The holiday season is calling to us again, the grieving parents of children that we love and lost.   We have a different kind of celebration, but it is our own, and for our own reasons, we put up our holiday decorations or decide that maybe next year we can face the world that is so different from our own.

Our world is full of memories of times past and celebrations that were full of our children’s laughter and hopes and dreams.

How can we celebrate this Christmas with our families and make new memories without disrupting our precious memories?  What can we do to honor our children who have passed before us and also be in the moment for the other loved ones that want us to be there for them?  How can we get the courage to join in with the people who are also left behind to celebrate the life we have been given and to praise God who has already  given us permission to have joy and  restoration?

Last year, I went to my very first Christmas Eve service with my son and my husband.  We sat in the back of our small church and the tears flowed with every Christmas carol. I missed my daughter more than I even imagined. I remembered what my dad said a long time ago when I went to college: “Showing up is half of the grade; just show up and you will see.”

Many of us who have lost children and have suffered through the stages of grief don’t like that feeling of total loss of control. What if I cry in church?What if I just have to leave the service because I am overcome with anxiety and grief, or what if I embarrass myself in front of someone who knows me and my family?

It takes courage to even consider all of these situations.  We all need courage to face our holidays and that takes more energy than some of us can arouse in our tired souls.  We are tired from what grief has taken from us, and we are already exhausted from the demands that grief requires.

Our wardrobes may be dated, and not only is our fashion not elegant our facial expressions are not in holiday style and our form feels awkward and perhaps out of place.  How can we belong when we are so stressed and saturated in sadness?  Who wants to be the one that everyone  “feels sorry for” at a holiday gathering.

This year, I am faced again with our neighborhood Christmas Party, the neighbors who were all there for us during our most difficult time when our daughter killed over five years ago.  They all want to know how we are doing of course, but the Christmas Party is not the time or the place for that conversation.

The Jewish faith has a tradition of not speaking about the dead after a year is past. Perhaps that is a wise tradition but as Christian  parents, we continually think and talk about our children and we talk about them as if they are still with us.  Jewish practices relating to death and mourning have two purposes and are similar to Christian practices: to show respect for the dead, and to comfort the living who will miss the deceased.

At a holiday party, we should not be in mourning while everyone is celebrating their families and their excitement for the holidays, so if  we are  still not up to it, should we show up for the party?  For the last two- years I have sent my husband off to the neighborhood party with the platter of appetizers and a bottle of great wine but I have stayed at home because I felt so inappropriate.

This year, I am wondering if I should just take my father’s advice and show up to the party. Or maybe I should just try something new in honor of my new life without my daughter, hoping that my neighbors  will not take offense. I am opting for the second choice because it is time for me to have a new beginning and as much as I like my neighborhood, I am not the same person anymore and I want something different.

Like a child, I feel as though I need permission to make these choices and it hurts to leave the past holiday  traditions behind that I enjoyed so much in my other life when my daughter filled my days with laughter and joy.

Cynthia Ranyak 2010

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Cynthia Ranyak

Cynthia L. Belcher-Ranyak is director of nonprofit operations for is an advocacy group for safe teen driving. Since 2007 has given 6 scholarships to deserving students heading for college in memory of Cynthia's beautiful and talented daughter, Emily Jasmine, who was killed in a violent car crash in 2005. Cynthia regards herself as friend to victims of crime and an activist for children’s rights.

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