It has been 6 years since I have been able to fully sing the words to Silent Night. The mother and child, silent night and especially sleep in heavenly peace lines just fall too close to those still painful pieces of my heart reminding me of Max’s silent birth and the silent nights that followed.
I’ll never forget my first Christmas Eve service after he died. I was standing at the front of the candlelit packed sanctuary looking out and praying that everyone was caught up in their own moments and not noticing the associate pastor who was desperately trying to hold it together during the singing of that song. Millions of tears were sliding down my cheeks. After the service was over I just wanted to hide. But before I could retreat into my office, a precious woman walked up to me and simply said, “It’s a hard night.” She wrapped her arms around me and just let me sob. She got it. She understood all too well the pain. Her own son had died by suicide several years earlier. She wanted me to know I wasn’t alone. I will never forget that moment.
Grief is lonely. Excruciatingly lonely. The holiday season full of hustle and bustle and parties enmeshed with socializing often makes one feel even more off-kilter when it seems that everyone around is full of happiness and cheer. Hallmark movies play non-stop with happy endings and beautiful snow filled scenes. If we are honest sometimes we can secretly identify more closely with the Grinch than the happy go lucky, full of love and cheer, most wonderful time of the year people around us. We try, we really do, but the days are long and sometimes the nights are even longer.
Someone recently asked the simple question, “What do you want for Christmas.” It was as if I had been stabbed in the heart. It was not asked with ill intent, it was asked so that I could have a present under the tree. But, that simple question triggered in me a tirade that went something like this. Really? You really want to know what I want for Christmas? Let me tell you.
I want my son, Max. Alive. And all three of my children running around on Christmas morning, opening gifts, being loud, not wanting to eat because they are too excited, harassing each other, chaos.
I want there to be no Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I want my mom to be able to fully enjoy my kids and laugh and play on the floor with the toys and clothes that she picked out for them at the store instead of me buying what I think she would like to give them.
I want there to be a cure for cancer. And diabetes. And AIDS.
I want everyone to have a warm place to sleep and wars to cease and peace.
I want everyone to have someone that they trust, someone that believes in them.
I want everyone know know love.
I want everyone to know they are not alone.
Instead, all I could mutter was, “I’ll make a list, but I need socks. I know I need socks.”
The true brilliance of the season is often hard to find when our hearts are breaking. Wherever you are on this journey, you are not alone. Sometimes the greatest gift is the simple feat of making it through the hours and turning the page to a new day tomorrow. Often hearing our child’s name spoken by others lifts us up and reminds us that they are not forgotten and that someone else is remembering besides us. If you need to be alone, give yourself space. If you need to be with people, surround yourself with those who offer you grace and love. Honor your child in whatever way lifts your spirit and if you cannot do anything today, know that there will always be another opportunity tomorrow.
The beauty of the season is there but sometimes it is found in the most unexpected of places.
Recently as I was dropping my oldest daughter off at her class I saw “Chapel 9:45” written on a board in the hallway. I asked the preschool director about it and she encouraged me to come. I didn’t think I could make it work due to my work schedule but after thinking about it for a few minutes I became determined to make it work no matter what.
My daughter was very excited when I arrived and that made my day to see her light up. One of the pastors was leading Chapel and the kids were adorable as they interacted with him and as he shared the nativity with them. At one point I realized he was holding his guitar and I thought, “Oh no, they are going to sing the song…” My stomach did a flip and I tried to tell myself I was sitting in the back and no one would see me if I lost it. “I can do this.” I started chanting to myself in my head. They sang Away in a Manger and the room was filled with the most precious little 3 and 4 year old voices singing. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then he said, “I have another song I want us to sing.” I thought, oh great, here we go. As those little voices began to sing Silent Night I heard one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever experienced. Then one by one they began to raise their little hands and sign the song. When my daughter raised hers I nearly lost it. I had no clue she knew any sign language.
Tears. Pain. Joy. Sadness. Beauty. Grace. Peace. Love. All were felt at once. Something beautiful happened in those moments. The images that always flash in front of my eyes when I hear that song are of me holding Max for the final time. When I went to bed that night I did not go to sleep with those images erased or diminished but with a new image to go along side it. The sight of little children, singing with their mouths, hands, and hearts who led me to a place of remembering and understanding again what this season is all about.
We wait in the midst of pain and grief and beauty and love with great expectation. We hold it all together in tension. And no matter what we are not alone.
Photo Credit: DDare
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.