This article was originally published in www.opentohope.com on Dec. 3, 2008, a website whose mission is to help those who have suffered a loss to cope with their pain and invest in the future.
Four months after our youngest son, Clint, died, we were faced with our first Christmas without him. We didn’t know how to deal with the holidays. Individually, our pain was so great; we barely spoke of it with each other. We didn’t know how to include Clint in our plans, yet we couldn’t bear to face a holiday without him. It wasn’t right to be making preparations that didn’t include our son. Where was his shopping list? He had always enjoyed making a wish list. There was a huge void in our hearts and in our home.
One day, I remembered a small table top Christmas tree that was in our attic. My mother had used this tree when she was alive. I came upon the idea of placing this small tree in Clint’s room. I envisioned a theme of angels and snowflakes. But upon hearing about a Christmas tree for Clint, my husband embarked on an entirely different plan. His plans included sports-themed ornaments and shared memories of a young man’s life. We began our search for ornaments to reflect Clint’s personality, his favorite sports and hobbies. Our hearts rested just a bit, now that we had a plan to actively include our precious son in our holiday preparations.
This activity did not take away the pain, but it gave us a small project we could share. Along the way, we discovered each ornament gave us a reason to discuss a small part of our pain. We cried together as we shared our memories.
This will be our fourth Christmas without Clint, and we are still collecting ornaments to add to Clint’s Memories Tree. Last year, we even had to purchase a larger tree, because we have found that as the pain eases and our memories flow more freely, the ornament collection grows also.
Whether it is a holiday or an average day, the challenge placed upon every grieving parent is to find a way to carry the pain of loss and joy of memories in the same heart. The pain and the joy are so connected; at times, it is easy to fear that in giving up the pain we give up the joy of the love. But we have found no truth in this fear, because the bond in a parent’s heart is built on love and will never cease.
Written in loving memory of our son, Clint T. Reagan, 5/15/85-8/6/05.