I Need to Say Her Name: Surviving the Holidays

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In 2007 my elder daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Helen loved Christmas and the first one without her was indescribably painful. I thought the second Christmas without Helen would be easier for me. It wasn’t. In fact, my grief seemed worse.

While my grief has eased during the passing years, every bereaved parent knows holidays can spark grief again. We go backwards on the recovery/reconciliation path and may come to dread the holidays. We’ve lived another year without a child and there are more years to come. So how can we survive? I don’t know about you, but I need to say my daughter’s name aloud. And I need to tell Helen stories that remind me of her.

Close friends often smile when I tell stories about my daughter. However people who don’t really know me, yet know my story, tend to change the subject quickly. They want to avoid any association with grief. Bereaved parents like you and me can’t avoid grief during the holidays. Instead, we learn to live with loss and practice self-care. Some families place a photo of their deceased child on the holiday dining table. Although my husband and I have never done this, displaying a photo may comfort you.

When I think of Helen stories the first one that comes to mind is her solution for a pet hamster losing the end of his tail. The twins loved their hamster and were upset when they found the tip of his tail. Helen, a composite engineer with six industry certifications, came up with a original solution. She glued the tail back on with super glue and it took!

A friend shared another story about Helen. At a time of life when she was strapped for money, Helen stopped by and gave the friend a cutting from a raspberry bush. She told the friend how to root the cutting and plant it. The friend remembers Helen’s simple gift to this day.

Helen told me a story about  managing a production line. One worker didn’t approve of female managers and, to make things worse, decided not to insert a screw in the product because it was unnecessary. Helen told him the screw was necessary for safety, but the man refused to insert it. “Then I’ll shut down the production line and you will be the cause,” Helen countered. Apparently the worker checked on Helen’s ability to shut down a production line, because he changed his mind and inserted the screw.

Each story illustrates a different facet of Helen’s personality. The hamster tail story illustrates ingenuity and humor. The raspberry bush illustrates kindness. The production line story illustrates values. Telling stories about a deceased child is comforting and helps to keep that child alive in memory. Although our children aren’t physically present, our love for them never wanes.

Deep in our hearts, we know our children would want us to enjoy the holidays. Let’s tell stories about them and speak their names with joy. We are their parents and always will be.

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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