Sunday, December 16, 2012

Life goes on. How to celebrate in times of grief.

Believe me, I totally understand the sentiment that 'we' should not be so happy about the holidays when 26 families are preparing to bury loved ones after the school shooting in CT.  I've been on their side.  Thus, I feel I can offer a little perspective from experience.  Granted, everyone copes differently.  Still, I offer this:

When I was the one with a wide open wounded heart, preparing to bury my child just days before Christmas, seeing festivities around me, hearing Christmas songs, seeing people happy, they were all like salt in the wound.  It hurt like hell.  I won't lie.  Those families are in a living hell right now.  It's a process and they all have to do it their own way and in their own time.  That is part of grieving.  Truth be told, it all STILL bothers the crap out of me.  I've learned to tolerate it better.  I've found a new 'normal'.  You have to.  They will, too.  With time and love.

Those who have lost any loved one recently must grieve.  The holidays are always hard, but especially difficult when the loss is so close to the holiday itself.  The only way out, is through.  They will do so surrounded by their family, friends and community.  We, the rest of those who feel their collective pain, can choose to do something constructive to show our support.  It helps both us and them.  I offer these suggestions:

  • Purchase a toy for a child and donate it to Toys for Tots
  • Donate clothing to the Red Cross for disaster victims
  • Donate to a memorial fund, but make sure it is legitimate before you do
  • Donate to a charity in memory of someone you know or one of the victims of this tragedy
  • Purchase or make a card to send to the Sandy Hook School community to show your support, involve your children in this.
  • Enroll your kids in the RadKids program in your community to educate and empower them (and you)
  • Treat each other with love, respect, and tolerance.  Everyone.  Always.
  • If you practice Reiki or energy healing, send some their way
  • Say a prayer if that resonates with you
  • Light candles and say each of their names out loud.  
  • Talk with your kids.  You might be surprised what they know, hear and think.  They need your support and unconditional love.  Answer their questions.  Be as honest as you can be for their age.  Reassure them but don't make promises you can't keep.  
  • Do something nice for a complete stranger.  Random acts of kindness go a long way for you and for that person you just showered kindness upon.

One of the most beautiful things we can do to honor those lost and those mourning their loss, is to hold those near and dear to us close and celebrate togetherness, love and family.  What better time than the highest of holidays this season?  We should all be celebrating LIFE.  The entire nation just got a wake up call as to how short and sudden our loved ones could be gone.  None of us are immune to sudden death, regardless of the cause. With holiday stories and celebrations about miracles galore, it seems to me now is most definitely a time to celebrate and rejoice.  You can do both at the same time.

Today, my family and I ran a 5k.  It's called the Jingle Bell Run.  It's my third year doing so, their second.  5000+ runners, most in costume, with bells on, literally, run for FUN.  There are smiles galore, laughter, happiness and helpfulness.  It's the happiest race I've ever participated in.  Still, it starts with the national anthem, sung beautifully by a group of young girls.  It was followed by a moment of silence for the victims of the school shooting in CT.  Far more people fell silent for that then did for the anthem.  I saw several people with "In memory of the children from the Sandy Hook School" on their backs.

Once the race started, the focus was on fun.  Contrary to popular belief, you can have fun despite a heaviness in your heart.  In fact, it's quite healing.  I smiled nearly the entire way seeing all the costumes people chose, seeing groups of friends and family sticking together.  Talking, laughing, walking, singing...Sure, there were some seeded runners who were probably done before I was finished with the first mile, but even they had red and green shorts and T's on and a Santa hat!

Last year, it happened to fall on Meghan's anniversary.  I thought long and hard about running it.  I registered, knowing it would be a spur of the moment decision.  I opted to run it.  My heart was heavy.  But I thought about what Meghan would have done, what she would have wanted me to do. I thought about her joyful spirit, her love of Christmas, her love of running.  I would do it for her.  I wore an angel costume.  What would be more appropriate?  My time was not the best, but I didn't care.  I did it for Meghan.  As soon as I heard the first little girl (of many) exclaim "Look mommy!  She's an angel!!!" I knew I made the right decision.  I won't tell you I didn't run with tears in my eyes at times, but I did smile more than I thought was possible on such a painful anniversary day.

This year, I opted for a Mrs. Claus outfit.  I ran with my Santa and my little wise man.  My oldest son is too cool to listen to his mother about dressing for the weather and way too cool to dress up.  He was cold and one of the very few not dressed for the occasion.  He also ran the fastest of us all!  As we took our place in the starting corral (at the 10 min pace marker) I took photos of the crowd before us and the crowd behind us.  We enjoyed observing all the costumes people had chosen.  Some were amazingly creative and fun.  To name a few there were many Santas and elves, an entire team of reindeer complete with a sleigh with Santa, two guitarists and drummer who played and ran and sang all at the same time!  There were menorahs and dreidels, presents and Christmas trees, a chimney, a Scrooge, a Grinch, elves with signs that read "I run to free slave elves", some chickens, a snowman or three, a bunch of random reindeer, an angel, festive red and green costumes galore, and even a sled dog team complete with sled!  The Ibominable finished right before I did.  I have to say, my favorite family was the parents who ran as Mary and Joseph and in their jogging stroller was their own baby Jesus, complete on a bed of hay!  They had a cow and some wise men who ran along with them, of course.

The spectators cheered and smiled.  They pointed and took photos.  The little kids watching were awestruck.  No one felt silly in their costumes. In fact, many proudly wore them into one of the many bars, pubs and restaurants on the course after the race! The spectators and those just stopped in traffic to allow the runners the width of the road (because it was needed!) probably had a full 15 minutes of runners going by to make them smile today.  The finish line seemed to come more quickly than most.  Not that I actually ran any faster than I normally do, I just enjoyed it more.

We decided to carry the spirit further.  We drove closer to home and went to the local Olive Garden for lunch.  We kept our costumes on.  Let me tell you, this world needs a better sense of humor and holiday spirit!  If we made one person smile, it was worth it.

If I can participate in something frivolous and fun just days before the anniversary of the worst day of my life, surely you can find the spirit of the holidays in your heart and focus your energy on the celebration of life.  Remember those who have left us too soon and do something to honor them.  Don't neglect yourself or your family in the process, though.

Jingle all the way!  Or, as Meghan would've said, Tinker Bell all the way!  ;-)


  1. I have four daughters. We will secure all our furniture. I had no idea the smaller dressers could be a danger. I am so so sorry for the loss of your Meggie. I have hope that in the next life you will be able to raise your sweet toddler up as you do your other children now. My heart goes out to you for your pain. God bless you.

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