Another holiday season is upon us. While many are going through traditions, and family time, the bereaved are trying to navigate through it all. Many contemplate how to celebrate this holiday, if at all. The first year after a loved one has passed is always the most difficult. The loneliness felt throughout the family. As a parent, the loneliness is screaming. Unpacking ornaments that hold significant memories and meaning is an explosion of emotions. Looking at the empty chair where a little body should sit for family dinner. Gifts under the tree without a certain name on the label. Initially it is very difficult to want to celebrate anything, whether you’ve been grieving the first year or a long time.
As time passes, the holidays become easier to bear. The old traditions either stay or change enough that the hurt is not in the forefront as before. Parents choose how and when to join in the festivities, trying to prevent added anguish. Christmas cards may not be sent. Avoidance of holiday parties. Spending Christmas day with only your spouse and surviving children. Whatever is needed to cope, it is correct for you. Sometimes we need to hide away from everyone and have a cry to let the pain out.
Many try to celebrate as best to tribute their missing loved one. Some spend time at the plot (as we do), while others bring the urn to family gatherings. Continue to remember your loved one. Share stories, laughter and memories with each other. Go skating, watch a movie or play board games, if that’s what your love would have liked to do. Travel, to get away from it all. Some call it running away. I think of it as an escape from all the past holiday memories that can bring hurt and pain along with it. Whatever you do, know that it is right for you and your family. Do what you know will help you get through a difficult season. Everyone is different and no one has a right to judge. Just take time for yourself. We all grieve different and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Be kind to yourself, because we still have our journey on this rock.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and all happy
holidays in the new year.
Holidays don’t get easier, regardless how long time has passed. Halloween was a month ago and I felt it was just as hard as previous years. Past years I tried so hard to fake it by decorating the house inside and out. Pumpkins would be carved days before. Costumes planned and purchased. Sugar cookies baked and decorated. The excitement was in the air. This year I felt such a weight on me. It felt so heavy, so constricting. Even though I tried to encourage myself into doing our normal traditions, I ended up failing and nothing ended up happening.
No cookies were baked. Our home wasn’t decorated outside with only a few things inside. Our pumpkins were purchased 2 days before, and carved the night before halloween. Costumes were not on the radar, throwing together something we found at home the day of. It didn’t seem like I was the only one feeling this way, as Marco and Valin weren’t pushing for anything either. We just kept moving through the motions of the every day.
What many of you don’t understand, is how much energy and work it takes to fake going through the passing of life. It sounds easy to just go along with it all but it is truly exhausting. The simplicity of even getting up out of bed every morning can take a lot of coaxing from oneself. Movement for purpose takes thought and reasoning from those who have lost a child. Knowing the need to converse with people, to look happy, to laugh, when all you feel is dead inside is very difficult.
Being affected by such a loss will never leave us. We will never forget who our child was, could be and could never be. We will not forget the day of diagnosis, the fight he had, the slow and terrifying decline and of course his death. Those days will never leave us. Yet here we are. Getting up every morning, going to work and living life like nothing ever happened.
When you hear the term PTSD, do you only think about people returning from war? That seems to be the most common association with that term; veterans and military. PTSD affects so many other people. People you may not have thought of.
I have post traumatic stress disorder. No I was never diagnosed, but I really don’t need a doctor to tell me something so obvious. The Mayo Clinic defines it as “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.” Many parents who have a child diagnosed with cancer (or any life altering illness) show symptoms of PTSD. The worst moments are usually around the diagnosis day, certain treatments and like myself, the final days of your child’s life. I have many moments of anxiety from past memories, nightmares that wakes me, and the never ending flashbacks. Then there are occasions that I didn’t think would affect me, but then the rug is pulled out from under me and I am gasping for air.
A few weeks ago, my son Valin needed an MRI on his knee. Just a routine MRI to see where the pain is stemming from. I was working, so Marco took Valin. I wanted to be there, but knew all we would be doing is sitting in the waiting area until the scan was done. That entire day I had a knot in my gut with worry. Marco kept telling me everything was fine and he would send me photos of Valin in the machine. My heart ached seeing the photos, as all the memories of Madox laying on the table getting his scan came flooding back to me. I started to sweat. The last time one of my boys were having an MRI, we received a cancer diagnosis. I was getting in my head and panicking. Then an hour later Marco texts me “heading home,” and all my tensions released. I immediately thought ‘they wouldn’t have sent them home if they saw anything.’ My racing heart slowed. I was able to catch my breath. My concentration on my current task returned. My anxiety attack left me as quickly as it arrived.
The following day I was working when I received a call from Valin’s doctors office. I missed the call, but when I noticed the number with no message, my heart began to race again. All the worst case scenarios came slamming into my thoughts. Then all the memories of Madox’s battle with cancer but now I was seeing Valin’s face instead of Madox’s. I called the office back 3-4 times until finally the physician called me back. “Hello Ms. Suzio? This is Dr. M. I just wanted to talk to you about Valin’s MRI results.” Panic. Fear. Dread. Thoughts of burying another son. “Everything looks good..” Silence. I didn’t hear anything else after that. My body released. Tears flowed freely. My son is fine. He will not go through pain and torture. He will grow up!
PTSD ebbs and flows. Many times knowing the triggers, and times not. The recurrent traumatic memories we all lived with and witnessed with Madox will never leave me. Trying to control them will forever be my toughest challenge. We live life as best we can, but there are simple moments that catch us off guard. Moments that are seen as day to day events to most parents, can be difficult stages to navigate for others. Living with PTSD will be a lifelong struggle.
First day of school is an exciting time for most kids and parents. For my kids, they get to see all their old friends again, their favourite teachers and get into a new routine. For us as parents, we felt it as a milestone of starting a new grade, excited for the new things they will learn and the independence with it. Of course I had my mom moments when I was ready for school to start, but I never felt an excitement and celebratory feeling of “getting them out of my hair.” My boys were pretty good and fun to be around. When I had crazy brain from their energy, I had work as my temporary escape. I was always sad the summer was over.
What happens when the first day of school comes along? The traditional first day of school photos, of course. We always took one but never of the boys separately. I wish we took more of them together and much more alone on these milestone days. Social media sites are littered with photos of kids on their first day of school. Why wouldn’t it be? There are so many proud parents wanting to show their kids off. We were those parents once too. Now, these photos hurt my heart so deeply knowing I can’t post my own photos of my boys. Instead Valin stands in the same spot he use to stand with his little brother Madox.
Now we take a photo of Valin standing by himself, then watch him cycle away to school alone. He no longer has his little brother as his shadow, which we know he misses. I get in my car, and drive to visit my baby boy where he now lays without us. I sit next to his plot and sob, thinking about everything we are missing without him. Missing everything he brought to our lives. Madox should be starting grade 8 this year. He and his buddies would be the oldest kids in the school. Instead, he never made it to grade 4.
Not everyones first day of school photo is happy and elicits a smile when seen. Sometimes these photos hurts to see and brings a tear to your eyes. Sometimes the first day of school photos are at a cemetery. Sometimes, all you can do is cry.
The day has come and gone. The day you were stolen from us. People call it an ‘anniversary’ but I hardly think of it as that. Some people think it’s time to move on. I think those people are ignorant about grief, which I guess is good. Grieving a loved one is very hard on the mind and body. Nothing really has changed except that it has been 4 years since I saw your sweet face.
Leading up to this day has been really hard on me this year. I didn’t think it would hit this hard again, but it has. I haven’t eaten very much, and sleep was barely existent. I tried working out but I ended up crying thinking about your last week. I am so glad I took the week off work. I have no idea how I would have gotten through a day.
Memories of your last few days kept jumping into my mind randomly. How you hugged Valin for the last time. How all your family came to say their goodbyes. How you struggled to breathe. How panicked I was trying to control your pain and secretions, feeling like I failed you over and over again. Those moments are still clear in my mind. I can’t believe it’s been 4 years. I can’t believe I have to live the rest of my life without you in it. I don’t think I will ever get use to that thought.
This year I let Valin sleep while I drove down to your resting place. I just laid by your plot thinking about our fun and sad moments. I listened to some music that made me ache for you more. Even though I felt dark and gloomy, the sun was shining brightly. Valin was waiting for me when I got home and gave me a long hug. I know he misses you just as much as we do. My biggest fear is that he will forget you and the things you both did together. So we will continue to talk about you and share moments so we will never forget.
Poor dad had to work all day so we all went to your plot together in the evening. The sun was starting to set and a slight breeze was felt. We sat around your plot sharing stories and moments. Did you hear us? Even Valin shared your last words to him. I’m glad he remembers that moment, even though it was hard. It was nice to see a family of deer come out of the forest while we were there. I always find it calming to see the deer graze while we visit you.
Although we don’t visit you at your plot as often as we use to, I sit in your room often. I hope you hear me talking to you when I am there. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about you, and the time we have lost without you. These days are hard but we are trying to continue living our lives. You are never forgotten Madox. We may smile and laugh and enjoy our time together, but there will forever be a broken piece in our hearts for you. A piece that will never be repaired. A piece we will never forget.
We love you my favourite little guy XO