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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