Holidays and other special days are times that we miss our loved ones more acutely.  It is these family gatherings where everyone is joyful that make the void feel more enormous.

After suffering through my first Easter, first Mother’s Day, my daughter’s birthday, my birthday and all of the other special days, I knew Christmas would be unbearable. I didn’t know how I could possibly survive it.

The first Christmas of my bereavement, I wanted to keep the spirit of the season at least for our surviving son who was experiencing more pain than any 18-year-old should ever have to bear. So I compromised and decorated our home differently. I replaced the red lamp-post bows with purple bows and streamed blue lights on the front shrubbery in lieu of the sparkling clear ones. This was consistent with my blue mood. I managed to put up our traditional Christmas tree, all the while tears slowly fell on many of the ornaments. I was broken-hearted.

Our traditional Christmas Day dinner was not something I was willing to consider. In fact, I could not bear the thought of spending Christmas at home without Kandy, who was always the sunshine of my life. I arranged for the three of us to leave town on Christmas Eve, and we traveled to a nearby resort to hideaway for the next few days.

My Christmas gift to the family was a videotape of Kandy’s life, made especially for the occasion by a friend. I showed it on Christmas morning, hoping it would help ease the hurt of Kandy’s absence. None of us really saw it. We sat like three zombies, each in our own private hell. I did survive that dreaded first Christmas, even though the sunshine was gone.

After trying unsuccessfully to cancel the second and third Christmases, I always made a point of inviting someone new to join us for Christmas dinner. This was helpful in giving me a reason to prepare for the holiday. I also made a point of reaching out to others through special financial contributions to charities such as Salvation Army and Toys for Tots in memory of our daughter. I also contributed financially to floral arrangements at our local church in memory of our daughter.

Other bereaved individuals have served meals at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.  One bereaved parent provides an annual Christmas party complete with a clown, a Santa and gifts, for all of the children at the local Children’s Hospital in memory of her daughter.

In retrospect, it is doing something different, reaching out to others and establishing new traditions that help make the season more bearable and lessen the feelings of loss.

I also include my daughter in our Christmas celebrations by participating in the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle lighting every second Sunday in December. All of these activities have been helpful when canceling Christmas was not an option.

Now, nearly 12 years since the sudden death of our beloved 21-year-old daughter, I still feel the pain of her absence. However, the Christmas season no longer hold feelings of dread. Even though she is no longer with me physically, she is forever in my heart.

(Coralease’s daughter, Candice, died in the Dominican Republic on January 31, 1997. Her life story is told in a recently published book entitled “Her Light Still Shines”)

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Coralease Ruff

Dr. Coralease Ruff is a Bereavement Facilitator, A Registered Nurse, a University Professor and an International Nursing Consultant. She and her husband became bereaved parents in 1997, following the death of their 21-year old daughter in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. Since then, she has been involved in the Compassionate Friends Inc. in many roles. Coralease is a frequent presenter on grief topics locally and nationally including The Compassionate Friends (TCF) National Conferences, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association and The Society of Childhood Emergencies as well as local universities, churches and community centers. She has held faculty positions at Catholic University, University of Washington, The Catholic University and is currently Professor Emeritus at Howard University. She is an end of life nursing educator and developed and currently teaches a university course on Grief and Loss to graduate and undergraduate nursing students. She has published widely in professional nursing literature and the lay press. Her grief articles include Grieving through the Years; When the Nurse is Grieving and Finding Help and Hope in the Aftermath of the Virginia Tech Tragedy. She combined a biography of her daughter with a grief handbook entitled; Her Light Still Shines which is published by iUniverse and will be available in bookstores soon. Dr. Coralease Ruff appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss, Grief and Your Health: Taking Care of Yourself. To hear this interview, click on the following link: Dr. Coralease Ruff appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss, Coping with the Sudden Death of a Child in a Foreign Country. To hear this interview, go to the following link:

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