Giving Myself Permission

It has been 16 years since my only child died, but this will be my 17th Christmas without his unique enthusiasm, anticipation, and happiness at the prospect of the holiday season.

After two rocky attempts to handle the holiday season, I gave myself permission to do what I wanted to do. I am not accountable to anyone for my ups and downs at the holidays. Last year was easier than the previous year and that year was easier than the one before. But there is a reason for this: in talking with other members of our Compassionate Friends chapter, I realized that I owe no explanations. Therefore, I make it easy on myself and on those who love me.

Instead of getting caught up in the commercialism of the holiday, I contemplate the true meaning of the season and initiate activities that have little to do with the season. I intentionally avoid Christmas gatherings because it is, simply, too painful for me. Others in our Compassionate Friends group have returned to their normal celebrations with children and extended family. Some have modified their traditions; a few have chosen to take a trip and escape the holiday memories entirely.

We give ourselves permission to handle this time of year in a way that is most soothing to us. If we do not do this, we suffer setback after setback in our grief. We often make small concessions for others in our family, of course. But are we really in the spirit? Probably not. Does it really matter? Probably not.

Each year I now put a wreath on our front door. I buy a gift for an underprivileged child and include a card that is signed with my son’s name. I send gift cards for children I no longer know and buy small gifts for friends and family who truly appreciate the thought and effort I have made.

That’s Christmas now. I have given myself permission to handle it in the only way that keeps serenity, peace, and hope in my heart.

In memory of my son, Todd Mennen


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Comments (17)

  • It took me 3 Christmases to figure that one out. God what pain. I am 15 years into this also. My son and I and my mother. We just let it go and we all get free passes to do what we want on Christmas. Loved you’r article. Merry Christmas to all. Love Light.

  • I know how you feel. I lost my son 22 years ago and I will forever miss him.
    People that have not gone through this don’t understand why we might be crying at any given time, especially this season.

  • Annette Mennan Baldwin, thank you for sharing your story and your grief process since the loss of your Son Todd. What an awesome tribute to his memory, in the ways you choose to celebrate Christmas. My only sibling & younger brother Keith passed away 12/24/2016 and my Mother Patricia 3/21/17. I recently survived Hurricane Michael, However I lost most of my belongings and my apartment home of 18 years. I will remember your Todd and how you still share your love for him and his acts of kindness to others. Many blessings to you and those you love especially at Christmas. That’s what it’s about.

  • Each person should be allowed their own time and way to grieve. There is not, nor should there be, a protocol for grief. I know personally that
    Each grief is handled differently even for the person suffering the loss. I have lost 3 children and a grandson (parents and brother). We know we
    May lose our parents but life is never geared for the loss of a child. Unless you have lost a child you cannot wrap your heart around that much pain.
    Sweet words of memories of the person, saying their name were always a comfort to me. That you miss them too, that you also have special
    Memories, it is those tender memories that keeps them alive in our heart. There are no magic words to say but, knowing it matters to others is
    A comfort. I know a close walk with My God made a huge difference and became a great comfort to me. (Been on both sides of that as well)

  • It’s been 12 yrs since I lost my son, he was just shy of turning 21. Our first Christmas without him, we took our children to Disney. It was one trip that Josh always wanted to do, but it was just one of those things where we kept putting off, saying lets wait till your sister is older type excuse!! I knew I couldn’t be home that first Christmas without him & we wanted to give his 2 brothers & sister a happy holiday. I cried when we got to Disney, but knew we did the right thing. Years following were hard to get motivated for Christmas, but I did it for my children. It’s our new normal now & the first thing up every year is the Christmas village that Josh started when he was 4 or 5 years old. We celebrate with family now & Josh is on my mind, wishing he could be with us.

  • Thank you Annette. This 8th year was tough for me so a reminder to be gentle feels right.
    Blessings to you and all who understand the lifelong grief of losing a child,

  • Annette, it’s taken five years but I too have finally come to this realization. I’m no longer forcing myself to put on a fake smile and act like I’m “merry”. Since this is the first year I’m doing what’s best for me it will be uneventful however, next year I too will be buying a gift for a needy child and signing my daughter’s name. To occupy my time I also plan to volunteering at a local soup kitchen or maybe go play the piano at one of the assisted-living facilities in my community. Since my daughter was always trying to find ways to enhance the lives of others I know it will make me feel better to do the same next year. I just have to get through today and tomorrow and then I will be able to find comfort in spending the following week helping with the Donate Life Rose Parade Float, as my daughter became a donor when she passed. I wish you well and thank you for posting this!

    • We lost our son 3 and 1/2 yrs ago and it feels like yesterday. I, belong to Compassionate Friends and there’s nothing like being with someone who knows exactly what you are going through. We have a daughter, son-in-in-law, and granddaughter who were all very close to him, so we try to celebrate Christmas, but have changed a lot of the way we do things so we don’t see him everywhere we turn. We talk about some of the wonderful memories we have of him and still have some laughs. There are still tears but the memories help.

  • Thank You for these words! I haven’t found my rhythm in this seasonnyet… This year is harder than last for some reason, although its held more inside me…This is Christmas number 6 for me… I have a 2 yr old grandson who is enjoying the season this year, he was too young last year… he helps me feel joy at the season. It’s my second Christmas without my oldest child being close enough to come… Life goes on even when it doesn’t feel right. I will speak your son’s name tomorrow outloud in his memory along side my James.

  • My daughter Cyndi, was paralyzed in Sept. 2009, this was overwhelming for me. On Christmas morning 2009, my son Michael died, and in Sept. 2013 my daughter Mitzi died. My husband passed in 2011. My daughter has learned to walk with a brace, and stem cell transfers. She is doing well, but what goes along with being paralyzed is monumental. It affects all of your bodily functions. I have my Cyndi making progress every day, and I have my son Mitch who I call my joy boy. They keep me going, along with my 12 grand children. I have a pair of Michael’s hunting gloves I always hang on my tree, and a cap of my husbands hangs there as well. Mitzi and I have a special ornament that I bought for each of us, and that is there with the others. It is still a difficult time, but it has eased over the years. I cry too easily and at the drop of a hat. I can also keep memories in a special place in my heart, so that they are not always front and center. I pray for all of my friends at Compassionate Friends to ease their sorrow, to continue going on even tho your heart is aching. I judge my life as before 2009, and after 2009. God bless you parents that are grieving your child. Know that with one anothers support we can help.

  • This was my first Christmas without my precious son. He passed away on April 25th, just 2 days before his 34th birthday. My heart hurts so bad. I love him and miss him more every day.

  • Thank you for your inspired article. I completed the first Christmas since my only child, Jamey, died. I appreciate your idea of giving a gift signed in my son’s name. This will help my efforts of keeping his memory eternal and actively loving him forever.

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