|For many, Christmas is not the season it once was. (Rendering: www.eventbrite.com.au )|
Daniel departed like smoke the day after Thanksgiving at the beginning of the Christmas season, now seven years ago. To anyone who has experienced particularly the sudden loss of a child of someone close, then you know. We never simply "get over" life's cruelest losses. We simply find a way to coexist and continue trudging along.
Particularly during the holiday season when the holiday music plays that I heard those seven years ago, I recall those first days and weeks without him. There was no surprise greater than the sudden death of a child who was felt to be well and who had just had a clean physical. But there were many other surprises afterward. The first one is that a child who has died can have a perfectly normal autopsy at one of the county's best university medical centers. Who knew that there are functional issues, particularly with the conduction system of the heart which don't necessarily show up on autopsy. When such things happen, the detail of the passing, the position of the person, and details about the passing become important in the pathologist's best guess as to what happened. Sometimes, learning all the things which didn't or couldn't have happened, is no help. We wish to know what did.
Other surprises included the reactions of people we knew and our friends. Our pediatrician, our allergist, and the cardiologist one of our other family members had were truly wonderful. The helicopter team from the University of Virginia who attended Daniel's code were highly professional and very kind. The sheriff's office was compassionate and professional. Their investigation was as respectful as was possible given the circumstances. Surprises included the funeral home which handed me the bill for the funeral, two days after my child's death, just before the service. (What was wrong with afterward, or popping the bill in the mail ?) Other surprises included some of the bizarre if not cruel things ministers of different faiths said in the intervening weeks. Yes, it's true that a few of them were supportive. However, am I asking too much for all of them to have some skill or training in bereavement ? After all, everyone dies, and all of us will experience the loss of someone we love in our lifetimes. Why is comforting someone in bereavement so difficult for ministers ? Nurses navigate this, sometimes with more skill. Most surprising were the responses of our friends and acquaintances. Some people with whom we were acquainted, and in some cases that I did not necessary like much, were absolutely wonderful to us. Anyone who knew the loss of a child or of a sibling went out of their way to send a kind word or to be available to us in some way in those first weeks. Conversely, some of our closest friends at that time simply couldn't cope with the death of a child they knew, and we lost them forever.
We have an entirely new constellation of friends seven years later. We do have friends we have known for thirty years who weathered Daniel's loss with us. We also have friends we have acquired from that time or afterward. We also have a surprising number of friends who have lost children.
Remember as you navigate this holiday season that over time, most of us experience either an expected or a surprise passing during the Thanksgiving or Christmas season. As you experience the joy of the season, please remember those families for whom the season is a bit harder. For some of us, snow is seen as frozen tears, and cold days remind us of days huddled around the kitchen table eating casserole brought by a friend which tastes like our own tears, traced back to a day of loss. Don't be afraid to include those who have endured a loss. You can't fix it for them, but just the attempt to include them will help.
Merry Christmas, my friends.