Bare feet and sandals have succumbed to socks and sneakers. The freedom of a summer day has been lost in the routine of back to school affairs for our five children, ages 6-15. All of them eager for a new school year, a new beginning, yet silently, their dad and I know, they are thinking about the upcoming anniversary of their baby brother's death, and the looming holidays without him. Homework, after school activities, and daily life have been the catalysts for time to do as time will do, pass quickly when you are not paying attention. Just six short weeks, and one report card later, the holiday traditions have begun. This season of celebration will be the catalyst for grieving parents to do as grieving parents will do, dread the holidays. Picking pumpkins leads to pondering questions like "What would my child have dressed up as this year?” Thanksgiving gatherings force parents to feel the weight of grief, accompanied with thoughts of, "How can I be thankful without one of my children?” Winter traditions have some siblings writing “Dear Santa, I just want my baby back.” These never-ending, heartbreaking thoughts and unanswered questions will be the catalysts for grief to do as grief does, supersede the spirit, joy, and jolly of life. Grief has a way of diminishing the quality time that should be spent celebrating life and tradition with loved ones. Grief cannot, refuses to be, ignored, and must be faced and embraced. So I say to myself, husband, children, and fellow grieving hearts, “Go ahead, have a bawl. Cry, scream, and let it out. Then, turn the destructive thoughts into constructive actions. Turn the rage into remembrance.”
What should have been our first Christmas with our “nine” month old son Cullin was our first without him. He passed away from SIDS just three months prior at six months young. As decorations flew from boxes and tears streamed from my eyes, thoughts of our baby boy flooded my mind. I became angry, literally pissed, and engulfed with rage. There should be eight stockings, not seven. Grief’s partner, anger, took over my mind, hands, and feet. Boxes were thrown, items on shelves were shoved off, and ornaments were smashed. It’s unknown how long my personal wrecking party lasted, but tears, screams, and now shattered ornaments filled my garage, and I still felt empty. The garage was restored, but the ever-present feelings of longing for my son lingered.
I had to re-channel my energies, refocus my thoughts, and as my husband says, “replace everything broken!” including broken ornaments, broken hearts, and broken traditions. As I was in the garage having a bawl, Cullin’s five siblings were inside having a ball pulling out decorations, getting ready to decorate the tree, sip hot cocoa, watch holiday cartoons, and hang their stockings, each longing for normal holiday traditions and the emotional presence of their parents. After such a release of emotion, these holiday activities seemed “do-able,” and my personal smashing party was a catalyst for me to do as I will do, think of ways to “make it” through this life sentence without my child, to make it through birthdays, death dates, and holiday seasons without our little boy, and to cope in mindful, positive, expressive ways.
The rage felt in our garage that day inspired the creation of a remembrance stocking, crafted from burlap and pieces of Cullin’s clothes. The destructive thoughts (and actions) were turned into constructive actions, and mindless presence was turned into mindful interaction. Writing has been an expressive coping mechanism for me, especially during the emotional holiday season. Last year I wrote, “When Thanksgiving feels like Thanksgrieving…When planning for the holidays, plan for sadness. Consider it to be on the menu for the day. Eat a small portion, or stuff yourself with grief. It’s your choice. Keep in mind it’s best to eat in moderation. It takes longer to recover when you stuff yourself.”
This year when family and friends arrive for the feast, they will see eight stockings hanging by our decorated tree. I may bawl, scream, and smash ornaments again, but then I plan to create new memories and have a ball with my loved ones, celebrating the season with thoughts of my youngest child in my heart as times does what time will do, ring in another new year.