When joy and pain are forever bound, the days can be long and hard. The pain is crippling at times. The joy is beautiful and awe-inspiring. Together though, this life of pain and joy can be overwhelming. The holiday season seems to exacerbate the feelings. The twinkling lights, the parties, the music, the candlelight, the traditions. The empty chair, the gifts not purchased, the silence, the missing child from the photos. Sometimes it is all just too much.
Life was pretty picture perfect. Then my first child was stillborn. After that moment, nothing was ever the same. It was as if I was holding the most beautiful fragile ornament in my hand and it slipped and shattered leaving a million little pieces on the floor surrounding me. Nothing will ever be what it should have been. Do not get me wrong, life is not all darkness and devastation. But, life is not all sunshine and roses either. Life is a balancing act. A great dichotomy. Moments of great joy. Moments of great pain. All held together at once in an odd tension that both overwhelms and yet offers a perspective like no other.
During the season that is proclaimed as the, “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I have often felt over the past 5 years that I do not quite belong. Everyone else seems to be happy and looking with great expectation to gatherings and long held traditions. In the meantime, in the back of my mind I am always conscious of how I should be taking three children to see Santa Claus, buying gifts for a little boy and listening to him rustle under the tree shaking gifts as the days lead closer to Christmas morning. I enjoy every single second that I have with my girls and I believe that every moment is more precious because I am so hyperaware of what is missing. There is joy and happiness. There is also yearning and pain. The honest truth is that the lights just do not twinkle as bright and the cheery music does not lift my spirit the way that it did before.
I am not depressed, nor am I sad all the time and I do not dwell in the past. This is simply my reality. My family will never be fully complete and from the mundane moments of everyday life to the celebrations of birthdays, holidays and family vacations we are always missing something. Someone. My son.
We have found joy in creating new traditions. Each year we are filled with love by inviting others to participate in Random Acts of Kindness. We invite our family and friends to spread love, kindness and peace and then send us letters addressed to our son telling us about their experience. We place the letters in his stocking and then we read them out loud as a family on Christmas Day at his spot in the cemetery. It is a tangible way of celebrating him and seeing how his life touches others and is impacting our world. In the traditional Santa photos he is always represented in a way that most would never notice but we know that he is included in the photos with his sisters. His ornaments hang in a prominent spot on the tree. And, his candle is always burning, the flame dancing brightly during all our family celebrations. These things help us. These things help to ease the pain.
Related: When Joy and Pain Exist Together
When you do not know the joy without the pain that came before it, words fall short of expressing what life is like. Beautiful and precious. Broken and mending. Fragile and strong. Bittersweet. A place where pain and joy reside side by side.
If you are struggling and feel as though others do not get it or understand you, know that you are not alone. If you feel as though you no longer quite fit in, know that you are not the only one. If you are struggling with how to relate or engage this holiday season, know that the struggle is real and normal. If you have found holiday traditions that fill your heart with joy, please share so that we can celebrate with you. If you are unable to do what you have always done before, know that that is OK. This journey is so lonely, and this season exacerbates feelings like no other. We are stronger when we are together. After all, that is how we are Still Standing. We will make it through together.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/freestocks.org
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.