Holiday Presents

Every year we lay out all of the kids gifts to make sure that the piles look as even as possible. We’re dealing with some crazy age ranges, but I try really hard. My son’s pile looked meh.

He’s 6 years old and I worry so much about him being overindulged. He’s our rainbow son following his brothers death. It’s kind of hard not to spoil him. I’m lying. It’s kind of hard not to spoil all of the kids. But the last thing that I want to do is create another entitled male in this world.

I really tried to reign in Christmas a bit this year. We went crazy last year because of Covid and experience gifts were not going to happen. My kids already have SO MANY TOYS. I didn’t want to add to that. I do a pretty good job of finding deals or buying second hand, so cost wasn’t really a factor. I just didn’t want all the stuff.

Until I looked at the piles. Mostly smaller items. And I got really sad. We tend to buy our kids more stuff because we don’t have much family. My kids miss out on so much with my parents gone. I grew up in a HUGE family with lots of cousins and Aunts and Uncles. So many traditions lost and so much time they never got to spend with my family. They never had the grandparents to spoil them. And it sucks.

We have a stocking hanging on our fireplace that we fill every year with notes. There will always be an empty seat at our table for 6. They are missing their brother. I have one less child to enjoy the excitement of the holidays with. And that sucks.

So here I sit feeling really shitty and really sad. I’m trying to compensate for something that my children probably don’t even realize they are missing. But I know what it’s like to look forward to big family gatherings. I know what it’s like to play with my cousins and grow up enjoying the holidays with them. Obviously, Covid complicates that too this year.

So I may have added a few things to my cart tonight. And I’m begging myself to not feel bad about it. I’m trying really hard to not spin out about if I’m ruining my kids by giving them too much. I’m choosing to look at it that they are only little once. And if I’m being over the top, so be it. I’m still trying to figure out this whole grief/life balance stuff. But I’m tired of feeling guilty about it.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

When I was growing up, the holidays were magical. I have so many great memories of gathering with family, singing Christmas Carols, baking and of course, presents! For all of my Dad’s faults, he was super into Christmas. He was one of the rare men that actually enjoyed shopping and put a lot of thought into his gifts. Decorating our house was a huge deal every year. We would get the biggest Christmas tree and spend hours putting tinsel on it. We had a 4′ wreath that went on our chimney along with a plastic Santa. My Mom spent hours wrapping presents for us kids and desperately trying to replicate her Mother’s recipes (which I still find nearly impossible). It was merry and bright.

When my Mom passed, all of that Christmas Spirit seemed to die with her. My Father was a shell of his former self and we all just went through the motions. I remember that the first Christmas without her consisted of me shopping for everything and wrapping it all (including my own gifts). My sister and I had to take my Dad to the ER on Christmas Eve because he was sick (looking back, it was probably too much alcohol and a broken heart more than anything) and we were up late. No one got out of bed on Christmas until 5 PM. It was terrible. Gone was the magic.

Once I moved out, I vowed that I would create my own Christmas magic. When I had my own apartment, there was always a live Christmas tree. I started making my own Christmas traditions. And even though I spent some Christmases alone, nothing was as brutal as that first Christmas after my Mom died. Until my son died.

It’s really hard to get through the holidays when your heart is so heavy with grief. My Mom died 25 years ago and my son 8 years ago. I’ve celebrated more Christmases without both of them then I have with them. And it still guts me. Every. Damn. Year.

The first Christmas after my son died was a stumble. I honestly felt like a puppet as others pulled the strings and I went about the motions. I had no idea what the right thing was to do. Do we hang his stocking? His ornaments? Do we keep our family traditions? How do we honor him?

That whole day I smiled on the outside while I silently screamed on the inside. Christmas shouldn’t still come without my son. The days shouldn’t have kept creeping by and time shouldn’t have been in motion. My world had stopped on November 8th and anything where we grew further from that date made no sense to me.

It was really hard to watch her opening gifts, knowing her brother should have been there too. It was hard to enjoy the cookies, knowing how much he loved his sweets. It was hard to take pictures, thinking he should be in them. It was hard to recognize that this was our ‘New Normal’.

I’ve written about a few things that we now do previously https://sunshineangelsandrainbows.com/2021/12/03/my-christmas-grief/. The only thing that I vowed that first Christmas was that it was still magical for our daughter. The magic had completely died for me at that point and that was ok. But by god, it had to be over the top for her. She needed to find something to look forward to, something good to believe in, and something hopeful that she could carry with her. And if that came in the form of presents and food and togetherness, then I was ok with that. I was ok with anything that would help us get through that first Christmas.

And that first Christmas turned into our second, third, and now eighth Christmas without our son. And I miss him so very much every single day. The holidays are still brutal, but I find that doing stuff to honor him helps to heal my broken heart just a little bit. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve even found a little Christmas magic again myself. The grief and missing are still very much there, but the love that I have for my Mom, my Dad and my son have become my puppeteers during the holiday season.

My Christmas Grief

Thanksgiving is over and now we head into the holidays of family and love. Christmas has been a really hard time for me ever since my mom died. I’ve worked extra hard to make it special for my kiddos. It’s also some place productive that I can put all of this stuck, grief energy.

A few years back another lost mom had posted the Christmas tree she did in memory of her son. Another friend had recommended using all of the metals from the 5K that we do in Benny’s memory as ornaments. That began the ‘Benny Tree.’ I love that he has a space in our home and our hearts for the holiday. My kids also enjoy decorating it and looking at all the pictures and medals.

The year that Benny died we started writing him notes in his stocking. They stay in there all year long and get packed away with the Christmas decorations. Someday his stocking will be full again but at least in the meantime it’s still funny on the fireplace with the rest of the family’s.

Last year I started sponsoring a child for Christmas that is the age Benny would be. It’s sad and hopeful all rolled into one. I love that I get to help someone out and I still get to shop for a boy Benny’s age. I wonder what he would be into and what would be on his Christmas list. And it’s heartbreaking.

It’s taken me 8 years to come up with what makes our holiday feel ‘good’ again. It’s organic and it changes as we change. Right now it just allows me the space to still parent Benny, even though he’s on the other side. If it ever gets to be too much or doesn’t feel right, then we won’t do it. But for now, I look forward to my grief traditions.

2021

The 2010 decade sucked for me. I felt like the 2020’s were going to be my time! I’m a January baby and in 2020 I turned 40. I figured this was it! I was going to rule this decade!

So, we all know what happened there🙄. I don’t really want to claim anything in 2021. I’ll just be happy to put 2020 behind me and take a nice deep breath and hope that 2021 will surprise me. In a good way.

I am holding onto hope. I’m hoping that love wins out in 2021 and the world looks more like the world that we knew in 2013 when Benny died. When people were good and kind and caring.

I hope that the loss that happened in 2020 isn’t overshadowed by the political BS occurring daily. Remember when September 11th happened and we were shocked and horrified as a nation? We are seeing September 11th level death daily. It makes me so sad. To be complacent in others suffering instead of coming together to try to help is not ok. We need to get back to that mindset of holding space for each other and caring.

It has been a really, really tough year. I have been challenged as a mother, wife and business owner like no other time in my life. Maybe except for 2017 when we were homeless (because we sold our home and the housing market was nuts) with a 2 week old baby and just bought a business. But the challenges this year have been different. I’ve felt so out of control and anxious. I’m exhausted. I’m trying the best that I can to make the right decisions for my family (whatever those are) and trudge forward. But my god it is hard.

I’m working on self acceptance. I’m relearning to like myself and trying to show myself a little grace. 2020 has given me ample time to think and reconnect with me. It’s a process.

So there will be no big New Year celebration. I’d be surprised if we all make it to midnight. And that’s ok. I’ll be holding my breath for 2021 and hoping against hope that it’s a little bit kinder to us all. Because I can’t be the only one that needs a break.

12 Days of Memories: Day 12

I’m going to be honest here, I have no idea how to close this out. I am exhausted by Covid, the holidays, all of it. So I’m going to give myself a little grace.

I had all of these grand plans when I started this little holiday journey. But I’ve honestly forgotten half of what I planned and winged it. Sometimes that works better for me anyway, it allows me to be more honest to myself about what I’m truly feeling.

Right now I am tired. As far as Christmas Eves go, today was pretty stellar. My kids had fun, we ate a ton of food and we got to connect with family I haven’t spent time with in years (thank you Zoom). But I found myself tearing up all day. I missed my Mom. I missed my Dad. I missed my son.

I know this holiday season is tough. Even for those of us that are years out in our grief. Grieve however you need to right now. Do what feels right to you. Give yourself a little grace. ❤️

12 Days of Memories-Day 11

I miss my son. I’ve made that pretty clear. I miss everything about him. But I miss ‘me’ too.

I miss being able to parent without feeling like something is going to go wrong every second. I miss my ability to make decisions and not second guess myself. I miss not being paranoid over every little thing. I miss me.

12 Days of Memories-Day 10

It’s amazing to me how inanimate objects can hold memories. I can see something and it automatically sets off my grief without warning. It’s like a slap in the face.

I just spent the morning cleaning up and as I was vacuuming I was noticing all of the things that scream ‘Benny’ to me. Anyone coming into my house would have no idea, but I look at these items and I think of him. They weren’t his items, but something that I’ve connected to him since his death.

Peace Lilly from Benny’s Memorial
Spaceman Benny from the Lego movie
Any bus

Grief is weird. It changes how you see things. It’s like you have a permanent set of glasses glued to your face that can never come off. And if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t want them to come off. I’m able to see hope and love in the mundane.

12 Days of Memories-Day 9

Part of being a grieving parent is holding onto the old memories, while making new ones. Which is really hard when your child is gone.

Honoring and remembering our babies becomes the mission of the bereaved. We become the reminders of what is appropriate in grief and that there is no right or wrong way to walk along this path.

We remember Bennett on his birthday. We celebrate and sing to him every year. He was here and it’s important to us to celebrate his life.

We remember Bennett during the holidays. His memory is intertwined with ours and we make sure to hang his stocking and decorate his tree (thanks to an awesome suggestion by another bereaved mama). We do a 5K in his memory around the holidays every year.

We remember Benny on the day he died. We visit with him and take a moment to reflect on all that has happened.

We remember Benny by lighting candles on days of rememberance. We remember him in the day to day conversations and pictures spread around my house.

I never planned it this way, but we created new Benny memories without even knowing it. I know that he’s not here to be a part of it and that sucks. But he lived, and that life is so intertweaved with ours that his presence is felt daily.

12 Days of Memories-Day 8

Music has this uncanny ability to evoke emotion. Especially when I’m driving. I can be jamming out one moment and sobbing the next.

While I have many songs that remind me of Benny, Benny and the Jets is probably the one tied closest to his memory for me. We would constantly sing it to him. When we named him Bennett, I never anticipated called him Benny. It just kind of happened. It was never Ben, always Benny.

Whenever that song comes on I think of him. Sometimes I smile, sometimes I jam out and other times I cry. But every time I think of my crazy little dude.

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