Between working as a full-time broadcast journalist and running a charity, to say I’m busy, would be an understatement. Sometimes all this busyness is a good distraction from my loss. Sometimes it’s just all too much and I feel completely overwhelmed. It’s the busyness, however, that kept me from realizing that yet another holiday was upon us. It hit me like a cold, wet towel, this would be my fourth Christmas without my daughter–my fourth!! How can this even be my reality? And how can I accept one more Christmas, Emily’s favorite holiday, without her?
The truth is, I have no choice. I do my best to focus on my blessings–my husband, my children, my warm home, my dogs. But this time of year there is no pushing away the loss of Emily out of my mind. Emily delighted in all things Christmas! She loved decorating for the holiday, helping to prepare Christmas cookies and fudge, and picking out presents. Quite frankly, none of my other children were as enthusiastic about these traditions as Emily. The first Christmas after her death, we went on a ski trip. I thought I could run away from my grief. Sadly, I found I could not. Now, on December 19th, as time speeds toward Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, my grief looms large, a scary monster I cannot push back under the bed.
I realized I hadn’t decorated the vase on her niche, which holds her urn, at the mausoleum yet this year for the holiday. I felt a twinge of guilt. In previous years, I had always rushed to bring Christmas decorations to the cemetery right after Thanksgiving. This year I was late. Did that mean I didn’t care about my girl as much, or that I was forgetting her? As I headed to the cemetery today with glittery snowflakes, pink puffballs, a fake lollipop, and a shiny star, I realized that wasn’t it. As any parent who has lost a child will tell you, I think about Emily, and miss her, every damn day. My delay in going to the mausoleum was an unconscious effort to simply avoid the pain. Avoidance is something that those of us who are in grief can get pretty good at doing. The only problem is, when we avoid our pain, it ultimately surfaces in all kinds of other ways, usually destructive to ourselves or others.
I braced myself to go in and remove the floral bouquet in her vase and replace it with the holiday decor. If I could just get in and out fast enough, and move on to the next thing, I would be fine. Only the moment I looked at her urn, I burst into tears… Damnit! It is never going to get any easier. I will always miss my daughter, but the pain is more intensified on these special days. Then I was surprised by another emotion: anger. We’ve all heard that one of the five stages of grief is anger. Surprisingly, I have never felt much anger, only extreme sadness, since Emily’s death. Now I felt red-hot rage flowing through my body. She should not be dead. It’s all so senseless. There was no “reason” that Emily had to die. She was poisoned by fentanyl. If it weren’t for fentanyl, she would still be alive.
Her autopsy report showed that she had a completely healthy body and brain. I thought about how I had nurtured her body and brain since the time she was born. The healthy baby food I made from scratch, the lessons I taught her in how to look both ways before she crossed the street, the countless books I read to her for hours while she sat on my lap. What did I do all of that for, only to have her poisoned by fentanyl? All of my effort, all of my love and caring, what did it amount to? A premature death that made absolutely no sense.
I wiped away my angry tears of longing to have my daughter by my side this holiday. I took a deep breath and walked out to my car. As I slipped into the seat, I wrote a text to every mom I know who is also missing their baby this holiday. That club of parents who’ve lost children has become way too large. I wrote:
They all responded with kind words and stories of how they too have been hit by grief as we approach Christmas. One mom told me the sight of toys on the store shelves, that her son loved as a kid, brought her to tears. Another mom said she’d had a tough time the previous weekend. And finally, I got this text back from one of them:
My heart is with all the moms who should never have to endure life with the loss of a child. It’s so unfair that what is supposed to be the happiest and most joyful time of the year is one of the hardest and heart-wrenching… Boy, we sure loved our little girls, didn’t we?
Yes, we loved our little girls and boys. Our love just wasn’t enough to save them. If you know of anyone missing someone this holiday season, please reach out. Let them know you care and realize that it is not all sugar plums and gumdrops for everyone this time of year. Holidays will always be hard, but just letting the grieving know they don’t have to bottle up their sorrow to make sure everyone around them is comfortable, is the best gift you can possibly give.
Faith, Hope & Courage,