The Christmas season is coming to an end. Our Christmas trees are leaving our living rooms, the twinkly lights leave the houses along our streets, and family and friends return to their busy lives. The daily events begin to slow and we are finally able to sit quietly and enjoy a cup of coffee. We can then slow enough to have a chance to reflect on the events of the past few days and how we feel about the success of the holiday.
The activity of the previous weeks has kept us preoccupied and prevented us from reflecting on the lives of those we miss. But as we made the cookies, wrapped the presents, and prepared the evening meal, the little voice in our head periodically reminded us that this year, one more seat at the table has gone and that things will never be quite the same.
It may be a parent we miss, sitting in their favorite chair, a spouse or sibling who was taken from us without warning, or a child that we will never see running to unwrap presents with joy and anticipation. Our hearts fill with sadness for just a moment – before we push the thoughts away and remind ourselves that the holiday is a time to be happy.
Society teaches us that grief is about sadness, depression and that we can prevent inflicting our pain on others by keeping our feelings to ourselves and staying silent about what is really going on in our hearts and minds. We decide that its best to not speak our thoughts to anyone and go back to our to do list.
But every year, as I grieve my son’s absence, I wonder what he’d be doing and how my life would be different if he were here. I think of how my house would have two little ones, playing and chatting with each other about Santa’s arrival. I think of double presents, more noise, and more laughter. And as I reflect on what could have been but will never be, the ache deep in my chest begins to grow. I am reminded of the permanent hole that remains in my heart and my experience fills with sadness and tears.
But then something miraculous happens for me, something that I struggle to explain – something that I want to bottle up and share with the world! My sadness and tears transform to gratitude and appreciation for the experience of my son. My heart wells up with joy as I think of him and how much love he brought to me as I claimed motherhood for the first time. My heart and mind transports me back to the days and nights in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the precious time I spent there with my son. I remember the smell of his baby hair, the tiny pressure I felt as he grabbed my finger with his entire hand, and how wonderful it felt to hold him close for the first time. My tears from sadness transform to tears of joy for the gift of knowing him at all. I had 42 days to know him, experience him, and be beside him. The ache and pain I experienced, miraculously transforms and I feel blessed, thankful and grateful. I am in awe of what he brought to me in the time he was with me.
The pain of his death does not disappear, but stays connected to the joy of his existence. When I cry for my son, I cry for his absence, and simultaneously cry in gratitude for having the moments I did have with him. The joy and pain are entwined with each other, connected and inseparable. It is both profound and confusing and also very real.
I’m continuing to learn how love and loss go hand in hand and that I can’t really have one without the other. In suffering, I am learning to embrace the pain, accept it, and transform it into love. I think of the time we did have, the moments we did share, and the love that I carry in my heart that will never diminish. The connectedness of pain and love is a duality of emotions I’ve been privileged to experience and the human condition that I hope we will all one day share.