“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.