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Carol's Columns

Making the Holidays Meaningful After Your Child's Death

For most of us the holidays are a time for family and close friends. There is no way after our child's death to make these times easy. We can't pretend that everything is the way it once was, yet we can't ignore them. Most of us started getting holiday catalogs in July. In early October I was shopping at Union Square and noticed that some of the stores already had Christmas tree ornaments and decorations.

Even without the death of a loved one I think we need to make the holidays more meaningful and not get caught up in the commercialism. Children make holidays special. Even when our family has grown, we look forward to the holidays when we gather together. After our child's death we may have a need, especially in the early years, to do something entirely different. This may mean going to our relatives or friends homes instead or going completely away to a place we've never been before.

My daughter Kristen died in November of 1976. Thanksgiving was a blur. I felt little to be thankful for. A friend had us for dinner, but we had duck instead of turkey and no emphasis was put on the fact that it was a holiday. Christmas was different. I couldn't begin to think of a tree, gifts or decorations. My nine year old surviving son and I planned to go to my parents. I decided to let them figure out Christmas and they did. The only thing I did for Christmas that first year was find a magic set for my son. Michel had decided he wanted to be a magician. Maybe he had the thought he could perform a magic trick and, abracadabra, his sister would reappear. Maybe it was simply because nine year olds like magic.

When we arrived at my parents, a two hour plane ride away, they had all the traditional decorations that I remembered as a child. However, next to the big family Christmas tree my mother had placed a small tree on a little table decorated in tiny white lights with an angel on the top, and a picture of Krissie with a vigil light below. She told me that that was the Krissie tree. I would never have thought of that myself, but it was perfect and very symbolic. Kristen was with us but separate. I couldn't believe how many times I caught myself staring at that tree. Funny how a little evergreen can comfort you and get you through a hard time.

The first few years are difficult but hopefully we can find a way to have our future holidays meaningful. This is especially important if we have surviving children. They have just lost a sibling. Their lives already changed forever, they don't need to lose important family times as well. The death of a child demands a real sorting process to rebuild meaning into our lives. Our challenge is to create something positive from the love we have for our child who's died, and equally for the love we have for our surviving children.