Once again, it’s that time of year. Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and Christmas is only a few steps behind. Will this year be different than the last seven? Will I find the magic again? Wait. Let me revise that question: Did I ever feel the magic?
As a bereaved parent, I have experienced only two holiday seasons. While I have physically lived through 49 hell-a-days, emotionally, there have been only two: The ones before and the ones after Jason’s death. The two categories are distinctly different.
If memory serves me correctly, which God knows it doesn’t always do, I spent the first 42 years focused on material issues. What would I get? What did I want? What would make me the happiest child in the whole world? As I grew older and had my own little family, I spent the next 22 years asking myself what I would get them. What did they want? What would make them love me more? How would I manage to pay for all of it? I always felt there was something missing . . . but didn’t really have the time or interest to find that missing something. Besides, why borrow trouble? Each year, by the time I realized that something was missing, the decorations were packed in their boxes and the kids had gone back to school. I could always find the magic next year.
In 1996, Jason died. Suddenly, my life ended its forward march and everything I had ever regarded as important became nonsense. My heart was not simply broken—it was ripped into shreds, emptied of what had fueled it over the span of my life. I had no hope of waiting for it to heal and had to face the reality that only a total reconstruction would suffice. I would have to create a new heart . . . from scratch.
That first fall was difficult. I was still numb, still cushioned from reality, but the pain of Jason’s death was beginning to seep in. Then it was Halloween, and the horror of what had happened was upon me. Thanksgiving came with Christmas on its tail, bringing an empty chair, an unbroken wishbone, and silence where laughter had once prevailed.
I was sure it could not get any worse, but life always surprises us. The holidays of 1997 and 1998 were devastating. The numbness that had protected me that first season was gone. Reality had arrived, and I could not escape it. I would never again see Jason walk through our front door with that grin that always made me nervous, tracking snow across my “freshly waxed for the holidays” floor. I would never again buy two of everything for Jason and his twin brother. I would never again . . . enjoy the holidays . . . or life.
Years four through seven, we bought gifts for needy families, hung Jason’s stocking right beside the rest of ours, illuminated special candles to include him in our celebrations, and smiled cheerfully at everyone who offered us their joy filled Merry Christmas. And as I spread my Christmas cheer and goodwill toward men, I had only one thought in my mind. It became my mantra: “If I can just make it through December, I will be okay.” I was no longer focused on the material side of the season. I was no longer focused on the season at all. I wanted it over.
And now, here I am, at year eight. My eighth season of joy, my eighth year of decking the halls, my eighth year of Jason’s physical absence. You probably think I am going to tell you that this year will be no different from the last seven. You might even anticipate that I am going to tell you that it never gets better, that there is no such thing as healing, and that grieving parents will always be bitter and angry, especially during the times when families everywhere celebrate the season of giving. Wrong. But don’t feel bad; this revelation has totally shocked me also.
A few days ago, on a cold morning in October, I woke up and was amazed to see that it was snowing. Overnight, the world had gone from brown to pure glistening white. It was beautiful. Later that day, I heard someone in my home actually humming Christmas carols. How dare they!? But . . . I was alone. It was me. That evening, I spent an hour printing up a beautiful green and red Christmas “wish list” with graphics! That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly, it hit me. And no matter how guilty I feel in acknowledging it, I have to tell you. I am looking forward to the holidays. Oh . . . my . . . GOD. How can this be? Why is this happening?
Well, after much pondering, I think I know why. I think I spent 42 holidays looking through a lens that only focused on black and white, on the physical, on that which can be seen and physically felt. The lavishly wrapped gifts, excessive food, amount of money spent, and glittering (sometimes gaudy) lights on the tree. The next seven were spent looking through a lens that was distorted and scarred by grief. I focused on what was missing rather than on what was still here. I think I wanted it that way.
But now, I feel I’ve learned how to not only endure—but to enjoy—a memory that can only be defined as bittersweet. I’ve come to appreciate that feeling emotional is really about feeling impassioned. And I think this year, as the songs start to play on the radio and the cards begin filling our mailbox, I will choose a different lens, a lens that captures that which we cannot see or physically touch. A lens that goes beyond.
Not everything will change. I will still hang Jason’s stocking beside ours, buy gifts for the needy, light candles in his memory, and all of the other things that have made the last seven years bearable. But this year, I hope to do these things with joy rather than with bitterness and sorrow. This year, I want to grasp the hand of a homeless mother, kiss the cheek of a newborn baby, and hold a kitten while it plays in the place where kittens go to dream. I want to watch Santa as he holds wiggly toddlers on his lap. I want to sing “Silent Night” on a snowy night in mid-December when it feels as if all the world is sleeping. I want to feel the Christmas that we cannot see.
This year, I want to remember who I really am. I want to enjoy the months ahead. Not because I need to or because someone says it’s time to—but because—well, because I can. This year, I want to find the magic before it is time to put away the boxes. And I won’t stop searching until I find it.
Merry Christmas to you and yours . . . Believe in magic, And always . . . expect miracles.
Four years after the death of her son, Jason, Sandy Goodman realized she had found a way to survive the unthinkable. She sat down and began writing the story of her journey through grief, hoping to reach others who needed a light in the darkness. Love Never Dies: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Love is her first book.
Sandy is the founder, Chapter Leader, and Newsletter Editor of the Wind River Chapter of the Compassionate Friends. She and her husband Dave have been Resident Counselors in a group home for at-risk youth in central Wyoming for 17 years, and are both actively involved in the Wyoming Association for Child and Youth Care Professionals. Sandy has presented at national conferences for The Compassionate Friends, the Bereaved Parents of the USA and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. For more information, visit her website at http://www.loveneverdies.net.