Grief Journey Q & A, Pt. XII
Compiled by Kota Discussion Group

In Honor and Loving Memory of Our Children

Editor's Intro:
The creator of this Grief Journey Q & A was Stephanie Marrotek; the current coordinators are a mix of participants who post questions once a day or week or month and invite all members of our online discussion & support group to post answers. Some answer only to the group, some members have elected to share their insights in a more public way through this column as well. Our hope is that you will find some spark of inspiration or comfort or help here. These words are not offered as prescription for the ways we "should" handle grief. These are just insights into how others are managing day by day after the death of a child.

The Q & A

Question: When others have unreal expectations of you for the holidays, what do you do?  How do you handle it?

Christine: Cry, scream.. say f*** them... then come to my wonderful online friends and vent away, take a deep breath and do what I want..

Melanie: uh, not very well yet.  i haven't quite learned yet how to deal with this. last year turkey day was on my birthday so i took a really dangerous cocktail of prescriptions i had laying around and stayed in bed all day. pretty dysfunctional to say the least.  this year i'm not sure how i will feel.  lousy, i'm sure.  the only reason i do anything at all is to avoid fighting with my dh and my dh's family and to avoid my kids having to go through seeing me upset.

Kahlilia: I actually think people have decided that they would like to see me for the holidays so they ask but if I say no then they don't push me.  I have become rather estranged from my family since MIRAs death so it is not too difficult.  And if someone does ask why I will just tell them it's just too difficult without my little girl right now.  Maybe in the future I will join the festivities again.

Stephanie: Vent to Chuck, my hubby, and then he usually takes care of things, or tells them I cannot do it.

Kara: At first I tried really hard to "keep the peace" or do things that so that people wouldn't get mad. But I was sooooooooo BAD at faking it!!! I was miserable to the point of getting physically ill. I was angry. For the most part now (5+ years later), I just say to my husband, "How mad will you be if I just don't go?" And he says, "Okay. Don't go." And that's that. My best line of defense is to stay home, do some good self-care like a warm fire and a hot bath, some time alone and just ride it all out till the troops return from whatever holiday adventure they decided to try.

Question: How do you include ALL your children, living and dead, in the holidays?  Do you have special rituals?  If your only child/ren are dead, are you able to honor their legacy with other family members or friends? If so, how?

Christine: We hang stockings for all children. We buy a special ornament for all children, we have a small angel tree for nora's angel ornaments. We buy gifts for the living children, and buy gifts for those in need in memory of Nora. We fill stockings for the living children, even filling Nora's with good deeds for others. We buy a bear every year with the current date on its foot which represents Nora for the holidays. The children write letters to each other expressing their feelings.. and we all write letters to Nora and read them christmas eve. My mom is the only one who remembers Nora with us by doing good deeds and buying Nora an angel ornament. We also decorate her grave with a tree and ribbon.

Melanie: last year when i didn't go to turkey day, i e-mailed a list of things i was thankful for to rob's grandparents to read out loud at the table.  (kind of passive aggressive, but whatever works).  of course i mentioned lily.  At christmas we buy Lily an ornament and presents and we talk about her.  some family members are thoughtful and they remember Lily with a donation or a gift.  Most aren't.  I plan on decorating her grave this year as well.

Kahlilia: MIRA is my one and only child so she is all I live and breath each day.  This year was my first Thanksgiving around people again.  Last year I was still very dazed having just lost her and faced her due date on the 17th.  My cousin asked about my tattoo of an "M" on my wrist but when I told him what it was he just said 'oh.'  I talk about MIRA freely because I am not ashamed of the love I have for my daughter.  Once in a while a family member is comfortable with that, and if they are not then thats fine too.  But I will make sure they know they should never ever think I have forgotten her or "moved on." 

Stephanie: We usually get an ornament for each kid, living and dead. My mom also buys ornaments for them all.

Kara: We are kind of a mixed up, messy family. My son who died is my only son and my mom's only grandson. But my husband has two children from his first marriage who are both grown now with partners they love -- and one of them has children of their own now. So we have one grandson and a granddaughter on the way there. So for me and my mom, it is very much an important ritual to remember my son Dakota who died. For my husband's family, it is not so important to them. They remember for the most part. Especially my husband's daughter will usually try very hard to make time to talk with me about Dakota at least once each holiday season. But in terms of including him in dinners at their houses or telling their children stories about "Uncle Dakota" or something like that, it just isn't top of mind for anyone there. My husband and I do try to make a point of shopping each year for Dakota, buying whatever would be age appropriate for him now. And then we donate the items to a toy drive or winter clothes drive.

Question: We all know the holidays are different after a child dies.  But what changed for you personally?  How is it different now?  Is there anything in particular that changed that you really miss? 

Christine: Personally, every aspect of the holiday has changed. I used to be the crazy one who was so joyful, and played xmas music every day , all day, wore xmas sweaters all month of December.. I was filled with joy. Now I am filled with dread and mixed with trying so hard to find some joy with my living children who are also hurting.. so I push myself but end up crashing eventually. This year I have not tried so hard.. just let my feelings be what they are and the kids seem to respond better to that. They like my honesty because they can be honest... and we will find some joy throughout the holiday, we just have to let it happen naturally, the same with the tears. Just go with it.

Melanie: I guess it's changed so completely that it's tough to remember what it was like.  I feel almost like I shut off when they start looming.  I feel like the expectations of others are so heavy that it squashes me completely.  I feel resentful of other people and what they want me to do.  Then I start to hate myself and everything about the holidaze then I feel guilty for screwing up my living kids holidaze.  Generally it's turned into the worst part of the year.

Kahlilia: I am going to move a little out of the Thanksgiving/Christmas area to answer this question.  When MIRA died it was in July.  Every August since I was a child we have a family reunion at my great-grandmothers house.  Of course I was not up for it that year.  This year I really felt forced to go but I went anyway.  I suddenly felt as if I didn't know anyone and they didn't know me.  I didn't even eat there and let me tell you that my family can throw down in the kitchen so its not as if there was nothing appealing on the table.  I just really felt disconnected from that atmosphere.  I stood off to myself and barely stayed for an hour before going home. I miss being there as a care free child who was involved in all of the activities and talked to everyone.  No one used to feel uncomfortable around me but now everyone tends to avoid me.  I guess that is my life now as a bereaved parent.

Stephanie: For me personally, I think of girls who are are the age my daughter would be, and that baby bean would be. And I seem to notice them more, especially around holidays, and it is bittersweet for me.

Kara: I miss the full-on, flat-out, continuous sense of fun and silliness. There are still moments of fun and silly, of course. But usually, eventually something will come up that will bring Dakota's absence to mind and the tears will come. I miss that my husband's kids (and now grandkids) don't full understand us. They of course still have their own longings to be with us at some point during the holidays. But when things turn from fun to tears, they don't understand and are usually not patient enough to just hang in there with us a bit -- because if they did, they'd see that the silly moments do eventually come back around. It is this sense of layering -- a full range of emotions. I actually appreciate that. I feel more completely human because of it. But I don't think my husband's family understands it and so connection is lost -- REAL connection. If that makes any sense?

Question: When everyone gets on the "new year's" bandwagon and starts in on you about "new year's resolutions" and the like, what do you resolve to do?  How are your "resolutions" now different from the kinds of"resolutions" you might have made before your child died?

Christine: I don't make resolutions any more.. I think.. another year without Nora... and I hate the whole new year hoopla.. I just don't participate.

Melanie: ha.  born procrastinators are never very good at resolutions and i am one of those.  now, though, i make resolutions that are good for me.  not good for other people, necessarily.  this year i'm resolving to change to tea instead of coffee.  that's it, really.  i resolve to talk with my kids more about Lily and to be a better communicator of my needs to dh.

Kahlilia: I stopped making resolutions a long time ago because I never kept them.  I have thought of making a few this coming year.  One I made right after MIRAs death and that was to always keep her memory alive.  Other than that I don't know what else I will vow to do in the upcoming year.  Maybe I won't even bother with the facade.

Stephanie: I never make new years resolutions. I always break them! LOL!

Kara: Gawd. My old resolutions were stupid things like "make more money" or "lose weight" both of which are so superficial and really stupid in the scheme of things, you know? Living is about so much more the the almighty dollar and some media campaign that says aneorxic is beautiful!!! My resolutions now are things like, "Find joy in each moment." Or, "Be fully present in each moment of life." Those might seem stupid and superficial to some, but I have a REAL appreciation for how fragile life is. I know that with any next moment, I might be dead. Or my husband might die. Or another of our family. And because I feel like death is real to me, well, it makes simply LIVING all that much more important.

Question: If you could ask for -- and know you would get -- something, some kind of help or inspiration or something, to help you, really help you get through the holidays, what would it be?  How could the people around you REALLY help you through?

Christine: send my and my family away for the holidays to a remote island. Other than that..just be understanding, don't expect me to do anything I don't want to do,  and please if you are going to buy gifts for my living children, don't forget my baby in heaven.. I don't expect people to remember my tiniest angels..thats between my family and me.. but Nora.. I do.. they know about her.. remember her with a tiny ornament or a donation in her name to a charity..

Melanie: if someone, anyone, would just say, "i understand that the holidaze are hard and i don't want you to do anything you don't want to do.  i remember lily and i can't imagine how you feel so i'm going to give you the grace to just feel how you feel, no expectations. no guilt."  that would be the best gift i could ever imagine getting.

Kahlilia: I would ask to spend the holiday celebrating my loves brand new freedom from prison so that we could begin our "Happily Ever After."  With the exception of my siblings he is the only person in the world who adores my daughter and respects my grief journey.  I feel fortunate to have someone who loves me so dearly in my life who also loves my child, even in death. 

Stephanie: My family DOES do thing to help me thru, they always remember Amanda and Baby Bean, and acknowledge the losses. I really cannot complain much!!

Kara: You know what I would love? I would love to have everyone together -- like they do anyway -- but to have REAL conversations and to include the whole family in the holidays. Like I would like to be in the kitchen getting a meal ready, laughing and being silly, and then some random song comes on the radio that reminds my husband's sister of her dead child, and I'd like there to be enough freedom of REAL emotion in the house for her to cry. For us to sit together. For her to talk about the big sister her boys never knew. And after a good cry and some REAL connection, we'd all go back to working together on stuff in the kitchen. And dinner would be served. And people would laugh. And then someone would raise a glass and want to share some REAL emotion about my husband's mother who died last year. And people would pass the kleenex. And when one of the little kids would ask, "Who's Oma?" that we could all sort of of laugh as how impermanent it all is AND then tell the child who she is/was/will be to this family. IF all that could happen for REAL, then I would know I was in safe space to feel ALL the emotions that come up for me, that I could share my son who is dead, that people really treasured ALL our family members, instead of just the ones who are chowing down at the table. You know? It will never happen. But if I could have a wish that would come true, that would be it.



We'll have more Q & A next month...

About the Kota Discussion Group
This is a discussion and support group held online thru the free services of Yahoo Groups. Stephanie Marrotek is the host of the Grief Journey Q & A. The full group is moderated by the staff of KotaPress. The answers given in this Q & A were offered by the generous hearts of the members of our online group. We cannot thank you enough for your candor and honesty.

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