing. There are so many incredible, beautiful, amazing moments I ache to share with you. Every good, “happy” moment always has one thing missing: you. And without you, it really knocks the goodness/happiness/joy o’meter down more than a few notches, you know? At best, life is bittersweet. Never again will it be purely happy and joyful like it once was. When you were here, and we were together. I had everything I’d ever dreamed of and then some. You, were a dream come true.
When I look at old pictures of me from “before,” I sob. It’s painful to look into her eyes. That sparkle. That mom. The normal one. The non-bereaved one. The one not perpetually weighed down emotionally, pinned between a rock and a hard place, by this incessant boulder of grief. The one that was all kinds of happy and joyful and mom to the nth degree. I’m not that mom anymore, sweet boy. I wish I was, I wish that mom was still in me somewhere. But she died the day you did. With you, she went. Together, we soar.
Yet, I’m still a mom. To you, and to the rest of your siblings. And I wonder? Do they know? Do they know how different of a mom they have now from the mom I was before? And if I could meet both of us, side by side, the mom I am now, and the mom I was then– would I really like the old one better? Or is it just that I wish everything could go back to the way it was?– before the nightmare took over? Or is it, I wish with everything within in me, that I could rewrite the ending. That I could edit this story to my heart’s content.
Because this story? This life? It’s not the one I wanted, dreamed of, planned for– and the holidays emphasize that fact loud and clear, like wretched nails on a chalkboard. This is not anything close to the life I had planned for us. Yet no matter what I do, I can’t go back. I can’t change the ending. There are no rewrites. No revisions. No do-overs. Unfortunately we weren’t given that choice.
This. is. it.
Learning how to live with it, this life I didn’t want, this life without you, is painfully hard. And painfully lonely. And painfully beautiful.
All the ways you’ve changed me, leave me speechless. You, sweet boy, are my everything. And death will never change that.
The truth is, this year I can actually smile at the Christmas cards. The cookies even taste a little bit sweeter than they did in years past. I can laugh with your brothers, and not feel guilty about it. And yet? There is still an undercurrent of sadness beneath it all. Our table will always have one empty chair, no matter how full it appears to be. Something that only others who have walked this path can understand.
No matter how “good” life seems at times, I always wonder how much better it could be, if you were here with us. No matter what, you are always missing. No matter what, my heart will always ache for you. No matter what, life will only be as good as it can possibly be, minus you.
To me, that’s just not good enough. Yet, somehow, I have to accept that’s as good as it’s gonna get.
In the grief world, there is a lot of talk of “acceptance,” and I wonder if I have reached the so-called promise land? If I’m honest, I accept that you’re gone. I accept that you’re never coming back. I accept that I’m a bereaved mom. I live in that reality. But, if acceptance means liking those facts, or coming to peace with your absence, I’m not sure I’ll ever get there. And really, should that even be the goal?
I think being a bereaved parent is a whole lot of holding all the shit, and all the joy together in a broken open heart. It’s messy. It’s complicated. I’m still learning how to do it.
This I know: I love more– deeper– than I ever dreamed possible. And, I cry more than I ever dreamed possible too. The tears don’t seem to be running out any time soon. That’s just real life post-losing you.
Being honest about it– this thing called grief– is really all I can do. I can’t pretend it’s not this way. I can’t pretend I’m “ok,” that I’m “over” you or “healed,” or that I miss you any less now that it’s been seven years. None of that is true. I can’t pretend I like being a bereaved mom, or that I don’t miss my old self, my old life, my precious, one and only you. I can’t pretend I’m wiser, more enlightened, or more of anything, really. I can’t pretend that any of this is easy. I can’t pretend I even know how to do this.
What I can say is– I’m better for knowing you, loving you, and missing you. You make me the best me. Our love does that. Your love sustains me. When I think I can’t do it anymore, our love reminds me I can do anything. I’ve already done the hardest thing there is. And no matter how much my heart aches for you– during the holidays, or any day of the year– I am thankful for you, eternally grateful, that out of all the moms in the sea,
You chose me.
ANGELA MILLER is an internationally known writer and speaker on grief and loss. She is the best-selling author of You Are the Mother of All Mothers, and the founder and executive director of the award-winning grief organization, A Bed For My Heart. After the death of her son, Angela founded A Bed For My Heart in 2013, and has given people around the world a compassionate and supportive community to express their grief and honor their children. Her article, “7 Things I’ve Learned Since the Loss of My Child,” has been shared over one million times. Angela’s website ABedForMyHeart.com has almost two million visitors per year, and has become a trusted resource for grieving families worldwide. She has been featured in People, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Blog Talk Radio, Love What Matters, Listen to Your Mother, and more. Angela’s writing has comforted millions of hurting hearts around the world. You Are the Mother of All Mothers is her first book, and is dedicated to grieving mothers everywhere.
Join Angela’s compassionate village at A Bed For My Heart.