by Sandy Richards
The holidays are a cheerful time of celebration, introspection and family togetherness. Gifts are purchased, cookies are baked and loved ones gather to honor the reason for the season. However, when your child is not among those who are reveling in the joy, the holiday season takes on a life of its own. As you place an ornament on the tree or wrap a gift that doesn’t bear your child’s name, the pain digs a little deeper into what is left of your tattered soul. As years pass, the memories change from ones that break your heart to those that eventually warm your soul. As you recall the traditions and family gatherings, your child becomes a nostalgic gift gently placed under your family tree.
My sixteen year old son, Tyler Jordan Richards, lost his life in a car accident on September 21, 2003 just three months shy of the holiday he loved the most. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and every day in between, are tarnished during the “year of firsts” with a hint of heartache and a muted sheen of hope. The following passage from my book, A Far Cry…From Home, takes a look at that first year…through the eyes of my “angel” who will forever be…sixteen years old.
“Friends—everyone needs them, but not everyone has them. I am one of the lucky ones. My friends are the absolute best. The way they have taken care of Mom, Dad, and Austin has been awesome. There are so many firsts after a death. For my family, it started with Halloween, which was always a blast. Uncle Ron and Aunt Sonja would come over and we’d carve pumpkins. Uncle Ron is a whiz with a carving knife. He made some masterpieces. From my first Halloween as a baby ghost with the word Boo pinned on my chest, through the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle phase to the goofy Elvis costume, I loved trick-or-treating. We hid a lot of chocolate and gummy worms so Mom wouldn’t delegate how much we could eat.
Then came November and Thanksgiving; that first year, there was an empty chair and a missing plate instead of the mindless chatter that I always brought to any party. I love Granny’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a big chunk of raw onion. I guess that is the hillbilly side of me coming out. Mom was pretty out of it and didn’t say too much; the tears welled in her eyes all day. The only thing that brought her temporarily out of her funk were the texts and phone calls from my friends wishing her a Happy Thanksgiving. Like I said before, I have the best of friends. They watched out for my family just like I would have if the situation had been reversed. Mom’s birthday was next on the calendar. She slept most of the day, but Austin was with her, which made her happy.
Next came the King Kong daddy holiday of them all, the first Christmas without me. Cameron, Mark, Ray, Tiffany, Stephanie and Sean all tried hard to make that first Christmas special. I guess they didn’t realize that they were spinning their wheels trying to make Mom snap out of the pain. Although it cut like a knife, Mom still tried to be upbeat for Austin. She had to protect her baby boy who was hurting just as much as she was.
From the time I was buried, there was never a day that Mom didn’t come out to the cemetery and sit with me. It got so much harder on her as the weather got colder. She would cry heavy tears because she didn’t want me to be cold. If I could only have shared with her that being in Heaven was being in paradise. No coldness, no sadness, no emptiness—it was and is just perfect. It made my heart ache to watch her as she talked to me and cried for me; eventually she would go home and cry some more. One night, she was on her knees in front of my headstone. I knew what she wanted to do and I couldn’t stop her. The desire to dig in the dirt to get to me was overwhelming for her. She stopped herself and collapsed into a puddle of misery that blended into the dark starless night. It was those times that I would send a chilling wind her way to make her get back in her car and go home. It just wasn’t right for her to be out that late at night alone. I know she was just waiting for the punch line of the joke to pull her out of this nightmare and feel my arms wrap around her in a silent hug.
Next on the list was New Year’s Eve. That was a big holiday for our family. We would cook up some crab legs and filets, and at midnight we all made a wish and cheered each other with a sip of champagne. Austin and I thought that was pretty cool. What we didn’t know is that ours was diluted with soda water, but it was still great to be included in such a special tradition. Every New Year’s Eve since I’ve been gone, Mom has visited the cemetery just after midnight to do a toast with me. I even get my own little split of champagne that she uses to toast my memory, as she pours it over the frozen ground between her heart and mine.”
As the holidays grow near, we find ourselves hurting and longing for life as it once was when our child was a vibrant part of our world. In death as in life, everyone makes choices.
We can choose to languish in despair and make friends with our grief. Or, we can choose to hope, smile, and remember what is truly important: the lives of those we love, and to honor them in our living.
My holiday present this year is a treasure chest of preserved memories wrapped in anticipation of seeing my son again; fastened with a “Tyler bow” and carefully placed within the heart of this loving mother.
About the Author: Sandy Richards is a devoted mom and freelance writer who has experienced and survived the loss of a child. Living through her ordeal allows her to connect with grieving parents in a positive manner. She strives each day to inspire children through her work in a local school district while believing in the importance of sharing a smile with everyone she meets. Sandy lives with her husband and their sons in West Bloomfield, MI. Visit her online at Sandy Richards. Her book, A Far Cry…From Home can be obtained through her website, FriesenPress and Amazon and is available in all e-book formats.