I have loved Joni Mitchell’s hauntingly beautiful “River” since I first heard it in the ‘70’s. Even in my youth, I understood that Christmas was an unhappy time for many people, although I was fortunate to grow up in a loving family with happy and sacred memories of Christmas. I fell in love with a romantic and fun-loving man and one night we lay underneath the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree as he told me “I think Christmas is my favorite time of year.” As an adult and mother of young children, I experienced the happiest Christmases ever—filled with the joy and wonder that we can only see through children’s eyes. Our family worked on putting together an advent calendar for our church every year and sought daily devotionals written by our church members. Our son, Will, drew a picture for it entitled “Yay for Christmas!” when he was a young child. It showed family members around a Christmas tree and the sharing of smiles and gifts. We wrote a devotional that reflected Christmas as seen through his eyes. The highlights were seeing cousins and grandparents, decorating the tree, lights and decorations, sharing gifts, Christmas music, and celebrating Jesus’ birthday. Our children were fortunate to be led in Christmas music and spontaneous Christmas pageants by the exceptionally talented and loving “Ms. Phyllis” who treated every child as her own and shared God’s love with each of them.
We lost our beloved son Will to suicide in 2012 when he was 18 years old. This will be our fourth Christmas without his presence here on earth. Because we have such wonderful memories of Christmas with him, Christmas without him is bittersweet. We have joined other bereaved parents in the struggle to make it through the holiday season. I guess the first year was the toughest; some say the second year is worse because the permanence sinks in. It is hard to say. Each year we learn a little more. We are able to smile a little more when we remember him, instead of cry.
This year I am thinking about what helps me through the season. We are so fortunate to have our son Evan and his fiancée Ivy. We celebrate their lives and the joy they have and give to us. And we have other extended family. There are many Pattersons—my husband’s side of the family. And our new family member, Ivy, has a great family we are getting to know. A few of our extended family members will talk to us about Will during the holidays, however, most do not mention him. This is part of the heartache.
When one experiences the unspeakable grief of losing a child, the heart enlarges and is more capable of compassion and empathy with others. I am certainly more aware of the challenges of the bereaved in getting through the holiday season. In my next post, I will share some things that help me cope.