We call this season the most wonderful time of the year but for many it can be the most difficult. If you are in the latter group, you undoubtably are caught in a mixture of hope and hurting. Even over the last two days, I have friends who have lost family and other loved ones. No matter what time of year loss is one of the deepest pains, but even more so at a time in which most people are enjoying family and friends. You want to smile, you know you are expected to be happy, but your spirit is just not having it. If you are blessed to have others around you who also feel the loss it helps. At least you can hurt together, talk about it, and hopefully even find some reasons to laugh as you remember.
The above picture is from Christmas Eve 2006, one week after my children lost their mom and I lost my wife. The smiles are genuine but not indicative of the emptiness inside. In fact it has been a 10 year journey in which we gradually have enjoyed Christmas more every year. Some years we took bigger strides and some smaller, often depending upon other life factors besides the loss, but now we are at a very happy place in our family. I’m not a fan of the phrase, “Time heals all wounds.” Instead, I think in time we adapt, grow, and begin anew if we are healthy. The grief doesn’t go away, we just start again, and that is our most powerful ability.
If it is Christmas Eve and you have lost someone today or ten years ago, you must strike the balance of remembering but also living in the present. If you can find some reasons to smile and laugh, do not hold it back or feel guilty. You are going to hurt so when you don’t, embrace it. This is one of your greatest healing gifts. Give yourself permission to be happy. If you know someone else who is hurting or lonely this Christmas, reach out to them. Helping someone else in pain is a good way to ease your own, at least for a while. You can’t force happiness but you can seek it. Your chances are much better of finding it if you make genuine efforts. Allow yourself to cry, allow yourself to laugh and begin anew.
The last formal family photo with Tina Eubanks in March 2006, nine months before she passed away.
There are times after the loss of your mother when rational thought does not come easy. On social media people are posting pictures of their mother, and a mix of emotions emerge–pain, anger, regret, happiness. In your head you know that everyone who has their mother is doing exactly what they should … what you would be doing if your mother was still here. You would visit her, have a meal, give her cards, and tell her how much she means to you, but you cannot. I don’t know this feeling firsthand. My mother is still here, a survivor of cancer and cancer free for almost 30 years. When I was married in 1988 my mother was undergoing cancer treatment. She is still here, but the mother of my children is not. My children were 12, 8, and 5 when their mother passed away. Nearly a decade later, they miss her every day. Of course most people lose their mother at some point and it is always hard, but going through your childhood and teenage years without her is a unique kind of pain.
As a father of three hurting children I wanted to do what most men want to do, fix it, but this can’t be fixed. I tried many things and found ways to survive Mother’s Day. Decision number one was to skip church and don’t eat out on Sundays. It is too painful to see everyone else with their mothers. Decision number two was to do something different, not sit around the house moping. The first year I took them to the pet store and bought them all hamsters. I wouldn’t recommend you do that, really, but at least it gave us something to smile about that day and the stories we have are fun memories. For us, a mixture of diversion and remembering has worked. We have settled on visiting my mother most of the time. She and my wife were very close and the she is adored by my children. She has filled many mothering roles for them.
Deciding what to do is not easy. I had to try to perceive the thoughts and feelings of my children. Knowing what one wants during grief is difficult. Even the griever does not know for sure except that they want the one thing they can’t have. It is even harder to discern the feelings and needs of children. The key is to stop trying to make them feel a certain way. Listen, observe, and discern how they already feel. Address that. One thing I learned early on for them is that visiting the cemetery was not something that helped them at all, so we didn’t. That ritual is only for the living and if it doesn’t help, don’t do it. You have to find a middle ground of remembering without being maudlin, distracting without dishonoring. I can’t say I have always done it right. Most days we have moved on and are living the life before us, but on Mother’s Day she must be honored and remembered.