Let’s face it. Not everyone in our lives is as excited about the arrival of the holiday season as we might be this year. Remembering what it was like as a child, we were all the same. We could not wait for Thanksgiving dinner to be done and for our parents to start decorating for Christmas or the festival of Hanukkah. In case they might even think of delaying stringing lights, we were at their feet to remind them, right?
Throughout my life, I’ve seen the two sides of December. We’ve all shared unforgettable moments of excitement, of family gathering together, enjoying simple times, reminiscing, making new memories, sitting around a table, talking, playing games, working a puzzle, or at the TV sharing Aggie games. Looking back, most of the best memories in our lives, were free or inexpensive…the most precious gift was, always, time for one another. Sweet, priceless time.
In our family business, however, we know times of revelry can change for the first holiday season without a beloved family member. How do you cope? What’s in your heart? Based on stories you’ve shared with us for many years now, we have a few ideas for your consideration and we’d like your thoughts, too.
The first holiday without a husband, mother, grandparent, or child in your gathering—and they were just there last year at this time – can be a cause for deep sorrow. As part of the grieving process, families can have unique approaches on how to process their feelings. For some, an empty chair at the table remains unfilled, with plates atop the table and place setting, as a silent tribute is “stated” by the absence. Others make sure to reach out to a friend who is on their own for the first year, and invite them to the “place of honor” as the loss is “filled” by someone who is experiencing their own first-year loss and needs to be encouraged to venture out to a holiday gathering for the first time.
When a child is missing in a family holiday celebration, some families have made it their mission to make sure others less fortunate in the community have toys and gifts to fill collection boxes. The Salvation Army “Angel Tree” at Post Oak Mall is just one example. You go in and claim an angel from their tree, which gives you the first name and age of a community child who has been referred to the Salvation Army. On the angel ornament card is indicated the warm coat size of the child, and one gift that they might like to have (a doll, a basketball, a soccer ball, a book). One gift. That’s all they want. It’s mind-blowing.
It’s overwhelming to see the simplicity of the needs stated on those cards. A doll. A soccer ball. These are the same children who sit in classrooms next to our children, who have been known to sit on Santa’s lap with a list they typed on their home computer, with everything from to Paw Patrol Zoomer Marshall, to interactive talking, walking Hatchimals, and the NERF N-Strike Elite TerraScout RC Drone Blaster, or the Sky Viper v2400HD Streaming Drone with FPV Headset.
It does not replace, by any stretch of the imagination, the loss you feel for losing your own special child to simply purchase a bicycle or some other toy for another. Not by any means. But the simple acts of giving are cathartic at any time of the year, in that realizing that we are parted from one we love is a permanent action going forward. Preserving the memory of your loved one saying, “This is a toy that my child would have loved to receive; I gift this to honor them” is one step in a direction of healing. It may not happen the first year of loss, and it might take several years to “go there.” Everyone heals at his or her own pace.
One resource I recommend frequently is a tremendous group called The Compassionate Friends, and they specifically support a family after a child dies. This organization has been in place for over 40 years now. On December 11th this year (this coming Sunday) they sponsor a worldwide candle lighting, an organizational tradition that’s been going on for 20 years now.
The hour of 7:00 p.m., in your own time zone, marks the lighting of candles for one hour to “honor the memories of the songs, daughters, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren who left too soon.” Around the world 7:00 p.m. is the hour of candle lighting in homes and/or houses of worship, which means that a “virtual 24-hour wave of light is created as it moves from time zone to time zone.”
There are 660 chapters around the United States as well as an online community of tremendous support. Even people who have shared at first “I don’t want a support group. I don’t need a community” have returned to me saying that “I never imagined there were so many people going through what I am going through. It felt good to know I am not alone, we are not alone, in our grief.”
In College Station, The Compassionate Friends of Brazos Valley is located at 2112 Southwood Drive; in Hearne, The Compassionate Friends of Robertson County is located at 105 West Davis Street, and there are others. You can call the TCF National Office at (877) 969-0010 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please know that the above suggestions don’t represent the right path for everyone; we all grieve in our own way. The only takeaway I hope you will remember is to know that in life, as in death, your friends, family and people who know you do want to help in some way. When people say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” they mean it but they have no way of knowing what you need.
Help loved ones help you. It’s hard to call someone and say, “I am feeling down,” but you can call, e-mail, or text and say, “I’m looking to go to a movie; do you have time to join me?” Take the first step in reaching out to those who want to be a part of your journey to healing. You won’t be bothering them or disturbing their routine. When people say that, they mean it, but they don’t want to intrude on your healing process. The second thing I hope you’ll remember this week is that “Love never fails,” from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Anything you say, do, and think with love is never going to be the wrong thing to say, do, or think. The message is always love.
Remember the old AT&T commercial, that begins with a lady picking up the phone and a loved one calls? She says, “I was just thinking about you!” That’s how we keep the memory of a loved one with us in our heart every time we think of them. This season, as with every year at this time, our family keeps you in our hearts, mind and prayers for comfort. Let us know how we can be of help to you.
Please share your experiences (you can remain anonymous on the blog. You are asked to provide an e-mail address but your name does not have to be published). It might mean the world to someone else.
Cody D. Jones ‘02
Owner & Community Member