Sometimes it just hits you out of nowhere. Like when you’re shopping with his twin brother for Christmas, contemplating whether a $25 toy is worth it to buy a few weeks before Christmas. You’re talking about how proud you are that your living son has done enough chores to earn a remote control car. And then you see how the city is decorated for the holiday and the tears come. Thankfully you are driving and can turn up the Christmas music so the 5-year-old little boy behind you has no idea it’s hit you. He sings along with the music and by the time you park the tears have stopped and you’re thankful for the cold air to hit your red cheeks. You take his hand and walk into the store, barely ready to breathe again, but you know you must. You tuck away your pain and buy that $25 toy that could have just as easily been a Christmas present, just to see his face light up because you need to see the joy of your living children.
This is my life after the death of my son. The grief comes in waves, mostly out of nowhere. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or where I am. When it hits me, it hits me. Sometimes I am able give it a few minutes, sometimes I am able to weep and get the tears out that I know I need to cry, and sometimes I have to swallow the tears and not let it show. This just one example of how I get through life without one of my children. There are other days and other moments when I feel the same. So many of these moments I never share and no one ever knows.
This will be the sixth Christmas without my son. Each year is different, some harder and some easier. But it’s never really easy. I always think maybe that I can get through the day without crying, but I never do. Those are the expected tears. The ones where I give myself time and my husband takes care of the kids while I get my tears in. Then we switch and I give him his time.
It’s the times that hit me out of nowhere that seem to cut the most. Over five years have passed since my son’s death and I am pretty together. Most would say I am managing my grief excellently. I would not agree completely. Because I know how I feel when it hits me. I know how it feels when I just go back in time and the pain is just as bad as when I left the hospital for the last time without my son, knowing his body was cold and his heart was not beating.
I’ve gotten really good at saving those sobbing tears for when I’m in private. Maybe I’m in the shower or out of town for work or driving, or just alone. And sometimes, like the other day, I just need to let out a few tears because I can’t hold them back. I’m not good at saving the pain for a time that is convenient. I suppose I never will be, because when you hold your son as his heart beats for the last time, you are forever changed.
This time of year is especially tough for most bereaved families. There is so much to celebrate, but so much to mourn. When MJ died, I didn’t just lose my 35-day-old son. I lost a lifetime of memories and moments. I’m finishing up Christmas shopping and bought MJ his Christmas ornament that I buy each year. When I put his ornaments up on the tree each year I think about how one day when our other children are grown all that will decorate the tree are his ornaments. There will be a few others, but his ornaments will never leave because he is grown. He will forever be 35 days old. All the Christmases he has missed will be marked on my Christmas tree. His ornaments always depict a baby, and his siblings’ ornaments have changed as they have grown.
The holidays and this time of year leave beautiful memories and moments with friends and family. But for bereaved families, a huge piece is missing. If you’re reading this and know a bereaved family, please don’t forget that they are also hurting amid the smiles and celebration. Talk about their child and let them know you are missing someone, too.