For us, like so many others who have grieved for loved ones, especially those who have lost a child, the holidays will always hold those memories of the happy days gone by, all we shared, and bring to the fore all we will miss this holiday season. I am trying to keep focused on gratitude that we HAD those wonderful days, those years we enjoyed so much with our sons during the holidays.
Today I was doing some straightening up in my home office and came across something I don't remember even seeing or noticing at the time I received it. It's a pamphlet for parents about the death of a child called, "The Saddest Loss," written by Jane Woods Shoemaker. It was sent to us in a packet by USAA, the company that Leif dealt with for his car loan, vehicle insurance and a checking account, after I notified them of his death.
It's probably just as well that I didn't read it then. I don't know whether I would have been in any condition to really appreciate its message. It won't change anything, but reading it now is like an acknowledgement of all we have been through. I haven't read it fully, but these phrases stood out:
"The death of one's own child is so devastating you may not feel like reading this booklet right away."
Perhaps that's why I didn't. Perhaps that's why I don't even remember seeing it before.
"When a child dies, parents grieve harder and longer than with any other loss."
I can't know whether that is true, as I haven't experienced every other loss, but I do know it is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to us.
"The ties of love and hope that bind parent and child are the most powerful in human relationships."
I've written about the role of our hopes for our children, and the bond between me and Leif, and how I wonder if deep in us somewhere, even our DNA knows of the loss; certainly our bodies and brains respond to the loss in deep and profound ways.
"The suicide of a child leaves parents with so many unanswered questions. It is the most difficult loss to accept."
The questions will always haunt us, as long as we live and are capable of thinking.
The booklet deals forthrightly with the emotions surrounding what to do with your child's possessions, and how parents hold onto their child by keeping possessions. How well I know that feeling . . . and also the sadness that comes from disposing of them, which feels somehow disloyal.
"Memories are the worst and the best aspects of grief."
Yes, and that is the crux of it. We WANT to remember. We WANT to keep our child alive in our hearts and minds, but as the memories come, the grief comes along with the happiness, so many times.
There is a section on "Memorials," ways to memorialize one's child. Here, I have perhaps fallen victim to my own feelings of grief, for she writes, "A memorial should be a celebration of the child's life, not an expression of your grief."
She gives some examples, but my memorial for Leif is this blog, and it cannot be truthful without acknowledging grief. I found that out as I wrote it. If you have followed this blog these three-and-a-half years, you may remember that when I started it, the day we found him, I said I wanted it to be about the "remembering the good times." But it was and is not a biography that progressed in linear order through his life. It is not just a series of stories about him. It is a collection of thoughts, stories, emotions, which all intermingle, just as life does.
Here is a sentence from the last paragraph of the booklet, "Recovering from grief does not mean that you get over the death of your child."
Yes, every parent I've talked to who has suffered the death of their child says this. You never get over it, but you learn to cope. You learn to go on. You learn to handle the occasions the sadness and nostalgia return. You learn to be grateful for the years you had. You learn to treasure every memory and every photo. You learn to be thankful for them.
And you will never, never forget.
Leif will not be with us this holiday season, not in person, not on this earth, but he will be in our hearts.
This photo was taken of Leif in Hawaii in July 1984. He was nine years old. He looks happy, confident, adventurous.