Christmas Grief, Sort of Uncensored

Christmas, the first one since my son’s death…might offer the truest and most raw moments of grief I’ve actually allowed myself to experience and express since his passing in February. You might think it weird that I want a record of my experience. I don’t care. Grief is real, and I know I’m not alone, although at times I truly believe I am. Someone else needs to remember they aren’t alone, too.

Our tree didn’t get put up this year. No lights, no wreath, not even a candle flame. Santa wasn’t coming to visit. Unless he was bring me Christopher, he wasn’t welcome. The only thing I had to do on Christmas Eve was create a batch of medicinal herbal infusion (tea) and try to get some much needed rest.

Of course I couldn’t rest, so I took a scroll through social media looking at pretty Christmas pictures with happy smiles, dressed up kids and homes, and lots of wrapped gifts. At first it offered some mind numbing relief, as I began to sit with the harsh reality that my son wasn’t going to be joining us this Christmas.

It wasn’t long until morning, and I couldn’t find my way out of bed. How could this day really be happening with Christopher? I can’t do this. I heard Peyton up, but couldn’t face him. I’d failed at Christmas and I felt like my heart was being pulled out of my chest. Actually, that was what I was wishing for. Time passed and I was at least able to close my eyes here and there. That is, until I had a complete come apart. My Sweet Boy heard me and left his video game to come check on me. He even lay down to let me hold him close. I calmed some, and convinced him I was OK, so he resumed his paused video game.

I wasn’t really sure I was going to be OK. I was not even sure I was going to get up to get the day started. A migraine had increased momentum and nausea was coming quickly.

I knew I needed to calm down and relax. So I lay there in my darkened room practicing pranayama and realized my state of mind could be headed to a dangerous place. I thought maybe I should call someone, but realized this was something nobody else needed to see on Christmas. Besides, I don’t know any other way. When stuff happens, I deal with it alone. Always have. But I put my friend Scott’s number in my phone dialer for a quick dial, just in case. Then I got up to prepare a hot bath with essential oils and Epsom salts. Eventually, I felt my headache lessening but my emotions escalating again.

I realized that as happy as I was trying to be for all of my FB friends whose kids have come home from college or the military, I really felt like I was being smacked in the face. Good for you. Your kid is home. Mine never, ever will be home again but thanks for reminding me! I found myself resentful for pretty and fun gifts. That’s what’s important right now? Materialism isn’t LOVE. I love my kids more than anything, but there just isn’t enough money to overindulge them. They aren’t hurting for anything, and in my heart I realized there is absolutely no reason to set myself up for disappointment if they don’t show appreciation or if they left messes for me to clean up. Yet, how guilty I felt for having not put myself through all the petty pressure of shopping needlessly and exhaustively expending time and energy I don’t have this year!

(Seriously. I bought gifts for one person, at Peyton’s request, because he is a sweet young teenager who likes a girl who likes him back. That was an experience that brought me joy, especially when a stranger and I began chatting. He was a young man who fully expressed his love for his girlfriend and her children, and he was having the time of his life spending his earnings on them. This very well could have been one of my favorite parts about this Christmas, and I told him I hope my son loves so unconditionally when he is older.)

During a meditation, I was reminded of Christopher’s Greatest Gift. It’s a gift he gave freely and open heartedly. The Gift of Time. I realized that in my own way, that is exactly what I had been trying to give my kids. At least to Peyton and Cameron. Kymberlee doesn’t need me so much anymore. (Yes, I’m dealing with that, too.)

A calmer mind helped me remember the few people who are genuinely generous with their time whether in person or through messages and phone calls. They share it so beautifully with me, even when I’m not the best of company. The gift of time with no strings attached, no expectations, no judgments, and no running off to tell everyone else what may or may not be the full truth. These are the ones I trust most, the ones most likely to really know how I am because they can see through me. These are truly precious people and their presence in my life is powerful.

Yet, here I was, on Christmas morning and I couldn’t find the motivation to be with Peyton. I was in the bath, feeling as though I was drowning in grief, when Kymberlee came to check on me. My tears weren’t hidden by the bath water, and of course her waterworks started, too. 

I was thankful she was keeping an eye on Peyton, and I told her where three gift bags were. I explained that I wasn’t able to label the bags this year, getting as far as I did was all I could handle. I told her who was to get the one that should have been for Christopher, and asked her to go ahead and distribute them. The bags were exactly alike, as were the contents, and I didn’t care if they were from me or from Santa. I apologized that it was all I could do, and she was amazing. They all were. Not one child cried or complained that they only got a small amount of money for Christmas this year.

I finally was able to gather myself and my composure a bit so that we could go eat lunch with our family at my mom’s house. It was a good day, spent with people I love, but we all felt the void. When Christopher was a baby, we started the tradition of making a Happy Birthday Jesus cake and signing before we cut it. This year was no different. My grandson did bring me pure joy when he said “Jesus isn’t going to eat any. He can’t because He lives in our hearts.”  He’s 3 and he knows what’s up! The True Spirit of Christmas, right there, Folks.

I struggled all day. Once or twice before the night was over, I typed out a message to a precious friend I had been in contact with already that day, to please, please tell me everything was going to be OK. Part of me thought I might believe it coming from him. I was adamant that I was keeping my &#!% to myself, though, so I deleted quickly. I wasn’t going to be someone else’s problem today.

I don’t know what it is about grief. It is all too easy to get lost in it. When I use the tools I’ve gained through Yoga, mindfulness and other meditation practices, I know there is no shame in it. Yet it isn’t something that can be shared easily with others. Just in one day, I experienced every emotion associated with grief, and I thought of all the ways I could numb out but didn’t. I was proud of that. I didn’t try to put on a fake smile and pretend everything was fine. It wasn’t. It isn’t. But it will be.

I found acceptance for my Christmas grieving process and I sat with everything that came up, no matter how excruciating.

And I survived. 

To those who reached out to check on me on Christmas Day, Thank You. To those I’ve seen since and my eyes leaked as you told me you remembered me in prayer, Thank You. To those who reached out through cards, calls, and text messages, Thank you. To my family, who shares this grief in their own ways, Thank You. To Christopher’s friends who have checked in and are grieving, too, Thank You. To those who pray with enough faith it goes without saying you’re praying, Thank You. To those who have presented me with gifts or other tokens of thoughtfulness, Thank You. To those who have shared your precious gift of time, Thank You. 

You are the ones who continue to help me learn how to live without my firstborn child.

Namaste, Nikki

Dealing…

Have you ever been told to Suck It Up Buttercup? Or to get over it because someone else has it much worse than you?

How’d that make you feel, as an adult going through something that may have created great despair or pain?

I think phrases such as that are fine to tell our children when they are acting like spoiled brats upon not getting their way. As a matter of fact, I should probably say something like that more!

Appropriate for everyone, though? I’m not so sure.

Two months ago my son committed suicide. I’m having to learn to live without the one who gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging. I’m learning to live without one of my life’s greatest inspirations and teachers.

This passage is for me, to remind myself of my own strength, will, and determination.

Yes, I’m putting myself out there to be judged and criticized, but somewhere I know that there is someone out there, dealing with what they seem they cannot endure, and I pray this reaches them. 

“There’s someone else who has it worse than you.” Yes, that’s true, but please use that phrase with caution unless you really know that to be true. 

A short synopsis of what life has thrown at me…

Anxiety and misdiagnosed dietary/health issues starting very young. Depression and eating disorders by grade 8. Sexually violated and suicidal by 12th. Survived, after feeling unwelcome and unloved by even God during my near death encounter with the Keeper of the Golden Gates. “Not yet. Someday. You still have work to do down there.” Don’t believe in near death experiences? You should.

Unexpected pregnancy by age 19. Keep or abort this baby? Rocky Relationship, but I love him and I already love this little creation with my whole heart. Keep. I might get disowned. But definitely keep. All I’ve ever known for sure is that I want to be a mommy. Easy pregnancy, relationship turned violent. Addiction returned. Had to walk away. Tried unsuccessfully to get back together but then the toughest of love lessons came our way. I had met another who promised the world so please don’t call anymore. Probably not what I really wanted. Probably wanted him to put up a fight, but he listened. If that was my plan it backfired.

Single mom married to someone who hid his true colors well. Marriage was emotionally/financially/spiritually abusive starting day 1. Within a year, became seriously ill in eating disorders and checked into recovery facilities out of state at 84 pounds, after accidentally overdosing on prescribed medications just to try to get some rest and migraine relief. Left my now 4 year old behind. Heart broken.

Worked my butt off to stay healthy and to try to salvage anything left of my so-called marriage. Unsuccessful, but too afraid to leave. Too many threats, another pregnancy with a daughter this time. Yay!! I had been told no more kids, too much damage to my reproductive system.

Where are we going to live, though, now that she’s a toddler?! Don’t have a clue where all the money has gone, but house payment hasn’t been paid. Foreclosure. How did I find out? My aunt saw it in newspaper, and my mom asked me about it. Seriously? This is happening and I’m the LAST to know? What kind of person am I living with?? Found housing, and took over bills to try to dig us out and figure out finances. Hmmm…lots of things don’t make sense and don’t add up. But don’t question it. I’ll regret it if I even consider it. 

The news that Christopher’s father had died turned my inner world upside down. So much I could have done differently. I let it end without even saying I love you. I had lost him, really lost him forever. Could I have helped save him?

Not sure if it was too much stress or all the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds I was on, but I miscarried twins. A boy and a girl. Guess who didn’t care? No support from my husband, so I’ll just keep this one to myself. Most likely no one else will care either. Heavy burden to carry alone. So much sadness and grief and no one knew for years.

New house. New beginnings? Nope. More of the same. Baby boy on his way now. Cannot wait! My kids are truly my world. My whole reason for living.

Wait. Lies. Lies. More lies. Just admit the truth. I can forgive it all. Nope. Denial and more narcissistic behaviors make me think I’m totally nuts. I can’t do this anymore. It’s killing me. I’m living life as a prisoner in my own home. Please go out of town soon, or work overtime. The kids and I need to come out of our rooms and feel welcome in our own house. My kids cannot grow up thinking this normal or ok.

Get out of my house. Divorce. But it’ll be rough. The only promise he ever kept was to make my life miserable and difficult if I ever left him. Two years for the divorce to be finalized, all the while having to watch my back for his vehicle or a co-workers, or vehicle from another agency hiding around the corner watching me and the kids through binoculars. Just within enough distance to let me know their presence to intimidate me, but far enough away that I can’t call in for restraining orders. Well played, but please understand that people at my workplace are noticing, too.

Anxiety. Here, Baby Boy. This helps me. Some Yoga and Pranayama (Breathwork). And carry this special rock with you in your pocket. It has Mommy’s Kiss and anytime you miss me or feel anxious, get it out, rub it or kiss it, and remember that I’m not far away. I promise I wouldn’t leave you here if I didn’t trust your teachers. Thanks, Mrs. Principal for lovingly restraining my boy while I run off to get to work through my tears. Not only did Father choose to leave, but Mommy left her 16 year old position as stay home mom to go to work. I promise I’m not abandoning you, Sweetie. I’m doing the FOR you. We’ll repeat this process all year and have more of this experience for another 2 or three years. Whew! Eventually it does get better.

Ok…hang on tight. Here’s a ride. Thank God I know the signs of depression. Helping a daughter who had discovered self-harm and had her own suicidal thoughts wasn’t fun. How many nights did I cry through this?! Such a difficult thing to go through alone. Poor Peyton. How neglected you must feel while I try to help Sissy. What?! She’s pregnant? OK. Another baby is always welcome, plus he saved her life. Thank you, Angel Child.

Dating? Are you kidding me? How many guys do you think want to date a woman who is in Mommy Mode 24/7. Oh wait…I AM only on standby for four hours a week but I really need that time to nourish myself. Please leave me alone since I’ve finally learned that he isn’t really just going to take off with the kids and not return them! I’ve learned that it is ok to take care of me! Anyway, if you aren’t going to be good for and to me, and be willing to accept me AND my kids for who we are, then we don’t need you. Go ahead. Walk away and use whatever story you need to tell yourself to make you feel less guilty. We’ll be ok. We are perfectly imperfect and we are a chaotic mess. But we are each other’s everything.

Too much stress and overwhelm has created chronic illnesses that make it difficult to function in my everyday life. Guilt arises at all I’m not accomplishing and time I can’t spend in wholeness with my kids. Yoga and meditation help greatly but I need more support. That’s hard to admit…SIGH…

I watch from a distance as my (step)daughter goes through stuff that I’m not in a position to be able to offer help or even much emotional support, and her babies and my (step)son’s are all growing way too fast. I hate that I’m missing it. But I have never been allowed to develop relationships with the rest of the family, so this really shouldn’t bother me so much. Yet, it does. Always has.

Now Christopher.

What did I miss? I think nothing, but there must have been something? He was the one who spent the most time in counseling. His faith in God is the strongest fo anyone I know. He has so much to look forward. Graduating with highest honors, faithfully attending mass and chapel, loyal to his friends and family. What did I miss? There were no obvious signs. He worked hard, he was proud of himself for his efforts. Perhaps it was uncertainty of what’s next after College Graduation. Perhaps he was afraid of not getting into grad school. Perhaps he was afraid of being alone, starting his new chapter in life. Perhaps it was lack of sleep as he tried to excel in his classes, but he didn’t speak about his “maladies” openly to us. Or to anyone, it seems. I have, however, seen notes of encouragement left in his school mailbox. I cannot express how thankful I am for those short, sweet notes.

Because I had allowed myself to become stressed to the point of illness, I did my best to remind him to slow down. Rest. Play. Enjoy Life. He was much like me, in many ways. I could never ever deny him, nor would I want to!

He did Enjoy Life. He travelled. He spent quality time with friends. He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it, with no apologies or regrets, except that he did care whether or not his family supported his decisions. Of course, we usually did! He enjoyed life. Or so it seemed.

Robin Williams. I see now that my child had a soul in resonance with the great comedian.

Someone recently expressed concern over my being alone at my Yoga Studio at night. I assured him I take safety precautions when I’m alone, but that I’ve already experienced so much, that not much else could phase me. Sure, I could be killed, but I’m all good. Death happens, and it’s going to come to me anyway. The worst thing that could happen to me at this point is that something would take away one of my kids.

Damn. I was right about that. So please excuse me while I grieve.

Nothing. And I mean NOTHING is worse than losing a child.

So I write this reminder to myself. Not for sympathy, but to remind myself that I’m strong, determined, and now capable of showing compassion and unconditional love to others. I now know how to share and help others who have struggles, too. I take joy in sharing with and serving others and helping them find their Light again.

I write this as a reminder that I’ve changed tremendously for the better. I’m happy to say I’m not the same person I use to be.

I’ve been through Hell and Back. And I’ve survived. In large part to my parents who always have my back, and in large part because of my Faith in One Higher Than I, for all those times I didn’t feel adequate, capable or able. And of course, Yoga. It makes everything better. 

NOTHING is worse than losing a child. But I’m doing pretty damn good, considering.

And so are you, The Bright Shining Star who is reading this. Go, Do You. Nobody else can do it so well!

Struggling so much you’re not sure you can hold on much longer? Trying to help someone you love?

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline today! 1-800-273-8255

Namaste,

Nikki