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A Bereaved Parent at Christmastime

Cinnamon, spice, spruce, wood burning. These are some of the nostalgic smells that float in the air during the Christmas season. My Mom would burn a candle on the stove and the aroma of a newly cut tree would be filling the living room. I used to love these smells and would associate them to so many fond memories from my childhood. Then when I had my own family and I would recreate those smells in my own home and recall our precious holiday memories; our first Christmas with our daughter, the Christmas with our second daughter, family visiting, and the delight of the girls that Santa had come again. The warmth and the love and the excitement and the joy and the innocence and purity.

Jingling bells, Christmas carols, children’s laughter. These are the sounds of Christmas that resonate in my ears. I used to hang sleigh bells on the back door and each time we opened that door the jingling would fill the house. On our annual sleigh ride, the horses’ bells would ring with each rhythmic motion of their hooves. We’d play our Christmas DVDs and sing along to the songs we heard in stores. The girls’ laughter seemed louder and more jovial than usual. The pleasure and the anticipation and the preparations.

Tree lights, wreaths, poinsettias, garland and ornaments and stockings and presents; all the sights of the holiday, bright and cheerful and colorful. We treasured all of these things. Each year we’d go to see one particular house that was just a bombardment of Christmas decorations and lights. The girls would love to see the Santa and sleigh on the roof and the blow up snow globe and the train and the angels and the reindeer. We’d try to see if the people had added anything new each year and if we could find it in the massive display. My favorite part of tree decorating was the lights. We’d hang white lights and each night the girls would remind us to turn on the tree; the lights were so comforting and soothing. We’d decorate the house inside and out and it would be beautiful.

Now the sights and smells and sounds of the holidays are a nightmare. They are constant interruptions, annoyances and reminders of times past; we wish this holiday stuff would just go away. All they do now is bring more heartache to the bereaved. Nothing is worse than seeing joy and happiness around you when you are feeling such horrific pain. The longing for your child deepens to a depth so far into your core you might explode and the feelings of anger and sorrow multiply tenfold. Just when you think you couldn’t feel worse, the holidays come.

Because we have a living child, we have had to go through the motions of Christmas. But now we do it differently. The house isn’t decorated as much, I don’t burn a scented candle, we have a fake tree, and the sleigh bells don’t come out of the box. Our annual sleigh ride is no more and the Christmas cards are left in a pile instead of hung up with red bows around the door frame. The tree goes up and the lights go on, but without ceremony and tradition. We hang our stockings, all four, but they remind us that she’s not here. The enthusiasm and the desire to join in any festivities are no longer. We will get through the season, but we will be exhausted and often unsociable. Don’t take it personally. It is just that we can’t be who we once were but we are doing our best.

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