Holiday Message

Once again, it’s that time of year. Halloween is coming, Thanksgiving will be fast approaching, and Christmas is only a few steps behind. Will this year be different from the last? Will I find the magic again? Wait. Let me revise that question: Did I ever feel the magic?

As a bereaved parent, I have experienced only two holiday seasons. While I have physically lived through 59 holidays, emotionally, there have been only two: The holiday seasons before and the holiday seasons after Ryan’s death. The two categories are distinctly different. Black and white and color….like the Wizard of Oz movie. Remember how Dorothy steps out of her house of black and white in Kansas into the world of color in Oz. Suddenly she sees the world of “color” it was so beautiful! It made such an impression on me as a child. I always waited for that part of the movie.

Well, now, my after world is in reverse. A colorful world pre Ryan’s passing over, and then…BAM…WHAM…suddenly everything was in black and white. I would like to see color again. I have to believe I can see the color again. I have to. If memory serves me correctly, which God knows it doesn’t always do, I spent the first 30 or so years focused on material issues. What would I get? What did I want? What would make me the happiest kid in the whole world? As I grew older and had my own little family, I spent the next 29 years asking myself what I would get them. What did they want? What would make them love me more? How would I manage to pay for all of it? I always felt there was something missing . . . but didn’t really have the time or interest to find that missing something. Besides, why borrow trouble? Each year, by the time I realized that something was missing, the decorations were packed in their boxes and the tree was taken down. Pine needles all vacuumed. I could always find the magic next year. There was always next year, right? I had counted on it.

In the summer of 2015, Ryan died. Suddenly, my life ended its forward march and everything I had ever regarded as important became nonsense. When his heart stopped, my heart was not simply broken—it was ripped into shreds, emptied of what had fueled it over the span of the past 30 years of my life. I had no hope of waiting for it to heal and had to face the reality that only a total reconstruction would suffice. I had to release him to enter eternity and I would be left here on Earth to create a new heart . . . from scratch.

That first fall was difficult. His birthday was in the fall, October 29th. We always celebrated a Halloween theme birthday when he was a youngster. Oh, what fun we had, Ryan and Joe! Dressing up together! I was still numb, still wonderfully cushioned from reality. The pain of Ryan’s death was just beginning to seep in. The awful, horrible forever of it! Then it was Halloween, and the horror of what had happened was upon me. Thanksgiving came with Christmas on its tail, bringing an empty chair, a plate with no serving and an unbroken wishbone. A wish left unfulfilled. Silence where laughter had once prevailed.

Life always surprises me. The holiday season of 2015 was devastating. No tree was put up. I always had a tree, always. Reality had arrived, and I could not escape it. I could not out run it. I could not outcry it. I choose not to medicate it. I would never again see Ryan bounce (yes, bounce!) through the front door with that mischievous grin that always made me a little nervous, thinking he was surely up to something! “Hey, Mom, what are you doing?” Tracking dirt or snow across my freshly cleaned carpet. I would never again feel compelled to buy two of everything for Ryan and his younger brother, Joe. I would never again . . . enjoy the holidays . . . or life for that matter. It was my penance damn it! Yes, my penance for not fighting hard enough in saving him. He died of an overdose you see, so I should have been able to save him. The guilt has been unrelenting! I held him in my arms as a baby and promised him. I would protect him! Oh, I tried! As his mom, I should have saved him! It is the one thing, the one failure I will always live with. Yes, definitely black and white. One more happy family commercial on TV and I was going to absolutely lose it.

So, after that first year, I intended to cope differently. I would go forward and think about buying gifts for needy families, hang Ryan’s stocking right beside the rest of ours, light candles to include him in our celebrations, and smile cheerfully at everyone who offers us their joy filled Merry Christmas! My intentions are good after all. As I try to move forward and spread my Christmas cheer and goodwill toward men, I find I had only one thought on my mind. “If I can just make it through December, I will be okay.” As time goes on, I find I am no longer focused on the season at all. I want it over. It was just too painful. Like pulling off a band aid….slowly.

And now, here I am, quickly approaching year two. My second season of joy, my second year of decking the halls, my second year of Ryan’s very physical absence. You probably think I am going to tell you that this year will be no different from the last. You might even anticipate that I am going to tell you that it never gets better, that there is no such thing as healing, and that grieving parents will always be bitter and angry, especially during the times when families everywhere celebrate the season of giving and joy. Wrong. But don’t feel horribly bad; this revelation has totally shocked me also. You see, I still shed tears daily, when I am alone. I think I always will. They are not as prolonged as they once were. But, still they are daily. I have accepted them. I talk to Ryan daily and they flow. I know he is close, I just can’t see him. Oh, I catch glimpses once in a while. In a crowd, a young man might look like him for a moment and it takes my breath away, or I may hear a voice for a moment and I think it sounds like him…just the grieving process I am told. But I feel him nearby from time to time and truth be told, I just plain miss my boy. God has granted me some peace and a slow healing is taking place.

A few days ago, on a chilly morning in October, I woke up and was amazed to see the change in leaves had arrived. Overnight, the world had gone from green to brown, to just a touch of gold, and red. It was beautiful! Later that day, I heard someone in my home actually humming! How dare they!

But . . . I was alone. It was me. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly, it hit me. And no matter how guilty I feel in acknowledging it, I have to tell you. I am looking forward to the holidays. Oh . . . my . . . goodness! How can this be?

Why is this happening? Well, after much pondering, I think I know why. I was focused on the black and white, on the physical, on that which can be seen and physically felt. The first year was spent looking through a lens that was distorted and scarred by grief.

I had focused on what was missing rather than on what was still here. The missing is still missing and it always will be. But those still here deserve more of what is left of me. Yes, I think I get it!!

I feel I’ve learned how to not only endure—but to enjoy—a memory that can only be defined as bittersweet. I’ve come to appreciate that feeling emotional is really about feeling impassioned. I grieve deeply because I loved him so very, very much. What a special person Ryan really was! My God, to be so loved! So many people really cared about him.  And it is ok, really, that is why waterproof mascara really exists! And I think this year, as the songs start to play on the radio and the cards begin filling the mailbox, I will choose a different lens. I will choose a lens that captures that which we cannot see or physically touch, but that we know is there, just the same. A lens that goes beyond the black and white. I will choose to see color! Yes, the color will be back. Because I choose to see it!!

I will hang Ryan’s stocking beside ours, buy gifts for the needy, play Santa for my granddaughter Lottie, light candles in his memory, put a small holiday tree by his memorial, out under the big oak tree, and all of the other things that have made the first year bearable. But this year, I hope to do these things with joy rather than with bitterness and sorrow. This year, I want to grasp the hand of a homeless mother, kiss the cheek of a newborn baby, and hold a baby goat while it sleeps and goes to the place that baby goats go to when they dream. I want to watch Santa as he holds wiggly, crying toddlers on his lap. I want to sing “Silent Night” on a snowy night in mid-December when it feels as if the entire world is sleeping.

I want to feel the Christmas again that we cannot see. It is about hope and faith and love. This year, I want to remember who I really am. I want to make Ryan and his little brother, Joe proud of me. So, to my friends and family, don’t be afraid to say his name! Ryan lived a full life in a short amount of time. He truly had no enemies. His life had purpose. He is dearly, dearly loved and missed! He is both under my oak tree and traveling the open sea! How he would love both of those ideas!! I want to enjoy the months ahead. Not because I need to or because someone says it’s time to—but because—well, because I can. I can choose it. This year, I want to find the magic before it is time to put away the boxes. And I won’t stop searching until I find it. I choose to believe. So, let the tears fall from time to time, but with God’s good grace, I will choose to believe in seeing the color again. I know it is there, waiting for me. And I know in my heart it is what Ryan would really, really want for me.

Merry Christmas to you and yours . . . Believe in magic . . . expect miracles.  I am always and forever Ryan and Joe’s ever evolving mom.

So, remember to love each other, hug each other and forgive each other. Everyday! A friendly reminder from, “Just a Mom”