‘Tis the Season for Grieving

By Suzanne Leigh

It’s the time of the year when Halloween candy is stuffed in stores’ confectionery aisles. Each time I see it, it incites a wave of nausea. It’s not the candy that makes me queasy; it’s the flashbacks they trigger of my fragile child trying and failing to keep up with her fellow trick-or-treaters after meticulously planning her costume — one that was usually discarded early on in the evening.

For the last few years those candy-canvassing jaunts ended with a brisk retreat to the car, followed by tears and attempts to comfort as we made our way home. It wasn’t the candy that Natasha cared about — like a lot of kids with cancer she no longer liked sweet stuff — it was being with her friends, who like most children, understandably, were more focused on fun than the chronically sick child in the background. (Why hadn’t I done a better job of being a more vocal advocate for my daughter?)

It’s not just Halloween that those of us who have lost our children have to brace ourselves for, of course. That’s just the warm-up: there’s Thanksgiving, Christmas and then the ghastly cacophony of New Year’s Eve (“celebrating” the advent of another Natasha-less year to get through). And somewhere in the middle of the glittering jollity is the first anniversary of my child’s passing.

How to get through all this? I’ve been soliciting advice from my bereaved mom friends and I’m also looking for online wisdom from “grief experts” (that would be bereaved parents in my opinion, but people with letters after their names, who write self-help books about coping with loss are presented as the true gurus). The former group tells me it’s something to be endured, possibly with a stiff drink or six. The latter, so far in my search, have made these recommendations: “Remember to take care of yourself,” “Start a new holiday ritual,” “Limit alcohol consumption,” “Know that it’s OK to cry.” None of these suggestions have led to a forehead-thumping epiphany, but maybe I need to keep looking. Or maybe I need to lock myself in a closet for the next three months.

Here’s what I’m dreading the most in the months ahead:

* People forgetting the anniversary of my child’s death.
* Waiting for the Christmas card that I will never again receive. (Natasha’s last Christmas card to me said, “Merry Christmas to the best Mama ever! You’ll always be my best friend. Love, Your daughter, Natasha. P.S. I miss you at school! I’m so lucky to have you as my mom”).
* The fourth Christmas stocking that will hang over the fireplace, but will never again be touched by its owner.
* My surviving child unwrapping Christmas gifts alone (I so miss the interplay between my kids: the excited yelps, the cries of, “Look at this!” and watching little fingers flying as they ripped through their holiday haul).
* Holiday cards with photographs of the sender’s children.
* Holiday cards addressed to us with Natasha’s name omitted (it makes sense that people do this, but it’s painful to receive them).
* Hearing, “Happy Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s.”
* Christmas lights. Natasha loved them. We would count the number of illuminated Christmas trees on the way home from preschool, elementary school, middle school every year, every day from Dec. 1 onward. I used to like them, too. Now they make me miserable.
* Visits to the mall. Something I associate doing with both children as the holiday season approaches. Last year, days after the death of Natasha, I drove to the mall one hour before closing time, in a poorly planned attempt to get gifts for my surviving child. Paralyzed with grief, the mall had closed before I could get myself out of the car.

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