Sunday, December 18, 2016

Orphaned at Christmas

I felt as if my chest was being compressed and my throat was closing as I stood at my kitchen counter. It was physically painful to hold in the desperate sobs that so needed to be free.



I remember parts of that Christmas day clearly, even though it was eighteen years ago.




My children were ages eleven and eight. They had been through enough sadness and stress since the previous April. That was when their grandmother (my mom) had died from complications of cardiac arrest. It was important to me that they have a joyful Christmas.


We had already opened presents that morning and I was trying to get the food ready for dinner. But I felt that I couldn't breathe. The grief was so very heavy! It was tangible, almost like a large brick on my chest.

I had received a CD for Christmas that I'd requested. The artist wrote and performed a song about losing her mother.

I escaped to another room to listen to my very emotional song. As the music started,it felt as if that brick would crush me. As I slowly and reluctantly let go, the weight of it seemed to dissolve into my tears. All I could do was sob for awhile. There was just no more stifling my heartache at that point.

I'm rarely sad anymore about losing Mom. For many years, I've been able to dwell on mostly good memories. I know that anyone who has suffered a recent loss might find that hard to believe. There was a time I felt that I would always carry a burden of unbearable sorrow.

Yes, there are times when something triggers a painful thought or make me really miss my Momma. It's during those times that I want to tell her some things I've learned since she left. I want her to know that I now better understand some of her struggles. I wish I could ask her advice about some situations. I'd love it if she could see what wonderful adults my children turned out to be.

But today is a special day with a different set of Mom memories. December 17th is her birthday! Tears just came to the surface as I typed that. Obviously this brings up my emotions, but not melancholy ones. Sentimental, happy ones! Can sentimental and happy go together? Of course they can! There are no rules for this journey. Each of us had a uniquely special relationship with our loved one. We still do, even though that one is not physically present now. Whatever we feel is right for that moment.

Back to Mom's birthday...
When I was growing up, decorating the Christmas tree as part of her celebration. What merriment!
We usually popped popcorn to make chains for the tree. We didn't have a microwave then, so popping corn on the stovetop was an adventure in itself. We usually ate Christmas cookies and candy instead of birthday cake.

That tradition has always stayed with me. To this day, it feels too early to put up the tree before the 17th.

I realized something important as I was reminiscing just now! My mother made sure that her birthday celebration was fun and festive for us. Thank you so much for that Momma!

This story is dedicated to my many friends who have recently lost their mothers. A few have lost fathers.

The definition of orphan, according to dictionary.com: a child who has lost both parents through death, or less commonly, one parent.

Losing my mother was one of my most profound life experiences.
My orphaned friends, I just want you to know that I hurt with you and for you this Christmas.
I know your heart is broken.

I realize that most of you have experienced loss before and understand some things about grief. But maybe someone needs these reminders...
There will be a day when the longing dreams of your parent won't happen so often. That confusing sense of panic will begin to fade, as will the uncomfortable numbness. The edgy anger won't always be so intense. You won't always feel alone in a crowded room of people. And yes, even the crushing waves of grief will eventually subside.

(Consider reaching out for help if you need to. I attended a grief support group and I'm so glad I did.)

One day, you'll be able to truly celebrate those special dates associated with your mother or father. Of course I can't promise you that will happen. But my prayer is that you'll prove me right.

Until then, give yourself the gifts of gentleness, patience and plenty of rest this year.
Merry Christmas dear ones. You are loved.