Reflecting on where I was last Christmas brings up a snow globe of emotions. Sadness, joy, anger, frustration and even relief swirl all around me. A flurry of feelings from my head down through my heart and into my stomach, then back up to my throat and eventually they escape in the form of tears.
Holidays should be a time of spirituality, kindness, family and cheer, shouldn’t they? Why, then, do they bring out the most selfish aspects of people? My snow globe was turned upside down last Christmas in my fourth year of grieving the loss of my son. Just when I had thought things had settled. I published a book, got an amazing job and even got married in that fourth year. But on Christmas day, I was shaken to my core.
After spending a sweet Christmas morning with the rest of the kids, my husband and I sent them all to celebrate with the other halves of their families. I remember cleaning up the wrapping paper in record time and feeling quite accomplished as I had finally made it through a Christmas morning without having a breakdown. Success!
And then it hit me. That low, empty feeling in my gut. That feeling you get when it’s quiet and you’re alone with your deepest, darkest thoughts. The chaos of the holiday was over, and in its absence came a huge sorrow.
Although my son was cremated, I still find great comfort in spending time at the cemetery. I feel at home there where all the souls rest. I go there to weep and to think. I visit my grandparents and ask them for guidance. So it made perfect sense for me to want to spend time there on Christmas day when my heart was breaking. Little did I know that going there that day would trigger an epic argument with my husband.
I was gone for maybe two hours and when I returned, we went about our day watching TV and being rather lazy. I felt better after my brief retreat until later that night my husband hit me with how he really felt about me leaving.
You see, my husband never knew my son. We became close as my little one was dying of cance,r and I made sure to keep him separate from life with my kids during that time. For four years this man had stood by my side while I grieved (or so I thought), but apparently he had enough.
On Christmas night he lashed out about all of his pent up frustrations with my grief. He revealed that he thought I should be “over it” and that I was abandoning our family by continuing to let it affect me. He felt as though I was withholding love and affection to the family by not creating a festive mood during the holidays.
Mind yo,u his opinions did not come out in such a civilized tone – I am paraphrasing so as not to offend anyone. But there was such anger behind his words and such rage that I had no choice but to listen. And here I thought I had made progress. In my book, Breaking the Rules of Grief, I devoted an entire chapter to this man. He was loving and supportive and I knew “in my bones” he was the right person for me. He later went on to say things like, “you let your dead baby ruin our marriage”. How could I have been so wrong?
I knew on that Christmas night that I couldn’t stay with him any longer. I wondered if he had ever even read my book, which, in essence, is about giving people (myself included) permission to grieve in their own ways. I was heartbroken and relieved at the same time. I finally knew how he really felt about my pain and my loss. He finally let his true colors show and it became painfully clear to me that he was merely tolerating my grief for all that time.
It has now been almost a year of a bitter divorce, losing my job and literally beginning my life all over again. At 36 years old, my two children, my angel and I are back in my parents’ house trying to gear up for what lies ahead. As painful as this holiday reflection has been, at least I know for sure that I can settle into these emotions on my own. Like the snow in a globe emotion, feelings and thoughts will swirl sometimes but eventually, they always settle. It is in the settling that you can see clearly the people, places and things around you that are either supporting you or hurting you.
The beautiful thing about surviving child loss is I have the courage and the strength to say, This isn’t serving me. And if the situation or the relationship is not mendable, I can move on with my head held high. We all know as bereaved parents, life is just too short to live miserably.
Christmas will shake you like that damn snow globe. Surrender to it. Let the snow fall where it may knowing and trusting that it is all happening for a reason. Knowing and trusting that eventually it will settle and you will see life more clearly than before.