I have been in some deep grief over the past few weeks. As is typical for me, I have memories of Charlie or moments of sadness that “pop up” at inopportune times and, instead of allowing myself to stop and feel them, I push them back in my grief box. After awhile, they can no longer be contained and the explosion happens … literally. I find that I can’t hold back the tears or the tantrums. I sit on the back porch and cry until the sweat and tears make me shiver with cold, or find solace in the old faithful pretending to take a shower while Michael corrales Ellie in an attempt to divert her attention. Once the explosion happens, there are aftershocks that occur. And while the explosions in general are more spread out these days, the intensity has become stronger. And the aftershocks last longer.
I have experienced several tantrums lately accompanied by a lot of back porch time and, if I am being completely transparent, a cigarette was involved at one point … and I am not at all a smoker. The world is completely upside down, everything in my life is wrong and it all points back to April 14th, the day Charlie died. That was round one of this particular period of grief. And just like a toddler, I wore myself into sleep. Round two was, and usually is, feeling like I am failing my family, the foundation, and thus Charlie. If you are a bereaved parent, holding onto anything that makes you feel a connection to your child — being able to foster it and grow it — is invaluable in keeping the memory of your child alive. So feeling like you are failing in that endeavor is excruciatingly hard. Then, there was round three, a new round in my grief experience; hearing the phrase, “Well, it’s the holidays. No wonder you are sad.”
I’m not sure who first said this to me, but each time I hear it the more my throat burns and my face gets hot. In round three, I’ve had a whole tantrum devoted to the above statement. I’m sad because my son isn’t here. I’m not sad because the holidays make me miss him. I miss him every single day.
So sometimes when I get so sick with grief, I have to literally go to bed. And Saturday was one of those times. I was at a holiday gathering trying my best to be present but if you know me, even a little, lying is not my forte. I found myself getting mad for no reason over nothing in particular. And as I was leaving the party, I just knew this was it. If I didn’t allow my body to rest and my mind to process all the feelings I was having, this explosion of grief was never going to end. So, dinner plans were canceled for the night and I crawled in bed and slept, and continued to sleep until noon the following day.
While I’m still on the path to “recovering” from this explosion, I’ve been reflecting specifically on round three. Why does someone saying, “ It’s the holidays,” propel me into such a tailspin?
Clearly the holidays bring a season of joy. It’s the time we spend with family, friends, and neighbors. There are parties, presents, and laughter. In general, most people look forward to this time of the year. However, when someone important to you is absent from a holiday tradition, you miss them. You are reminded of that person because that is when you would see them. So to put it in perspective, I remember both of my grandmothers, particularly at Christmas time. One, because her birthday was on Christmas Day. The other because as kids she would give us a big trash bag ( I’m talking a Hefty plastic bag) full of junk for Christmas. Each year, I looked forward to rifling through that bag of fun. Whether it was socks, make-up, purses, candy cigarettes, or all of the above and then some. I think of my grandmothers and miss them during the holidays because that is when I would traditionally see them most often. So of course the phrase, “It’s the holidays,” works in this case. And it works in most cases when someone has experienced a more natural loss.
But an unnatural, preterm loss is different. I am supposed to see, hear, and touch Charlie every single day for the next 18+ years. I am supposed to tuck him in bed, take him to school, help him with homework, brush his teeth (hopefully not for 18+ years), and be with him through all those daily routines. And, because he died, I’m not doing those things. I experience grief everyday because I don’t get to experience him, as I should be able to, every single day. It’s not the holidays that are hard, it’s the normal everyday moments that are.
Another reason I believe, “ It’s the holidays,” gets thrown around so often as it relates to loss and grief is because of all the gratitude we feel this time of year. During this season, we are typically more inclined to be grateful for what we have – our families, our health, etc. Being grateful typically comes from or is followed by thinking of others that are less fortunate or those who might be suffering. These are all good things, don’t get me wrong. But people tend to think more about the loss of others this time of year as they find gratitude in themselves. So the assumption is easily made that if I am so grateful for my family, my neighbor is so saddened by her loss. I receive more phone calls and texts during the holidays than any other time during the year. And while I am grateful for each one, it’s not Christmas that makes me sad that Charlie isn’t here. It’s that Charlie isn’t here that makes me sad.
I’m not saying that on Christmas morning thoughts of Charlie and the void he has left will not fill our hearts and our house. But that is every day we have without Charlie, not just on special holidays. My point is this, unnatural loss and grief does not surface, at least for me anyways, because of a momentous occasion. However, it’s more likely the mundane moments of tying shoes, car rides, or hearing a giggle from a little boy around Charlie’s age that will bring me to my knees. So reach out to someone sitting in grief on a Monday, because it’s a Monday or any other day. Because it’s any day that makes a bereaved person sad, not just the holidays.