Grief and Loss

Loss and the Holidays

Glimpse of God. Ceiling of Asian Hospital’s new tower.

“How do you sign off a Christmas card?”

The question sounded simple enough except that the situation was to say the least heart-wrenching and complicated. The query was posed to me by a recently bereaved mother about to experience her first Christmas minus a child. My heart both broke and stopped for a second. It was a question I had asked myself 14 Christmases ago.

The answer to me back then was as simple as it was to me that very moment, “You sign it off with his name,” I told her gently. “If you are comfortable with that, go ahead. It does not matter what other people say or think. Make your feelings the priority this season.”
The holidays are already stressful enough because they symbolize family and togetherness, reunions and joy. But how do you celebrate a season of togetherness when there is a missing piece?

Yesterday, I spoke at a ceremony of remembrance at the Asian Hospital in Alabang where several newly-bereaved families came together to honor their loved ones. We had a simple balloon ceremony where families tied notes to purple and yellow balloons and sent them heavenwards to the skies. Some people wrote long notes that I thought would weigh the balloons down (they didn’t), while others wrote simple, short letters of love and remembrance.

The first Christmas and New Year’s Eve after a loss is always tough and there are simply no hard and fast rules to celebrate and remember. I always say that after a loss, there must always be a Plan B. Most of the families I have counseled over the years have opted to celebrate the holidays differently from when the loved one was still present. Some families go out of town, some go out of the country, some opt to just cocoon with the immediate family at home or elsewhere and let the day go by. Do whatever works, whatever will get you through the holidays. The people who love you must be able to understand that this is a difficult time. Communicate this desire for privacy or to do things differently, and ask them to respect whatever your decision might be.

For years after Migi’s death, I signed off our Christmas cards with our names and at the end I would scribble a little angel with wings with “and Migi, now in heaven.” That went on for a few years. I don’t know if people found it strange or if it freaked out some of my friends, or if they felt sorry for me. It really didn’t matter, it was part of my process, and thankfully, no one said anything.

You will never understand the loss of a child until you have lost one yourself. Thus, I always tell people to just be kind and withhold judgment. When you haven’t walked in those shoes, you don’t know the journey. The best that you can do is to simply be there for that person, hold them in your thoughts and prayers and simply be available for them.

2 thoughts on “Loss and the Holidays”

  1. Hi! Ms. Kate… this is so timely, as I have the same question in my mind. It’s been two months since my dear Monina went to heaven. She loves the holidays, I’m sure we’ll be going to miss her.

    Thank you for people like you who comforts us with your thoughts and writings. .. you are one of what me and Monina call “our earth angels”. God bless.

    Like

  2. Hi Ms. Cathy. Reading this reminded me of a phone conversation I just had with my Kuya where we both said that since our mother died, the longing to spend Christmas back home in the Philippines no longer holds any happiness. While my sister, dad and uncle are still there, the house has truly lost its warm maternal spirit. My mom died on December 30 of leukemia and we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the ICU of St. Luke’s Hospital. That memory still haunts me to this day.

    Until now, when my mother’s death anniversary nears and people ask me how I feel and I say I miss her and I’m still sad, I get weird answers ranging from “Let her go, she’s at peace” to “I’ll pray for you”. Between the two, I’d rather get the last one. It’s not like I’m holding my mother back. I know she’s already gone but the pain is still here and even after nearly 8 years, the pain of her loss can still sometimes rip my heart again. So yes, unless you’ve really lost someone in such a sudden, heart-wrenching way, you really don’t know how that other person feels. And yes, each loss is different, unique.

    I’m really glad I follow you on Twitter and read your blog na din. Before, it was just the Inquirer articles. Maraming salamat talaga. 🙂

    PS. About the balloon releasing, while I know it may be therapeutic/cathartic because they go “heaven-ward,” the sad reality is that these balloons often end up in the oceans and marine creatures choke on them because the balloons are often mistaken as food. I do hope you’ll consider other earth-friendly options instead of balloons. Here are a few articles I found about this: http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/balloon-releases827.html#cr

    http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/balloons.htm

    Thank you.

    Like

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