Six Christmases later, I think I have run the gamut of emotions. Of course, the first two Christmases after my daughter Nina died were pretty much a blur. I do remember the first one; so desperately trying to go through the motions and determined that my family would have as unchanged a Christmas as possible. I would momentarily lapse into my grief stupor, only to pick myself up by the bootstraps and zombie-like, plod onward toward my goal to "normalize" an anything-but-normal Christmas.
Nina adored the holidays. She could soarcely wait for the day after Thanksgiving so we could pull out the holiday music tapes, get out the cookie press so she could make her favorite Spritz cookies, and decorate her daybed frame with tiny Christmas lights. Therefore, I was positive that Nina would want us to go on with Christmas as if the numbing and life-altering tragedy that had befallen our family had never occurred. I had convinced myself that it is what she would have wanted So out came the Christmas tree and all the ornaments. Shopping commenced as usual, plowing my way through crowds of cheerful people, full of the spirit of the season. I wouldn't allow myself to see that I didn't belong amongst them -at least that year. Eventually, the charade took its toll and I paid for it for weeks afterwards. Then again how could any of us know how we should feel that first Christmas, or what we should or shouldn't do during the holidays after our child died? For most of us, we had never experienced the death of a child before. There are no step-by-step rulebooks on how to grieve. And even if there were, each of our children is unique and therefore so is our grief.
That second Christmas I didn't have enough energy to even run on empty. I felt drained and barely made it through necessary day-to-day tasks. The Christmas tree made it out of the box that year, but sat undecorated in the middle of the living room floor. Only when my son asked about five days before Christmas, if we could either put some lights on it and sit it in its customary corner, or just put it away that Christmas did I make an effort to do anything with it at all. That year I didn't attempt to sugarcoat my emotional state of mind I didn't pretend that everything was "normal."
If possible, we would cut out November, December and January lst out of our calendars--just close our eyes and wish it away. But since we can't, we have to do the next best thing-we need to give ourselves a gift this holiday season. And in doing this, we give our family and hiends a gift as well. That gift is taking care of us through this trying holiday season, to do what feels right to us. We can try to spare ourselves any unnecessary stress. That could mean doing away with the old family traditions and making some new ones. It could mean having Christmas dinner at a restaurant. That gift to us might be to go away for the holidays; for others that may be just staying home and doing nothing. Maybe a relative or family friend could help with any preparations or gift buying that we feel we might want to do this year. Possibly they could involve any surviving siblings in their holiday happenings so that they too feel like they are participating in something for the holidays. So often our family and friends feel helpless and desperately want to find some way to assist us and this is one way that they can. ~from the TCF Chapter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama said "No matter how many people or how- many presents, the pulsating void that seems too large for your heart to hold keeps on drawing your attention back to the child who is missing. As others laugh and play, your thoughts fly away - to Christmases past or a snowy cemetery. Give me a special gift this year.. . let me weep."
The friendship and understanding of other bereaved parents is one of the most helpful gifts we can give ourselves. Other bereaved parents will let us reminisce of happier Christmases' past; will allow us to speak our child's name without hesitation; and will let us cry and not be uncomfortable with our tears. It is so consoling to be able to share your feelings with someone who understands that, for us, grief does have a place in our holiday. Iu turn, by being a listening ear for them we have given them a gift as well.
When I think back, I am not sure if I found comfort in hearing that the holidays would get easier in time. I think I was so preoccupied (and with good reason) with the fact that my Nina was gone and the holidays would never be the same. But I have learned to know what I can and cannot handle. I have learned how to say, "I just can't do that this year". I have learned that, although I couldn't imagine it then, with each passing year the holidays have become a little easier to deal with. And I absolutely believe that Nina does understand my need to alter Christmas since she died. That she would want me to change what I need to in order to get through the holidays. Nina would want me, as all of our children would want us, to be gentle with ourselves and to take care of our tender hearts. That gift we give ourselves is also a gift we give to them what they would want for us: for us to find as much peace in whatever way that we possibly can.
We have many new TCF members this year who will be facing that first Christmas without their child I will, as I know all of us will, keep them all close in our thoughts and hearts these next two months.
With love, peace and gentle thoughts this holiday season, Cathy L. Seehuetter St. Paul, MN - TCF
As I type this, it is the day after Thanksgiving. People in the retail business say that it is the biggest shopping day of the year. Before Nina died, I was one of those crazy shoppers who on that day sat out in the parking lot of whatever store that opened at 6 a.m. waiting for them to open their doors so I could shove my way into whatever "blue light special" was being offered. My children's wish list in hand, I was ready to power shop 'til I dropped. But that was then, and this is now. Five Christmas shopping seasons later, my life, as all of our lives, has changed irrevocably as one precious child is no longer on that shopping list.
Not too long ago, I was in a fitting room trying on some clothes when I overheard the conversation between mother and teenage daughter in the room next to me. There was a volatile exchange of words between the two of them as the mother was trying to hustle her daughter along. She kept saying to her, "You know, I don't have all day to waste because you can't make up your mind." The heated discussion continued and concluded with the girl's mother saying, "That's it! I am never taking you shopping again!" That phrase sent a chill down my spine. It took everything in my power to keep from bursting from my fitting room and admonish that mother; tell her that I would give anything to have my daughter alive so that she could cause that so-called "inconvenience" that obviously hers was causing her. I then realized that in this woman's agitated state it would only fall on deaf ears. It has been four and a half years since my daughter died and I still go into the shops that we frequented and see some adorable outfit hanging on one of the mannequins and think, "Nina would have loved that." She was my shopping buddy. She could never say no to an invitation to go shopping. And it wasn't just shopping for herself that she loved. From the time she was very young, she loved buying gifts for others. She would scrape whatever money she had saved from birthdays, etc. to buy a small gift for each of us. Interestingly, the gift she gave me our last Christmas together was an angel. At that time I had not even started the angel collection that I have now since she died.
Be prepared to find "gifts" from your children when you unpack your Christmas decorations for the first time. It seemed as if each box I opened there was something left there from her, something that I had long forgotten about: one box contained a picture of her in a Santa hat…smiling that brilliant braces-laden grin, another her carefully crafted handmade ornaments, another one a hand-written card in her just-learning-to-print handwriting, and on and on…so many memories. I realized that in a sense, these were Nina's gifts to me now that she wasn't physically here. She was giving me the gifts of memories…beautiful memories that were given in love. Those memories will only increase in value as the years go on. They are invaluable because they are yours and yours alone…no one can ever take those priceless memories away. Though they may hurt now and probably always will but not as intensely, give yourself a gift…the gift of emotion and allow those healing tears to fall. Give yourself time to grieve.
If I could give each of you a gift I would want to give you the gift of peace, as much peace as you can possibly find. And the hope that you can remember some of the joy and love that was yours from Christmases past.
Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving seemed to mean the most to our Daughter Natalie. When she was small she would get up with me early Thanksgiving morning and she would help me make the fixings for the stuffing. I would toast the bread and she would tear it up into small pieces. After all the ingredients were added and the turkey finally went into the oven we would push the cranberry "log" out of the can and cut it into slices. It would soon be time for the Macy’s parade and we would all sit around the television wondering when we would see Snoopy or Hello Kitty.
My job caused us to move far away from where all our family lived. Sometimes we would have friends or family from out of town but many times we did not. It didn’t seem to make any difference because we had each other and the thoughts of the Thanksgiving Dinner.
When Natalie went off to college I would look forward to the Thanksgiving break like I was a kid counting the days until Christmas. It was a six hour drive to pick her up from school and all the while I thought about how she would describe what the Thanksgiving dinner would be like. She always would make a list to make sure we didn’t forget anything. After Thanksgiving Dinner we had a few movies we always watched. Our favorite was "Christmas Story". We all knew the story by heart, but we laughed just the same.
In October 1997 we took her to the Hospital in a place far from home. She was doing well I enough that she could come back to our apartment for the Thanksgiving Holiday. I had decided that no matter what it took, I was going to cook Thanksgiving dinner just like every year. As always, Natalie made the list and I made the dinner. She couldn’t help me with the stuffing because she had to go back to the hospital for a couple of hours. But when she returned we had our dinner and her Mama and I were pleased that she ate so much of everything. The next morning we heard her in the kitchen searching for the leftover stuffing.
That was the last Thanksgiving we had together before Natalie left us. As it was last year, there is no one to pick up at school, no one to make the list or help with the stuffing bread. But Natalie’s Mama and I intend to make the big Thanksgiving dinner according to our Daughter’s specifications like we always have. We know that somewhere, Natalie will be sharing the Holiday with us and is thinking about the leftovers she will enjoy the day after.
I am thankful that these memories of Natalie are more wonderful each time they come into my mind.
In Memory of our Daughter Natalie
(5-11-75 - 1-22-98)
The last Christmas that Chris was alive, my husband asked what I wanted for Christmas. I told him I wanted a bottle of Poison (perfume, not arsenic). My son Trinity also asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him a bottle of Poison. My daughter-in-law asked me as well and so did my parents. I told them all the same thing. Chris never asked what I wanted and since he had JUST started his job I wouldn't think of suggesting he buy me anything for Christmas. I just wanted him to take care of his car payment, insurance etc. The 'important' things. On Christmas morning, my parents gave me a cookbook and candy. My son and daughter-in-law gave me a sweater and dishtowels, my husband gave me a bottle of Passion (close but no cigar) and everyone else gave me everything BUT the Poison. When Chris gave me my gift from him I was shocked that he had even shopped. Between school and work, I didn't know he had time. Between the car payment and insurance I didn't know he had the money. When I opened the box, there it was, my bottle of Poison. I said to him, "How did you know that's what I wanted? I never mentioned it to you." And he said to me, "Duh, I KNOW what you wear!" Bless his heart. That's the way Chris always was.
(This has nothing to do with holidays....but I had to share) When Chris was barely 16 I was in the hospital for a few days. My family all came bearing gifts, from flowers to candy to magazines to stuffed animals. Chris came bearing a bomb pop (my favorite) in his pocket. Needless to say by the time he reached the hospital it had almost completely melted in his pocket. His response was, "Well you didn't want me speeding did you?"
Ricki Z, Omaha, NE
On October 2,1993 our Daughter Teresa died of a cardiac arrest at age 25. Because of this, I'd like to tell you all this story of:
This is a very true story of a beautiful butterfly that came to comfort my husband Ronnie and I. One day in mid December 1996, I had made several butterfly magnets to give to all of my Compassionate Friends at our Group (of other bereaved parents), Candlelight Meeting, But as luck would have it , we were both sick with the flu and sore throats, I was feeling very depressed and very lonely that evening, and around 10:30 PM. a beautiful orange and brown butterfly came to me and landed on my leg, I woke my husband up and immediately, the butterfly flew over to him and landed on his shoulder,, then flew back to me, and then back to him again, this happened several times, and I called my friend Gusty, who suggested that I take a picture of it with a camera that had the date on it. As I clicked the camera, the butterfly disappeared, and we never found it again that evening.
The next morning though, it was in a puddle of water in my sink of dirty dishes, thinking it was just a scrap of food, I picked it up to dispose of and I saw the little antenna move ever so slightly, I reached and got a paper towel and blotted the water off as good as I could and put the butterfly into a glass gallon sized jar, and gave it a few drops of water on one side of the jar, and a piece of apple scrapings on the other side to get nectar from. The butterfly lived happily and fluttered around in her new home for 5 days, on a table, under a light between Ronnie and myself, and on the 5th day we were to travel to our other daughter Cindy's house for Christmas with her and her family in South Carolina, so we took our butterfly with us. Then on a warm Christmas day, we turned her loose, she flew a few feet, then stopped, then flew a few more, I had the feeling, that even though she wanted to be free, she didn't really want to leave us.
That same Christmas, My daughter Cindy, gave me a small little trinket dish with a butterfly picture on it and a verse that said "Happiness, like a butterfly, settles upon you when you least expect it." In the trinket dish there was a note she had written to me before she wrapped it up that said , "Mom,This is from Teresa's things, I know if she had known you loved butterflies so much, she would have given it to you herself." The strange thing about this, is that Cindy did not know about the Butterfly at the time she wrapped the little trinket dish as a gift to me.
There was also another incident that happened after this that is very meaningful to me, about 2 weeks later, my sister-in -law, Sheryl and I were driving past a church in a nearby town and as I was telling her the story about the butterfly and the trinket dish, and just as I looked up at a sign in front of a church, I noticed it said,, "IF you think you need a sign from God, this is it . I truly do believe that God had sent us this butterfly as a sign of comfort from our daughter Teresa, who had died a little over three years before. I'd also like to add that the butterfly is also the symbol of The Compassionate Friends, as a sign of the living spirit and rebirth..
Over the past few years we have experienced many butterfly "happenings"which includes last December, Christmas of 1999, as we planned our trip to Cindy's house again for another Christmas we had another beautiful orange and brown butterfly appear, and we also kept it in a jar and took it to South Carolina again with us and set it free. This is just too much of a coincidence not to be a sign from God and Teresa. We live in Central Indiana, and everyone knows it's just too cold for butterflies in December.
Jackie Wesley Miami-Whitewater/ East Central Indiana Chapters of TCF
I read the butterfly stories and felt I had to share this. My story isn't about a butterfly, but about a feather. This past Saturday, I was missing my son so much. Ratt (20) has only been gone for nine months, and with the holidays approaching and as each day goes by, my heart gets heavier. Each time I go into a store to buy gifts for my two step-sons, I end up leaving there in tears thinking about all I wasn't going to buy for Ratt this year. No snuggle socks (our Christmas Eve tradition), no CD's, nothing.
Anyway, on Saturday, as I was going through some pictures, I started wondering why he left us. His cause of death was listed as suicide, even though he died under very "suspicious" circumstances. I was going through the why's. If he did kill himself, why. I kept asking him in my mind, did you hate me so much son that you had to leave me. Did you not know how much I loved you? Did you not know that we would have been there for you no matter what. And on and on I went.
I decided to go on a cleaning spree and had just washed and waxed my floor. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my husband about 30 minutes later and I looked down and there was this pure white feather. Not a bird feather, not a duck feather, just a beautiful white angel feather. And there is no way I could not have missed that feather while I was washing and then waxing the floor, but there it was, beautiful, white and pure. And I knew then that my son was there with me and left me that feather as a reminder that he is with me and he does love me and he is now an angel, my favorite of all things.
I still hurt so bad. And the days are getting worse. But I look at that feather and at least I know for just a moment, he was there.
Deborah Odom, Jersey, Georgia Angel Ratt's Momma (4/22/79 - 2/4/00)
I am acutely aware that autumn is here. As I write this, the air coming through my window is crisper and the leaves are taking on the golden and scarlet hues of the season. The shorts and tee shirts, which were the summer mainstay of the neighborhood children, are being replaced by sweats and flannels. Pumpkins are replacing pink flamingos as lawn ornaments. The beauty of nature is at its most spectacular. It is unmistakably here, welcome or not...
This will be my fifth autumn, to be followed by my fifth holiday season without my daughter Nina. I find that I am far enough along in my grief to find memories to smile about now, but still close enough to remember those first few years and the piercing stab of pain in my heart that went along with them. Halloween, with memories of the costume party she threw when she was 10 years old, the major production she made out of what she would wear as a trick-or-treater, and as she got older, her enjoyment in passing out candy to neighborhood goblins. Then came Thanksgiving, one of my favorites. I liked the idea of family and friends gathering together with no other purposes other than eating until you nearly exploded and being thankful for each other and the blessings of the past year. No presents required, just the joy of family togetherness - and the knowledge that my children were here, all of them. On that first Thanksgiving the empty chair and place at the table seemed to scream out at me that someone precious was missing. And the message of this particular holiday was thankfulness? What on earth could I ever find to be thankful for?
Some TCF parents have memories of being unable to choke down any morsel of food because they were continually trying to choke back tears that first Thanksgiving. Just wanting to curl up in a ball, pull the covers over their heads, and wake up some time in January after the last remnants of the holidays were cleared away. In all honesty, I cannot tell you even one detail of that first one: where I spent it, who was present, where I was, if I cried all day…I remember nothing.
I do remember three months after Nina had died, though. On a visit to my neurologist I tearfully told him of my depression over her death. His response to me was "Why don't you count your blessings rather than your sorrows? Think happy thoughts and maybe you won't feel so sad." I, of course, asked him if he had ever lost a child. He had not…obviously. Only someone uneducated in the school of grief would say something like that. Almost five Thanksgiving's later, have I found reasons to be thankful? I asked myself this question and decided to put pen to paper. I was surprised to say the list was quite lengthy, so I will only share a few of them. I am thankful for: - My loving family, and the welcomed joyful additions in the last few years. - My memory, because now the painful memories are, more often than not, replaced with the beautiful memories of the past, and they were such beautiful memories. - My life, for whom else will keep Nina's memory alive? Of course, my family, but they have lives, as they should. I am the self-appointed keeper of my daughter's memory. - Nina. The joy of loving her, the privilege of being her mother. Though I wish it had been much longer, I wouldn't trade those 15 ½ years for anything. - Smiling a genuine smile, laughing a hardy laugh, and finding my sense of humor again. I sincerely believe that Nina likes to hear me laugh and that she would want me to find humor in life again. - My sight, because I commented (for the first time in five autumns) on the magnificent colors of the autumn foliage and the grandness of Minnesota's most sumptuous season. I didn't think I'd ever notice again. But I did. - The Compassionate Friends, who showed me there is life after the death of a child; who allowed me to express my emotions, listened patiently, understood my pain, and welcomed me into their hearts. They helped salvage what remained of my sanity and I will be eternally grateful. - The opportunity to give back, through TCF meetings and this newsletter. To bring hope to the newly bereaved in the knowledge that it won't always hurt this bad, and that you will make it with the love and support of family and your Compassionate Friends. And, that there will come a time that you too will find things to be thankful for again.
I am told, by those who know, that peace and acceptance are that light we are searching for at the end of the tunnel. Though I find myself still looking for it at times, those further down the grief road have reassured me it will come. Maybe not this Thanksgiving or next, but that it will. And I believe them…
With gentle thoughts,
Cathy Seehuetter, St. Paul, MN - TCF
I am Joanne, Ryan Gallant's mom from Alberta, Canada. First I would like to say what a great help it has been to have this group of TCF on line. It will be four years since my son Ryan was killed in an accident. I have and still go through what you all talk about, as far as people would rather cross the street than risk hearing me bring up Ryan's name, and if his name does come up before they can escape, then there is this awful silence until some one suggests that I should be over it by now. I will never get over it.
I thought I would share with everyone what my family does for the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving was our last family dinner together, it was on October 13 in 1996, and on October 20, our lives changed forever.
Thanksgiving was always a very special holiday for us. We still have the big dinner and invite all the people with nowhere else to go, but we do something very special on the Monday following Thanksgiving.
Today, October 8 is Thanksgiving in Canada, and everyone will be here. Tomorrow we will clean the highway one mile south and one mile north of where we live, in memory of Ryan. We adopted this section of highway in the summer of 1997 and have been cleaning it every Thanksgiving since. It is the day when we are all together again, as each of us feels Ryan very close to us.
Doing this cleanup is what gets me through the actual day of Thanksgiving , I look so forward to the cleanup day, that the actual Thanksgiving day goes by quite fast. Up here when you adopt a section of highway, the county puts up signs that say, in our case, In Memory Of Ryan Gallant with the provincial flowers in the background. I don't know if you have the same program in the States, but I thought I would mention it in case. Ryan was a rodeo cowboy who loved the outdoors, and each of my other kids and myself know how he approves of this cleanup done in his memory. Please think of us, and say a little prayer for Ryan on October 20. Thanks again for all the great support you all have given me these years.
Ryan's mom, Joanne
Thanksgiving was Chad’s favorite holiday. He loved the food and the football games without the hassle of all the Christmas going ons. I have so many memories of Thanks-givings past. I remember the last Thanksgiving we were together. Chad called me from Alabama and said he and Mandy were on their way to Atlanta and to please save him something to eat. I said "of course I will save you some-thing to eat, but I thought you were eating with Mandy’s family?" Chad said "Mom, I think they make their stuffing with "GRITS"….need I say more? Just save me some."
That really made me feel good. He loved my Southern Cornbread Dressing, Turkey, Ham, and all the fixins. We enjoyed so much just being together and preparing the dinner and enjoying the meal.
Chad died in September of 1996. Thanksgiving came way too fast. For those who have gone through their first Thanksgiving you know the feelings I am describing. Everything seems to go in slow motion with the inability to move forward…. the heaviness and the physical and mental fatigue… the pain in your heart, the lump in your throat and the tears in your eyes. No, I did not want Thanksgiving to come this year or ever again. My daughter was away at school and I knew she would be coming home. My mother was struggling with lung cancer and I knew there would not be many more Thanksgivings with her. What do I do? I think we all decided that if we could just go through the motions it would be better than doing nothing and I think we all did it for each other.
I cried the whole time I was preparing the meal. I do not remember anything other than the tears. Several friends wanted to join us for Thanksgiving that year and they volunteered to bring a turkey and dessert. I readily accepted their offer.
We gathered together at noon, my husband said the blessing (which I really had a hard time with) and then I wanted to read a poem in Chad’s memory. I asked everyone if they would bear with me as I read this. Several times I could not speak. The words would not come, but I was determined that I was going to read this poem. When I neared the end of the poem I felt the lump in my throat and I knew I was going to start crying out loud. As soon as I finished I got up from the table and left the room.
There was dead silence. No one spoke a word. Then I heard one of our friends say "Look at that butterfly. I can’t believe there is a butterfly this time of year. And he looks at though he wants to come in. He is hitting himself against the glass door."
My tears turned from sadness to tears of joy. I knew that was Chad. I knew he had come to get some of my Cornbread Dressing. The only regret that I have is that I did not let him come in. I knew if I went back to the dining room and told my friends that was Chad they really would think I was crazy. If I had to do it over again….it wouldn’t matter but at that time I had not gotten involved with TCF or did not know another bereaved parent….so to me my "crazy thoughts" were just that and I thought they probably were not normal.
We do not have butterflies in Atlanta in late November. I choose to believe it was a sign from my son.
This will be our fifth Thanksgiving with out him. The pain has softened. My tears do not come as often. The memories are sweeter. My heart is a little lighter. My love for my son is as strong as ever. I feel his presence in everything I do. I do not fear I will forget anymore. I know he is with me.
This Thanksgiving my plan is to make a LARGE pan of my southern cornbread dressing along with Chad's favorite Ham recipe and take these to the hospital to share with my daughter, who is an RN, and all the staff in the PICU at Children’s Hospital – Egleston Campus and the parents who are spending Thanksgiving with their children in the Intensive Care Unit. For some, this will be their last Thanksgiving with their own children.
The staff at the Children’s Hospital work very long and stressful hours. They are away from their own families on this holiday to take care of the children who are in the hospital. I feel this is a way I can help others and also include some precious memories of my Thanksgivings past with my own son and daughter. I am looking forward to this very much and I am thankful I can be with my daughter.
I wish for those of you who are facing your First Thanksgiving that you can read this and know that it will get better. You will find joy again. There is hope. The love will always remain and your child will always be with you. Of course, it is not like we hoped it would be but it can be good. Our children will always be a "present" part of our lives ….they will not be forgotten.
I pray you find peace this holiday season. I pray your sorrows will soften and your memories bring smiles. I pray you will be able to enjoy your other family members. I pray you know you are not alone.
In Memory of All Our Children
Jayne Newton , TCF Atlanta, Ga
In Memory of Chad Gordon 5/21/72 - 9/3/96
To share your Thanksgiving Memories, please email