December is the Longest Month of Grief

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December is the most difficult time of year for those of us who have children who are physically no longer with us. For me it begins in late September, with the anniversary of the day my son Richard died. Followed by Halloween. Richard loved Halloween…he took a lot of pleasure in introducing his youngest daughter to scary spiders and goblins in one of the most decorated communities where we live. It’s a community that used to provide such family fun and pleasure for us but which has now become a painful reminder that holidays will never be the same.

After Halloween, Thanksgiving seemed to approach quickly. My family live in many other states so this year I spent time with a dear friend’s family, people whom I have known for many years. Thanksgiving Day wasn’t too bad for me. By black Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas hit the senses. Television, radio, and internet flood the airwaves with holiday expectations. Where I live many homeowners hire teams of people to decorate their property. This adds to the buildup of the holidays which sometimes is worse than the holiday itself. For me, December feels endless. Today is December 3.

In my community, on our block, there is a group of us women who get together at someone’s house every few months. Last night was one such gathering. When the date was selected back in October, I thought nothing of it. Early enough in the month for it not to be a ‘holiday’ party but simply a gathering. By Wednesday of the week I was struggling with my emotions. Decorations going up all around the neighborhood were reminders that I wasn’t really feeling festive enough to decorate. My neighbor across the street worked on his house for several days straight getting everything ready for when his children and grandchildren arrive. He said that he loves to see the faces on people as they walk by and get into the magic of the season.

I wasn’t feeling magic. I had errands to run and decided to break from my routine and browse for a few gift ideas for my family. My first errand was to pickup  starter logs for my fireplace, as the nights have been getting chilly. Upon entering Lowe’s, my gaze was met with the Christmas decoration area.

I could have dashed out with my logs but I decided to check in with myself. How did I feel this year about decorating? The first Christmas, a few months after Richard passed I was numb and in shock. I cried for months. The next year (last year) I put up lights on my second floor deck. I love lights. Problem is that I remember taking them down and feeling very depressed and empty. How was I feeling this year, I asked myself. I placed the starter logs in my basket. I decided that, yes, I would like to put a wreath on my door this year. I began gathering items to decorate a wreath.

Then I noticed a ready-made wreath and some lovely Christmas Bells. I decided I didn’t have the energy to make a wreath but I had enough energy to hang a wreath and the Christmas Bells. I decided that making a wreath could take me not nostalgic memories. Remembering how depressed I felt last year when the lights came down, I decided to keep it all very simple, easy on the commitment and expectation.

Went to the next store for gift ideas but found myself wandering aimlessly. I went home with my wreath, bells and logs. My neighbor was out again working on his house…it was daylight so the lightless decorations stirred no emotion.

The next day was Friday. I was feeling ‘iffy’ about going to the party. My energy was low. I couldn’t decide if it would be a boost for me to go or if I should just bow out. I was reminded by another grieving mother from The Compassionate Friends_Newport Beach Chapter (for parents who have lost a child in death) that I often talk about the 5 minute rule in the group. Those of us who carry grief give ourselves up to 5-minutes before finally deciding what we feel like doing as opposed to doing what we think we should do. This was a bit of wisdom I needed to apply to this invitation. I decided to go. I placed my cute Santa’s cap on my head…took the appetizers I had made and walked a few doors down to my neighbor’s house. I took a deep breath and entered her home with a little anxiety in my belly. It’s a familiar anxiety of not feeling safe or in control of my emotions. Doesn’t happen often but I am very aware of it when it’s present.

I entered the room with the intention of informing the hostess that I wasn’t feeling so great and to not be offended if I just disappeared without saying good-bye. Instead another neighbor who I don’t see very often said hello. In a light converse tone, I asked her how she was doing. She said that she and her husband were doing great. On Thanksgiving her adult daughter informed them that she and her husband and their two small children would be moving to the area in order to live close to them. They wanted what I wanted with Richard and his family. Closeness with grandparents living within walking distance.

I couldn’t believe that she was saying this to me. She quickly added…Oh, I know your story. Then she went on…We are so happy that we’ll be able to see them anytime we want. My jaw must have dropped. I didn’t know what to say. What came out was, “you’re getting to live the ’dream’”. I should have said “you’re getting to live my dream”. I actually should have said, “I don’t think you mean to be so insensitive but I cannot feel joy for you right now. I’m struggling not to run right out the door to get away from you.” I did leave her standing there as I made my way to where the hostess was, lucky for me the unlucky one…near the bar.

I let the hostess know to not take it personally if I left the party abruptly. She completely understood. Her husband of 40 years died soon after Richard died. I took a sip of wine and felt the thickness of the Cabernet warm my throat. Hugs from safe neighbors and avoidance of conversations that focused on children or grandchildren filled the two hours that I was there. While talking to one of my safe neighbors another woman joined us. She said that she knew how I was feeling because she lost her mother a few years ago.

By then I had better clarity on what I was feeling and could respond by pointing out that no one at this party was talking about their happiness at celebrating the holidays with their mothers. Everyone was talking about their children and grandchildren. Even the younger mothers whose children have not started families talk about their wishes. I left the party soon after grateful that didn’t have to bolt out. I was proud of myself in my Santa cap. As I walked past my across the street neighbor’s house I marveled at how wonderful it looked. When I went up to the second floor of my place where my windows are directly across from his I noticed a new addition…a huge inflatable Santa and Rudolph the red Nosed Reindeer.

I quickly called my friend Glenda TCF_NB mom who is rapidly becoming a very good friend. I recalled the evening events to her. We cried and laughed together until it was time to hit the ‘reset’ button and go to sleep. Tomorrow is another day full of victories, struggles and emotions. Five more weeks of this. Next year, my ‘new normal’ might be to go away for the entire month of December.

Basia Mosinski

More Articles Written by Basia

Basia Mosinski, ATR-BC, LCAT, MA, MFA is an Art Therapist and OneLife.Coach in Private Practice in CA. Basia works with people in many different parts of the country in online individual meetings, online groups and in person in Newport Beach, CA. In 1993, Basia’s stepson Logan died in a head-on train collision in the midwest where she and her family lived. Within two years, her marriage broke apart and more losses compounded. Logan’s death took her on a journey through pain to inner healing and growth. Along the way, she participated in The Phoenix Project a 12-week intensive process for healing grief and loss. She not only participated in the process she later became a ritual elder of The Phoenix Project, working with Dr Jack Miller. In December of 2001 Dr Miller invited her and several other practitioners to give a weekend of healing to families impacted by 9/11 in New York. Basia was so moved by that work that when she returned to Chicago, she enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she was teaching to gain a second masters’ degree in Art Therapy. When she graduated in 2005, she relocated to NY where she became the Assistant Director of Mental Health at Gay Men’s Health Crisis while maintaining a thriving private practice, sharing office space with Dr. Heidi Horsley. In 2014, Basia moved to Southern California to live close to her only child, her grown son, Richard, his wife and her granddaughter. 9 months later, Richard died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism on a flight from Chicago to Orange County. In addition to helping others on their journey of healing, Basia is helping herself through the shock of what has happened by using what she has learned along the way and through writing a book about her process and the ways that she and her family are coping with the loss of Richard through texting, photos and ‘sightings’. Basia’s blog is: onelife.coach/blog Basia is the former co-chair of the Technology Committee of the American Art Therapy Association.

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  • Linda says:

    Yes, I identify with so much you have written and am so sorry about your dear son Richard. My lovely son died on the 30th April aged 44 from a rare and aggressive cancer, leaving a heartbroken wife and 3 year old little girl, who misses her daddy very much.
    As a family our grief is immeasurable and Christmas is not helping at all. Receiving cards with wording ‘merry’ ‘happy’ and joyful, I find hurtful and insensitive and this has made me realise just how little the grief of child loss is understood. We are still trying to make sense of what has happened to us this year, I am not sure we ever will. We love and miss Fraser now and always.

    • Dear Linda, I am so sorry for your loss. I have known that the holidays are particularly difficult after a major loss. Experiencing and knowing are so troublesome because if we subject ourselves to the images and stories and expectations of other people, we have to shut down our sensitivity in order to tolerate our feelings. If we choose to escape and avoid, then we feed the isolation that is also detrimental. I am so sorry that you and I and so many others have to bear the contrast of other people’s joy (which I don’t want them to temper) and our emptiness. That is why this journey is so unique for each of us. What works for one doesn’t work for another. Hopefully, you have The Compassionate Friends in your area. I started a Chapter in my area that has been very helpful to me and from what other say, for them as well. Please feel free to reach me through my website.

  • Claudia says:

    You’re more of a trooper than me. My mother has been dead for 21 years (just 2 months after my 21 year old daughter was born). I had two more children, boys, now age 17 and 20.
    I am still devastated by the loss of my mother. We were like two peas in a pod. My mother was a caring, loving, magnanimous person, full of life, laughter, happiness, she would encourage us to bring over our friends and have a good time no matter the theson, she was generous, empathetic to others, she was like a mama hen.
    Then she passed away in 1995 and she never got to meet her other two grandchildren. I miss her terribly and Im always telling my sons stories my mother made possible and they wish they would’ve known her!
    My older daughter abandoned me and has so much hate for me, I don’t understand (mainly because she didn’t want to help me buying dog food for her dogs she dropped off at my house telling me I was a anarchist! Don’t know where she is now). My 21 year old daughter told me to go F*** myself because I didn’t want to talk about her reckless behavior, because she always argues and yells justifying herself, so she assumed I didn’t want any contact with her, so she insulted me and then text me “stfu, consider yourself blocked!” My 20 year old son is now living with his narcissist grandmother ( husband’s mother). It started innocent by her offering as a belated graduation gift she would pay for his driving school/license, but it would be more convenient for him to stay for the summer (2015) to achieve this. We all agreed to this and summer turned to Fall, then Winter and Christmas. By that time, he was driving my mother in law’s car she purchased in the Spring. Since then, she has blackmailed him if he visits us, she won’t let him drive the car, one day that car will be yours, she’s said, just that now, “it’s mine” she’s told him. He started going to college using her car to commute and after his classes, he would “sneak” over the house to visit. We’ve told him to come back home at least for the holidays and he doesn’t respond. He says his grandparents are old and they need him. Today is December 22 and I don’t want to put the tree up, my 17 year old understands and he doesn’t either. My husband? Angry, sarcastic,