Christmas Eve has always been one of the worst days of the year for me. This will be my fifth Christmas without my son. Now that his younger sisters are old enough to be excited, I see the expectation and awe in their eyes. And I now know the magical moments that I’ve missed with him. I try so hard every year to try to embrace the season. I remind myself of the deeper meaning and find ways to honor him, inviting others to do so as well. But, so far, every Christmas Eve I end up sad, mad, butter, tense, and short-tempered. I always snap at my husband for who-knows-what.
The Christmas Eve service at our church was always my favorite prior to 2013. Now, I weep through Silent Night. My tears stream when the lyrics turn to “mother and child,” and “sleep in heavenly peace.”
I’ll never forget the first Christmas without him. I held a candle in the front of the church, hoping no one noticed the fact that I was in pieces. I wanted to hide at the end of the service, but instead, another mother embraced me and simply said, “It’s a hard night, isn’t it?” She knew the pain I was feeling, the emptiness of loss, and the grief of saying goodbye to her own son much too soon. In the candlelit room, as those lyrics were sung, she saw the pain etched in my heart and displayed clearly on my face. I cried with relief knowing I was not the only one in the room that didn’t have that “most wonderful time of the year” feeling. I cried knowing that she knew the pain. And I cried knowing that I was not alone.
The past few years I’ve gone home from the service and baked like there was no tomorrow. We bring goodies to the staff at the hospital where he was born and to our neighbors. Last year, we brought them to a fire station because I believe he would have been in love with firetrucks and firefighters. I always light a candle for him and turn on music that reminds me of him. I try to stay focused, but my eyes always drift towards the tree. Then I think of all of the gifts I should be wrapping and the toys that we should be assembling. I think about what Christmas should be like. And, I cry.
This Year I am Determined that Christmas Eve Will Be Different
You can ask me how it’s going after you read this because who knows how I will really feel. As I reflect on this year, I have learned to dream again. I have learned to celebrate his legacy, the difference that he has made and is continuing to make in the lives of so many. I think of all the incredible people I’ve met who have shared their heart with me, and the stories of their own children. In no way do I believe that this is how life should have been, but it is how life is. If I could only know what he would have accomplished in this life instead of all that he has propelled into being through his death…
I have always been proud to be Max’s mom. But this year, instead of focusing on the fact that he is not here the way I want, I want to focus on the ways that he is still with me. He changed me. He allowed me to see the world in a different way. I have a perspective that is so much deeper and broader than I could have imagined because of him. He has taught me what love is, and that, after all, is what this season is all about. I am determined this year for his love to shine through me. To let him guide me and open my heart so that I may see the brokenness around me. So that I can be the one who reaches out – as that mother at church did for me five years ago. Now, it’s my turn.
The Holiday Season Can Be Brutal
If your heart is broken into a thousand pieces, I hope that you’ll allow someone to come beside you and say, “I know, me too.” If you are angry, I hope you can find a healthy way to release that anger. If you feel alone, I promise you that you are not. Reach out at the end of this post, or to other groups who understand. We are stronger when we are together.
If you are afraid to hope and dream again, that is OK. Whatever you feel is OK. Just know that we grieve because we love, and love is powerful. I am determined to let that love guide me, so that this year, Christmas will be different. I hope that it guides you, too.
Remembering you and yours on this Christmas Eve.
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DeAndrea is a wife, mother of three beautiful children, and the Founder and Executive Director of A Memory Grows, a 501(c)(3) based in Fort Worth, Texas that provides retreats and events for parents who are grieving the death of their child.