28 November 2009

The pain of those first holidays

There are many families who, for the first time this year, are experiencing the holidays without their children. They sit around the Thanksgiving table with their families, dreading those words from loved ones, "What are you thankful for this year?"

I remember our first. We neither wanted to give thanks nor did we feel like we had anything to give. I was empty, both physically and spiritually. I had nothing to give, nothing to celebrate. It was a dark year. It was a lenten year that went on and on and on.

But not many people understood. Grace had died nearly six months before Thanksgiving and people would ask us, "What are you doing this Thanksgiving?" And I would stare at them with my alien look thinking, "Honestly? Do you honestly think I have anything to be thankful for?"

I don't remember what I responded, but most likely it was a standard response, something mumbled in passing to get out of being asked any more questions. Darkness descended. Clouds hung low. And we sat around, our family of four, fully knowing it should be a family of five. Our extended families called, and we let the phone ring unanswered. Why would we want to listen to their empty words when our empty hearts were hard enough to listen to?

And so at this time of Thanksgiving, while indeed we have much to be thankful for, I remain mindful of those dark days, remembering, holding in my heart those families experiencing their days of firsts: Our first Thanksgiving without our child; our first Christmas coming near; our first New Year with absolutely nothing to feel hopeful about because no resolution will bring our child back.

And I want to tell them that over time, the clouds will lift, the darkness will rise for the light to appear. But I also want to tell them to hold on to those dark days because in those days their children are present. In those days, their sons and daughters remain very much alive in their hearts and minds. I want to tell them that with the grief comes the love, and neither remains without the other. I want to tell them that the ache does subside, the loneliness dissipates, the hole in the heart gets smaller. But none of it ever goes away.

And therein lies the beauty of our collective grief. For in the loneliness is the memory of Grace. In the dull aching that pulses in the recesses of our minds, is the ever so slight reminder that Grace matters. In the way in which our children smile or laugh, in the way in which they cry, there is Grace.

And so as the holidays appear, as the lights go up and the carolers sing, "Oh little town of Bethlehem," they also sing, "Angels we have heard on high," and in the promise of the birth is the promise that life begins again. Despite the painful, painful realization that indeed our children cannot be born kicking and screaming, they remain present in our minds, kicking and screaming, laughing and smiling.

For indeed, unto us, a child has been born.

And unto us, our children matter.