Surviving the Holidays

My son died on New Year’s Eve. I never thought I’d be able to celebrate another holiday, but somehow I’ve watched 17 holiday seasons come and go without him. Holidays are never easy for families that have lost a child. For a grieving family, the holidays intensify the sadness and pain surrounding the loss. Celebrating feels disrespectful. For my family, the combination of the holidays and the anniversary of Mikey’s death makes this time of year particularly challenging. Memories of past holidays contrast dramatically with how you feel now. After your baby dies, the holidays are different just as life is different. In getting through the intensified grief of the holidays, you find yourself making new traditions. I never call my parents on New Year’s Eve anymore. The holidays are less about parties and more about quiet time with my immediate family. My warmest holiday memories after Mikey involve sitting with my children in front of a fire, reading Christmas stories. We stopped longstanding holiday traditions, as they just seemed to intensify our grief. Anticipating the holiday is sometimes as painful as the holiday itself. Was I ever going to be able to celebrate New Year’s again? Should I put the ornaments that celebrated Mikey’s new life on the tree? Each year, my husband and I talk about how we will celebrate. This can be challenging, as everyone grieves differently. It is important to be respectful of each other’s needs. What you need to give yourself is time—which is often in short supply at this time of year. Be gentle with yourself and surround yourself with supportive, accepting people. After Mikey died, we made new traditions. New Year’s Eve with Mikey was at home, so the next year, we went out with close friends. Some years I joined in celebrations, others I could not. This year, I will carefully put the Mikey ornaments in a place of honor on the tree. I will light a candle at midnight mass, and embrace the memory of a little boy who holds a special place in my heart.

-Kathy Whelan