When the holiday season arrives, it takes me back in time. It is a bittersweet relive of the memories of Christmas past.

I gave birth to two sons, Chris was my youngest and Jason my first born. The boys were best friends and partners in crime. My holidays were full of joy and meaning because of the excitement and fun that the boys created for me. Their father left when they were four and six and so it was always the three of us…and any animals that were able to join in the fun.

My Christmas mornings were always the same… Chris bursting into my room, grabbing my arm, and hurrying me up, so we could see what Santa left under the tree! We would both wake Jay…he was always my heavy sleeper. As the boys grew up, Chris never changed his behavior. He was the first one up, so excited to celebrate a holiday! He was loads of fun and very appreciative of everything that was given. He enjoyed filming us, as we opened our gifts. He cherished every gift that he opened, never ripping the package open, but instead, shaking it, feeling it, trying to guess what it was. This never changed even as he aged.

It was certainly about receiving gifts for the boys, but it was more for Chris. He saved his money all year so he could give something special to the older neighbors on our street. He wanted to bake cookies with me so that he could hand deliver the cookies to them just to brighten their holiday. As we shopped for Christmas, I’d catch him staring at things that he couldn’t afford. He would offer to do something to earn the money and always trusted that I would somehow make it happen. Chris was a very special boy. At night, he would pray that the people in the hospitals would get well. He never asked for anything for himself…always for others.

It would not be unusual to find Chris cutting our elder neighbors lawns or watering their plants, or simply doing what he did best for all of us…. spending time with them relaxing. I’d find Chris sitting on front porches, rocking on chairs..chatting up a storm. He was a little motor mouth… diagnosed with ADD/HD as a child. I often wondered if they had their hearing aids turned down! Sometimes they would be asleep, I couldn’t help but to laugh.

Chris had a football injury in his senior year of high school. He had knee surgery that never healed correctly and at the end of his senior year, a car accident that left him with a broken back. Several more surgeries were necessary and Chris found himself addicted to pain killers. He tried so hard to save his own life, by going into treatment several times, until he lost his battle in 2007. It’s been seven years since Chris was taken off life support due to a drug overdose that left him brain dead. He was a beautiful soul and was loved by everyone that met him.

My sorrow goes to the bottom of my heart when holidays roll around. I miss hearing his belly laughter and seeing his beautiful smile. Jay and I miss him so deeply because he was the bright spot for both of us. He loved life and loved us so much.

Jay has not been the same since Chris died. Last year, he overdosed on opiates and with a miracle, survived. However, he has some kidney and liver damage and neurological problems. He graduated from law school in California, and has lost everything as a result: his job, his home, his girlfriend, his pride, etc.

On December 23, he will have a year clean from drugs. I am so grateful that Jay made it and I wanted to pay it forward somehow this month. Chris was so happy when he was giving to others….so I decided to do something special for someone in need.

My mother is 86 years old and lost her hearing. I am unable to talk to her on the phone now even with an amplifier. She had a few strokes since Chris passed; she has not been the same. He was the sparkle in her eye.

Mom was given very disappointing news that hearing aids were most likely not going to benefit her due to the nerve damage from the strokes. But, she also couldn’t afford them because Medicare doesn’t cover them. We had several consults that ended in the same way.

I was walking through Sam’s Club a few weeks ago and someone handed me a coupon for a free ear screening. Something told me to take her to Sam’s Club, and I felt the free screening was a sign. Their audiologist told us that he was certain that he could help her hear again. I was doubtful based upon what we were already told.

After an hour of making these aids perfect for her, she sat on the chair hearing everything we were saying. He told me the aids were $4,000. My mother’s cheeks turned red because she could not afford them, but when I quietly asked her if she wanted them, she cried and said “yes”. I knew I had to get them for her. How could I take her hearing away after she heard for the first time in two years?! Money was not an issue at that point. I realized in that moment, that I was paying it forward and in a way that Chris would.

Life’s joys are in the moment. Leaving Sam’s, I intentionally walked behind her and asked her where she wanted to go next, and she turned to say, “Wherever you want to go, Marilyn.”

THAT was my Christmas gift. It was magical for me. When we got in the car for the drive home, we held hands and sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing when she heard the song on the radio. It was another magical moment for me.

I think I know where the strong message to go to Sam’s Club came from. I’m choosing to believe that it was my son, wanting to give the gift of hearing to his grandma and to help me to remember how wonderful I feel when I do something meaningful. Today I stopped to see my mom, and with tears in her eyes, she said, “I can hear, Marilyn, like I always did, thank you so much.”

I kept my son’s spirit alive this Christmas. I know if he was here, he would have found a way to help his grandma hear again. Christmas 2014 will never be forgotten because I believed in my heart of hearts, that it would never be the same without Chris. He showed me that life can be meaningful and joyful as long as we create an opportunity for it to happen.

May you find some joy and peace in this magical holiday season.

Marilyn Burns, M.S., L.P.C.C

Marilyn Burns

Marilyn Burns

I started my career in mental health 34 years ago. I've always been drawn to helping others. I have many highlights in my career and the one that I am most proud of was the building and directing of the holistic health center in Canfield Ohio in 1996. This was significant was many reasons but has helped me as a professional and individual. I am divorced and have been for many years. My youngest son Chris was in social work until his death in 2007 and my surviving son, Jason, is an attorney in Ohio. He is employed with the law director in Trumbull County. My specialty in mental health is PTSD. I am very interested in helping others to grow through their pain and to understand the path to healing and recovery from loss

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