Remember with Courage

Remember with Courage

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

Remember with Courage

Christmas is a special time of year. And while pretty packages and twinkling lights are the window dressing for this exciting festivity, it is the warmth and love of family that make the holiday season so memorable. However, it can be a painful time for those experiencing the recent loss of a loved one.

Twelve years ago, my husband died suddenly. Although it was only the end of October, department stores glittered with decorations and staff worked eagerly to jump-start sales. When purchasing outfits for my ten-and twelve-year-old daughters to wear to their father’s funeral, the salesclerk innocently asked if I was getting an early start on my Christmas shopping. I shall never forget the piercing pain in my heart as I stumbled for an answer.

I drove home in tears, realizing just how out of sync I was with the outside world. The holiday momentum was building, and I felt as though I was being swallowed by a huge black hole. I wanted to scream. I wanted the world to stop spinning. I wanted to run away . . . find some place that wasn’t dripping with tinsel and holiday cheer. But more than anything, I wanted my family back.

The following weeks passed, and December twenty-fifth approached quickly. I struggled with wanting to dismiss Christmas and yet, at the same time, to embrace the childhood excitement my daughters were beginning to brim with. While it was easy for me to sustain resentment toward the outside world, it was impossible to resist them. They made their annual wish list and insisted on decorating the house. Through their actions, it became abundantly clear that Christmas was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.

My girls taught me more about grieving than I could have ever taught them. They missed their dad terribly. Yet they were able to perceive the enchantment of Christmas as they had in years prior, albeit in a different way. It was obvious they’d made a choice to participate in the ardor of Christmas. Being children, they may not have been aware of the implications of this choice. Perhaps that was the saving grace. By making an unconscious choice they were relieved of any damning self-judgment that would cite disrespect to their father’s memory. They instinctively knew their lives had to go on, and they showed me that mine had to as well.

Christmas did go on for us that year. And yes, it was very different. The three of us pulled together as a family and developed new traditions to help face the day. For instance, we hung a picture of my husband in the Christmas tree, declaring him our “Christmas Star.” We also dedicated Christmas Eve as the day to honor him by making a visit to the cemetery. It was there that I presented each daughter with one of our wedding bands as a gift from both their father and me. We returned home for a quiet evening to reminisce about our favorite family times together. The tears flowed, at times uncontrollably, but in a very healing way.

Surprisingly, Christmas Day was quite pleasant. It was not filled with the heavy sadness or feelings of sorrow that I’d anticipated. Instead, it was filled with love and compassion. We invited our extended family and close friends to spend the day with us. During dinner, we exchanged stories of years gone by, many of them bringing smiles and laughter to everyone.

In reflection, I am thankful we found the courage to embrace Christmas that year. In doing so, we renewed our strength and courage to go on and live our lives as we were meant to. Two years later, my daughters and I were blessed to receive a new family, complete with a dad and three more children.

Today, we embrace Christmas as a way of celebrating not only those we are fortunate to have in our lives, but to also remember those we hold so dearly in our hearts.

If you are facing Christmas alone for the first time, I encourage you to reach out to someone you trust and share your feelings with them. Devote a time and place prior to Christmas Day in which you can openly honor your loved one and acknowledge your feelings. Finally, on Christmas Day, intentionally set your focus on family and friends who not only share in your loss, but who bring precious gifts of love and support to aid you in your healing journey.

You are not alone, although you may feel this way. Many people have been where you are, and we care deeply.

Janelle M. Breese Biagioni

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