Firsts after loss are hard. We managed to survive our first Christmas without our son, but only by essentially running away.
Christmas is a big deal in our house because Christmas time is family time. When my siblings’ kids were small, I happily went to their houses to celebrate. After I moved to the midwest, I took my older son and then-fiancé home for Christmas—and hated it. I hated traveling in winter, I hated shlepping all of my kid’s gear, plus all the presents, and I hated not waking up in our own home. I love my family, but realized I, too, was entitled to give my children the great Christmas memories I had of waking up as a child in my own bed for Christmas morning.
So after that year, we stayed home and gradually built our own traditions. Christmas became all about uninterrupted family time, something we so rarely got during the year. All the silly little things we did every year signaled that it was time to slow down and enjoy being together. From everyone getting a new ornament on Thanksgiving based on what they loved that year, decorating the entire house, posing in matching pjs, thoughtfully donating to charities, and opening one gift Christmas Eve, to watching special videos, gathering at the top of the stairs Christmas morning before racing down to see what Santa brought, wearing pjs and eating nothing but our favorite snacks all day…the entire run up to Christmas was one big tradition.
We couldn’t face it this year. How could we do all of those things without the one who made them loud and silly?
So we didn’t.
We put out a few things so our youngest daughter would feel the Christmas excitement, but didn’t put up our tree. I didn’t buy special ornaments this year, or go anywhere near the box that holds 10 years of my son’s special ornaments.
We chose a place none of us had ever been and as different from where we live as possible—beautiful Tucson, AZ. We spent the run up to Christmas exploring the region, eating amazing Mexican food, and swimming in the pool. Santa came, but most of our presents waited at home for us.
And you know what? It helped, just a tiny little bit. We cried and were sad, but there wasn’t the constant reminder of our boy every single place we looked. We didn’t have to go through the motions of tradition, knowing that our hearts were missing a piece. No one in Tucson knew who we were or what we have suffered. We could look out at the mountains and desert and cactus and cry because we know our boy would have loved them, but not feel the terrible weight of remembering him enjoying them.
We could feel our grief, but not be crushed by it, just for a few days.
So thank you, Tucson, for making our first Christmas bearable, as much as a loss like this can be borne. Thank you for giving us space to grieve and be together as our new family, a family of five with only four still breathing.