Other > The Firsts, The Holidays

By Dan Radel

Editor's Note

During the holidays, we hear from many bereaved families. One season, someone specifically wrote looking for support for a bereaved dad who had lost not only his child, but also his spouse. He was feeling uniquely alone. Though it makes me sad to say it, I knew exactly who to put this dad in touch with, because there is another dad in the same situation. This other dad is Dan Radel. Dan is also a talented poet who I had the amazing fortune to meet while visiting Antioch University. In my communications with Dan, he wrote me the following email. It is so poignant that I knew I had to share it with all of you. For anyone going through grief at holiday time, I thought you might find some small bit of help or comfort in Dan's words:

Excerpted from Dan's letter

Time, time is both an enemy and a friend in the "year of firsts." What I mean by that is time is now measured from the point of loss, at first it is one day since we held our child or spouse, then one week, one month, and then one year. Within this flow of time are the celebrations that we took for granted. Suddenly we are faced with that first birthday, first fathers day, all which are a mix of memory and love but most of all excruciating pain, an emptiness that just can't be described to anyone who has not gone through it. Your emotions are all over the place and guilt, that man-made crap we place upon our souls and which serves no purpose other than cause pain. Guilt because we see others with children and we are angry because they have something we no longer have. Anger because they take it for granted. If they only knew. The year of firsts is at its worse over the holidays. There is no escape. Halloween through New Years, rain and dark skies conspire to drag us down into the morose of hellish agony. Christmas is the worse, it's not one day, it's a six-week assault. Everywhere you turn you are confronted by it and through it our loss is brought front and center in our awareness.

I was very fortunate to have a therapist who had lost her own child. She taught me much. Running away is a something I have done and sometimes still do but it only serves to delay the inevitable. To go forward we must confront that which we are running from. In my case I was taught the skill of replacement. I have taken every holiday, every life event and replaced it with a new celebration. It has worked and I am the better for it. For example let me use Christmas. I go to the mall and watch the children and Santa, hard at first but now joyous. On Christmas day I still can't bear to watch presents being opened so I have brought Christmas down to its base component, the celebration of the radical Jesus. I attend a Christmas service and then head out into the wilds of the mountains. I feel close to my daughter there and I cast back to Christmases we shared and I visualize her opening presents and I cry for her loss and celebrate for her life. This is my replacement celebration. The others I am comfortable with sharing them with families and friends. Each person is different and each year I see where I am at emotionally and that determines how I want to handle each event. Time A.S. (After Shannon) has been and continues to be a journey of healing and as I change, the way I do things around all of these events changes.

As for books, I found them for the most part to be a curse unless given by someone who has been through it. I must have given around fifty books by well-meaning people. Most of them gave it a how-to spin on recovery and I have found that to look out that far was to invite pain. Everyone's path will be slightly different. What works for one won't work for another. There is one book that was given to me and it is the only book I give in these situations that I would recommend. It is Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman. The reason I found it so effective is that it is simply a book of daily meditations and wisdom. When a person is in the middle of grief and depression it is difficult to look too far in the future because all one can see is pain and blackness. This is a day by day book and she allows or more importantly demands that you be angry, despondent, all the dark emotions.

The other thing I found important and I know you do also is taking our loss and turning into a positive. You have done so with Kota Press. I have done so by working with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. I share my story of depression with others in a program called In Our Own Voice. This has helped me so much. I just can't believe that having gone through the hell of depression and drug abuse and survived that it wasn't for a higher purpose. So I share myself as living proof that a person can live through the dark days and become a new creation. I would gladly give it all up if I could get my daughter back but that is not to be, so as you do, I share both the pain and the joys of my life. NAMI is a good resource for you, the national has a wonderful website of resources. If I can help in any other way please let me know.

Your friend,
Dan Radel

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