Even though our daughter, Cyndi, died over 11 years ago, the season of Christmas is still the hardest time for me. Remembering our little girl opening presents and playing with her five siblings as a child still sears my mind, and constricts my heart. My husband and I were blessed with six children in 12 years of marriage. We were awash with Christmas wishes and presents when the children were young. As they grew older, married, and moved to other areas, they still came to our house to celebrate the holidays — until 2005.
That was Cyndi’s last Christmas. She came with her two boys, and stayed overnight. Something she had never done before. She lived twenty minutes away from us. Tears still fill my eyes when I reflect on her sweet smile. when she handed each family member a carefully selected or hand-made Christmas gift. That last Christmas her life was in turmoil. She and her husband were headed for divorce. The needs of her autistic son had been exhausting and frustrating, Finding the help needed was overwhelming and costly. She found all the help her son needed, but she was an emotional wreck.
In retrospect, I might have guessed that Cyndi would die by suicide seven months later, but that Christmas, I saw only saw the joy in her eyes. She never complained or explained the stress she was under. When I look at photographs taken of her in those days, I can see the pain in her eyes and the way she bit her lip as she dealt with the stress in her mind. I can’t believe I missed that!
After my own mother died the year before, I developed a process of writing with her which I called Celestial Conversations. It allowed me to ask her questions and receive explanations from my mother which helped me heal my own grief. Mom’s advice from beyond the veil came to me that first Christmas without Cyndi, when we were all grieving her loss so deeply. They continue to serve me as I approach our twelfth Christmas without her. Perhaps they will help you too, dear readers:
December 23, 2005
“Loanne, I know that this holiday is difficult—the most difficult gauntlet that you have ever walked. Cyndi is sorely missed by all. You can feel it. She can feel it too. What you are going through is what the church calls Purgatory. Purgatory means regret—deep gut-wrenching regret. Like grief, regret is visceral even when you don’t have a body.
For this holiday, please balance gratitude with regret. Gratitude that you are all together. Regret that Cyndi is not with you. Gratitude that almost everyone could make it home for Christmas. Regret that Cyndi is not here. Gratitude that you had forty years with Cyndi. Regret that it could not be more. Gratitude that you took advantage of every opportunity to tell Cyndi that you were proud of her courage and loved her deeply while she was alive. Regret that you didn’t say more. Gratitude that Cyndi left her boys to love. Regret that Cyndi can’t physically love them.
Gratitude balances grief, Loanne. Gratitude balances life on earth and beyond.
Since that first Christmas, I have incorporated these wise words into my life whenever I think about Cyndi. Gratitude that she was almost 40 years old before she died became more intense after I met so many parents in Compassionate Friends who lost their children so young.
I feel grateful that the devastation of our daughter’s death did not destroy our faith in God or our marriage, as happens to so many. I feel grateful for the many professionals and volunteers who have helped me find the golden nugget of hope in the midst of my grief. Most of all, I feel grateful that I am now able to help those parents who are just beginning their grief journey. It has become a mission to be of service. I offer it as Cyndi’s legacy. It has helped me to grow in my own compassion and love for all those who are grieving at Christmastime.