It will be the second year of the holidays after the loss of my son. In place of coping, we are going to celebrate by focusing on the traditions that bring him with us while creating new ones to make it easier.
After passing the angel anniversary of my son, my sister commented that his father, sister and I survived the first year of significant milestones. There was a silent implication that things should get better as the worst of the grief process is over. The holidays are approaching again. It will be the second year without my son, and it is not any easier. The longing, loneliness and sadness are more intense than year one. Everything I have read and felt thus far in year two is much worse than year one.
Of course, the first year I was in shock; my brain was consumed with grief. Outwardly I appeared to be functioning, but that was a coverup. Inwardly, I was going through the motions of living, but not living. Assisted sleep was my refuge. I lived in a daze of “firsts without my son.” I was consumed with understanding why he chose to leave us. I plead with him, or whomever has control, “Enough already, you can come back now. I am sorry for everything.”
The second year of our lives is harder than the first after the loss of my son.
During the second year, I realize he is never coming back and this is how life is going to be — without him. Life is gone in an instant, and death is final. There are no second chances. Our intimate family of four is now three. He was the funny one, adventurous and got us out of our shells and routines. After his death, our lives have stopped…but everyone else’s has moved on. The extended family has happy life events to celebrate, and they have moved on to taking care of their lives’ primary commitments as expected. My son’s friends are more scarce, moving on with their lives too; getting married, having families, starting careers and seeking adventures. Friends feeling uncomfortable with our sadness are more distant, communicating less frequently, while others who can relate have become closer.
I have read that the second year is the most difficult for mourners. The shock has worn off and the pain of grief is on full throttle. According to the book, “Touched by Suicide: Hope and Healing After Loss,” it does not get easier until year five, while year three…the fog lifts, and you begin to figure out how to live by bringing your loved one forward with you as you live out your new life.
Here’s my plan for the holidays:
Sticking with some past holiday traditions and adopting new ones:
We have made it through half of the milestones in year two: my son’s second birthday in heaven, summer vacation without him, the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) fundraising walk in his honor. The second half contains the holidays. Year one holidays were miserable and our goal was to get through them.
Therefore this year, I am not going to avoid them, but we are going to do things differently. I will keep the traditions relevant to my daughter and do those rituals that incorporate my son. We are also starting new traditions where we can celebrate and be happy. My daughter is my priority, and what makes her happy comes first. Thankfully she articulates her opinions, stands up for what is essential for her and shares in the planning.
Have a plan, but be willing to improvise:
My plans for this year may evolve, and I will be willing to throw away the ideas if they do not work at the moment. I will decorate the house to help my daughter feel the spirit of the season, and cook and bake the food my children connect to the holidays.
Traditions we will keep to remind us of my son:
We will do the things my son loved including:
- Sledding on Hill Top as this is what he and his friends would do in high school and even as adults after a large amount of snowfall.
- We will watch the Minnesota Vikings football game. My son could engage with anyone if they knew a little about football. He was always current with what was going on in the league.
- Play ping-pong. My son was good at the game, having learned in college. His dad was the champion until the year my son came home from college while on break. There is a video of him in college, playing with a friend volleying the ball back and forth while sitting in chairs and eating.
- Playing darts and cards as this is what Midwesterners do.
- Attend Disney’s latest cinematic movie release. My son loves Disney movies. He created a music playlist of his favorite Disney songs that we listen to on road trips. His friends shared multiple videos of him singing “Let it Go,” from Frozen. I think that is his favorite Disney song. He is also a fan of Marvel and the Star Wars Trilogy, which are both Disney productions. When he would come to the house, discussing these movies was an everyday conversation.
Adding new traditions to reduce the longing:
We will incorporate past traditions with new traditions of travel, something all four of us love to do, and prioritize time with those who bring us comfort and joy.
Do what is right for my family:
There are published particle guides on how to survive the holidays after the loss of a loved one. There are stories of what others do, mostly after the loss of a parent or grandparent, some about a spouse. You can find lists and tips on how to remember your loved one and cope. I found one that had 64 tips. Ugh, reading through them, I feel like it is a chore…and very few address the loss of a child.
I am going to do what is right for my family and me, and not force it. I will let it evolve as our grief evolves.