Kathi asked last week about how long it took for the intense grief to go away. Many survivors wrote to answer her question and also gave ideas on how they cope with the holiday season. They have been very honest. As you read the responses, please remember that all of the suggestions come from survivors like you and are ideas they have found helpful. If you would like more suggestions, go to the TAPS Holiday Survival Guide or this page showing TAPS magazine articles on coping with the holidays.
For next week, I thought it would be interesting to ask yourself this question: What are you going to do to reward yourself for being so brave through the holidays? I look forward to your responses.
From Bill, surviving father of Brandon:
Kathi, our family is on its second Christmas now and missing our precious hero. It took a year for the intense grief to die down, knowing he is one of God’s angels watching over us, and when he feels us in pain, he hurts for us. We would never do anything to cause him unrest, only love! The memories help us cope with the holidays. Brandon loved Christmas.
From Frank, surviving father of Joe:
This is the first one. We never really had a traditional Christmas after the kids grew older. Joe was gone in the service for 3 years and we did not have him home. I will see firsthand how things go. See, I lost Joe, my son, and my dad on the same day. Gonna be tough. But, will smile when I can, laugh as often as I can, and try to be decent to all. Both Joe and Dad would want that. Merry Christmas all. God Bless you, and my heart hurts for all of you.
From Kay, surviving mother of David:
It's been 6 yrs. and I cringe as the important occasions loom: our son's birthday, death, our own family birthdays, New Year's, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving.... it never ends. I am not even close to "enjoying" the days as before-- it's massive torture-- and I'm so sorry to say this-- but it is a descent into the pits of despair to hear Christmas music and endure the sentiment associated with it-- while dealing with the fact that your horrid loss is simply to be born juxtaposed with the joy that was Christmas past. Of course, one just carries on, goes through the motions, focuses on helping others, doing for others, making others' Christmas happier-- and in the doing, one gets through it and gets some happiness too. The point is that we are celebrating Christ's birthday and that HE is always with us and taking care of our loved ones-- but I can't see that carrying on with the traditions will ever be close to the same. Friends I know who've lost loved ones propel me to take them aside and tell them I will say a special prayer for them, knowing how hard this season is for them. In the "doing" of simply slogging through, I suspect that in time, there will be more joy. It's something of a miracle, that we're all still on our feet.
From Leslie, surviving mother of Eugene:
This is our second Chanukah and second birthday (he was born Dec 20, 1977) without him. There is always someone missing for these and any other occasion. I found making new memories and doing the holidays differently helped. The pain doesn't go away; you learn to cope better. I would suggest you think of some funny stories about your loved one, tell one and have each person there tell something fun about your loved one as well. That way your loved one is included. You need to remember that you are not the only one suffering. Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year to you and your family and to all the TAPS people we blog with.
From Rose, surviving spouse of Troy:
This will be the second holiday year that my husband was not here physically to celebrate holidays with us. I don't think about him as dead; I think that he was deployed right now and one day, he will come home and call out at the front door and he would say, "Honey, I'm home!" I know it sounds crazy, but this helped me get through my first holiday without him and I will do the same every holiday. I also wear my t-shirt with my husband’s picture on it. That makes me feel he’s with me everywhere I go. When I'm feeling down and kind of need my husband…. just smelling his scent makes me feel closer to him. It’s like my reassurance that he is here with me. I never launder the shirt. Also, my bedroom is filled with my husband’s pictures and sometimes I talk to his picture, and I wrote letters to him which told him our everyday life. It helped me go through every day, the holidays past, and holidays that are coming.
From Jane, surviving mother of Andrew:
This is my 2nd Christmas without Andy. He was always so funny. One year he took the star off the tree and put a Halloween shrunken head up instead. He kept a straight face until I noticed it and probably let out a gasp before I started laughing. It's funny the memories that fly in and out of your head, especially on Christmas and Christmas Eve. The holidays are extra difficult to maneuver. I know this is weird, but I picture them as knights in a huge castle, gathered around heavy trestle tables with tons of meat and ale, laughing about their victories on the field. Like Valhalla, I guess. Walk with grace and give to others that are less fortunate. That is what they would all want, I think. Send care packages to their units; visit a Veterans’ Hospital. Give, Give, Give, until you're tired enough to sleep for a while. Then dream of them, happy and whole. I wish you all love and compass
sion and strength for the holidays.
From Mary-Ann, surviving mother of Blake:
This is my third Christmas without our Blake. I do know even though this one has been hard for us that I've been able to go through the motions a little smoother than the last two years. The first year is a blur. I really don't know how I managed to do what had to be done since I was so out of it and remember very little about that Christmas. Last year was not quite as intense as the first since I had my head together enough to remember at least some of it. This year seems to be going through the motions a little smoother, but still with many tears popping up along the way. I just miss Blake so much it still truly hurts immensely to think that I will not have him around anymore so long as I'm a part of this world. I can't do stockings any more. To see his knowing he won't be there to get all the little goodies out of it hurts too much to hang it up. I keep going through the motions and trying to keep others from knowing the pain that's on the inside. I keep hoping the day will come when I won't have to put on a mask, but instead will feel the true love, joy and happiness of Christmas again. I want to. It just hasn't got here yet. Maybe next year.
From Deb, surviving mother of Beth:
2012 is our sixth holiday season without Beth. Unfortunately, I cannot say I enjoy the holiday. There might be a moment here or there, but tears are shed each day. It is especially difficult to experience the holiday at home. This will be the second year that we will spend the holiday in Virginia at our son's house (Tommy is single but has a big dog). For me, it is much easier not being home. I've been able to bake cookies and cook the dinner in Virginia with little emotional upheaval. Last year was the first year that I wrapped presents. From mid-November through the end of January, the mood does not shake (Beth left her physical body on January 10th and her birthday is January 25th) I wish tomorrow was the first of February.
From Pam, surviving mother of Joe:
Kathi, Our precious Joe was killed 11/17/09, the week before Thanksgiving. He was flown home the day before and we buried him the Sat after. So, Thanksgiving is tough for us. This year we opted to spend it here at home with just my daughter and her family and my daughter- in- law and granddaughter. We usually have a huge day at my sister’s with all the extended family. This Christmas I've already bought most of my gifts, but I still haven’t the motivation to put up my tree. That was my and Joe’s job. I have to figure out a new way of doing things. And that is the key. Your old way is gone. Holidays are different now. Everything is different. So, you keep the traditions that you can handle and you make new ones. I'm three years out and am still trying to cope with it all. It's not easy, but the pain isn't quite as raw every day. I'm not saying that there aren’t crying days ‘cause there still are. Just not as many. Focus on the reason for the season. Christ came to save us sinners. He will reunite us again in glory when our time comes too. God bless you this holiday season.
From Jean, surviving mother of Todd:
This Christmas, the third Christmas without Todd here on earth, I found I had more “traditional Christmas Spirit”. Yet as I write this I realize that this year as with the past two years, tears have streamed down my face daily. Perhaps they always will. Christmas, a time of Light, Hope and Joy is changed forever in my life no matter how much Christmas spirit is in my heart. The tree went up earlier than ever and the outside of the house is highly decorated with lights - lights for Todd. Todd loved Christmas outdoor lighting. He loved everything about Christmas. New traditions have been added to his father’s and my Christmas. As always, we go to Christmas Eve Service. But now on Christmas morning we drive 3 hours to Arlington National Cemetery and spend the morning with Todd bringing his favorite gingerbread. Then we travel to share Christmas with his siblings and our grandchildren on the rest of Christmas Day and the day after.
The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey.
If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at 1-800-959-8277.