by Jennifer Scalise
The holiday season is an emotionally challenging time for those of us struggling with the loss of a loved one. As a mother who has endured and survived the loss of her daughter I can relate to missing a loved one in the midst of the festivities and celebrations of the season— a time rich in family tradition typically spent with those you love.
In our household, the holidays always started early. Halloween typically marked the kickoff. From then on we excitedly decorated and prepared for Christmas. I loved the magical feeling and could not get enough of it! Holiday tunes played in our cars and throughout our home from the first of November all the way through to New Year’s Day— literally to the point those around me couldn’t tolerate it any longer. I went overboard both inside and out. I decorated the front of the house, the back of the house, and put up four Christmas trees; one that stood two stories tall and took days to decorate! Preparations began early because it literally took us weeks to finish all we needed to do.
From the time they were young, Blake and Brooke enjoyed the traditions of the holiday. They loved decorating the big tree most of all. Putting the massive tree together branch by branch was an exhausting task that took forever but the anticipation made it that much more special! Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Reindeer, Jingle Bells, and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town played loudly making the kids excited that the holidays were finally here! Paige being several years younger loved to tease and be a stinker during the decorating. You would constantly hear Blake screaming, “NO, NO” and then Brooke giggling as she adored everything Paige did. Paige had a personality of her own, her favorite Christmas song that we had to listen to over and over was of Pluto barking “Deck the Halls”.
Paige, now nine, is at an age where the holidays still mean so much to her. She is like me in many ways and already the first of November is singing “Silver Bells” boisterously throughout the house and watching various Christmas You Tube Videos. She makes me laugh and because of her enthusiasm I have of course already started pulling out the decorations, but I go into the season apprehensively. Blake struggles with change to begin with and I know it is so hard on him because he and Brooke were always so close. Although Blake and Paige both bring me tremendous joy and mean more to me than anything, I am sure I will always feel heavy-hearted to some degree during Christmas missing Brooke.
Brooke was my little elf and loved helping me prepare for the season. She loved to shop with me and help me wrap presents, especially for Paige. I miss her so much during this time. I do most of it alone now and that is hard but I want Christmas to have meaning for Paige and Blake. Regardless of what we have been through, we still have a lot to be thankful for—mostly each other and the wonderful twelve years we were blessed to have Brooke.
Brooke had a passion for Christ that came from within. At the age of four her Christmas artwork was drawings of nativity scenes not Christmas trees or Santa. This was impressive considering we weren’t a family that attended church. I look back and put together the many puzzle pieces of her life and it is evident the plan was in place all along. I have accepted Brooke’s life was destined as a sign of faith and hope for others.
She has proven to me in many ways that her soul is still with me. I used to hope God and Heaven were real. Now I know for sure. Brooke had an unselfish love for all and would want nothing more than for me to share my journey and her story with others during the holidays as a means of hope and inspiration.
Over the years our traditions have changed some, as has my outlook on life general. I no longer see the need to put up four Christmas trees but instead focus on the things that make me feel the happiest. I still decorated two trees the first year after Brooke passed feeling compelled to do my best to at least keep up with the tradition of the kid’s tree and a formal tree but then I learned it was okay to change things and have since decided the one huge tree is more than sufficient. I no longer decorate it formally as I used to, but instead proudly hang all the ornaments the kids made me over the years, many handmade with love by Brooke. I love seeing them and thinking back to the wonderful memories associated each of them. Many of the ornaments have the kid’s pictures in them bringing me joy and more reminders of past memories. The photos help me feel close to Brooke and make her presence even stronger at a time I desperately need it. There have been many angels and cross ornaments added the last few years. As fate would have it, there already were several angel ornaments with Brooke’s name on them given to her as gifts in previous years before she passed.
The first Christmas after she was gone was definitely the hardest. I dreaded Christmas shopping without or for Brooke and procrastinated and pushed it all off until the very end. My mom and I did it together in one day. I found myself wandering into stores feeling drawn to buy presents for Brooke like I normally would; I cried the entire time. On Christmas Day when the kids left to go spend part of the day with their Dad I ended up spending hours in Brooke’s bed crying my eyes out not sure how I was going to get up and entertain and host Christmas for my family.
Last year, was easier and I imagine this year things will be even a little better. We have introduced some new traditions and some we realize the importance of not changing. Brooke is clearly on all of our minds and close in our hearts on Christmas and we manage to still feel joy and love as we celebrate the special meaning of the season.
I have been told by other bereaved parents who have lost children many years ago that they now look forward to Christmas again and don’t feel the anxiety they once did. The presence of grandchildren seems to be a turning point for many. I long for those days.
My advice for those suffering a recent loss is to anticipate and prepare for the holidays to be tough, especially in the beginning. Recognize what traditions will make you feel closer to your loved one and what traditions will be overwhelmingly sad and avoid those until and if you can someday handle them again. Balance what is important to you and other family members as you may have different feelings as we all grieve our own way. I enjoy keeping Brooke’s spirit alive and like to talk about her, but those not familiar with loss often find it uncomfortable. In my home and especially on Christmas Brooke will be remembered and her presence well known.
In past years we have all shared stories of our favorite Brooke memories and I hope this year to finally as a group be able to watch holiday home movies together, I think we are finally ready.
Brooke has always had an unselfish love for all and it brings me great peace each time her story helps others. I wish you all much peace and strength during the upcoming holiday season. ~ Jennifer
About the Author: About the Author: Jennifer L. Scalise is a devoted, single mother who resides in St. Charles, Missouri with her two children, Blake (17) and Paige (8). After the accidental death of her 12-year-old daughter in 2009, Jennifer brought to life the Brooke Scalise Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has awarded over 50 church camp scholarships to a diverse group of youth in honor of Brooke. Alongside her efforts in building awareness regarding the dangers of traveling to third world countries, Scalise is an active member of Concerned Families for ATV Safety and continues to share her strength with others who have lost a loved one through various national and regional grief organizations. Prior to writing, Jennifer worked with the same fortune 500 company, FIS, as Vice President of Sales.
Another article by Jennifer: Learning to Dance in the Rain (ATM accident)