We invite you to remember your loved ones who have died by committing an act of kindness in their honor. Love, kindness, generosity, sharing, these are the gifts we can give to them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First Post of this Season: Holding Space

As we prepare for this holiday season, the 7th Christmas without our firstborn child, I struggle again to find the elusive balance between holding the true joy and wonder of the season, which I have always loved, and especially as it is reflected in my four and a half year old daughter's eyes, next to the indescribable ache that fills the gaping space in my heart that will never be full again.

I found this quote yesterday by Iris Murdoch: "Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved."  If this is true, and I know that it is, then why do I keep trying to make other people understand what this is like? What it really is to know, to know, to know, in the marrow of my very bones, the absolute agony of the unalterable fact that, no matter how many years upon this earth I walk and live and breathe, and do all the things that living people do, never at any moment will I feel again the shape and softness of my son's warmth in my arms. I remember exactly what it was like to hold him, to smell the top of his head, to feel the soft fuzz of his hair, to kiss his right temple, whose contour fit the shape of my lips perfectly, the weight of him in my arms, heavier and denser than one would imagine such a small baby to be. Never will I see him walk, hear his voice, or gaze with parental pride, or irritation, or any other emotion a parent feels at any given moment in the life of the child they are charged to watch over and whose precious life they are given to guide and guard. Never will  I see him succeed or fail. Never will I know his friends that may have been, or eventual lovers or spouses, or any grandchildren that might have been.  The gaping canyon of what is forever missing is deeper and  vaster than even I, living with it, can imagine. How can I possibly help others to understand? If I were to sit down and try to list all the things I will forever be missing, it would take months, maybe years. I truly can't begin to imagine how long that list could get. I only know that the  canyon is always there. It's echoes reverberate across the years of my life as they stretch out before me. And with that canyon's presence (and our son's absence), I have also chosen to be as fully present in my life as possible, knowing that I may not always be successful, but still moving toward that fullness of presence--even with Theo's absence. I do that for my husband, for my daughter, my mother, my father, my friends, for all the people whose lives touch mine. Theo's absence, and the grief that fills and flows out of that emptiness, exists alongside all the beauty of life. That beauty of life also includes his existence and the incredible sweetness of his beautiful, painful and all too brief life. Because of that, I must be as fully present as possible.
My own life, my living child's, the life of our family does not exist without that space that he should, and in so many ways, does still occupy. We hold open the space that is left behind by his death, the space that he would have filled, should have filled, but which physically will not, and cannot be filled. That space, Theo's space is still open and here. He is as much a part of our family as we can possibly have him be, without his actually being here with us on this plane of existence. And his space is filled with love. It is as treasured as it is suffered. Because of his absence. Our love for him is so great, that to let it go, if that were even possible (which it isn't), would be even more painful than the grief that we endure daily. And of course, I speak entirely of my own experience. Jamie's experience I believe is similar, but it is entirely his. And our daughter Lula's experience of being without her brother, who is absent, but so very present, is also her own and it will shift and change throughout her life. Nonetheless we share that emptiness in our own individual ways, and as his family, will always hold that space.
Sometimes, for me, the balancing and holding is difficult, so hard, so exhausting, and so protracted, that I wish I could just drop the weight of it, or crawl under a heavy cover and sleep it off. But I cannot. Because for me, even if it were possible to do, this would be to deny my child, and the indelible mark that his short, but extraordinary life left upon me and, I believe, upon the world. So, in the holiday season, which has become in so very many ways, something to be gotten through (as much as I dislike that fact, for me, it is a truth), we try to find ways to make the beauty of our child shine a little bit brighter and further. This Stocking Blog is our way of bringing his light to the particular darkness this season inevitably brings. A way of balancing our grief and sorrow with the very real love and joy that we hold in our hearts.

The first Christmas after his death, we were living in a new house. Somehow, his absence here seemed less painful than his absence from the house we lived in before--where he lived, where the brief "firsts" that we did get to experience occurred, where he lay ill, where we tended and cared for him, and where he died, encircled in our arms. Somehow, even from the moment we walked through the door, this house, new to us that first Christmas without him, this place seemed somehow full of Theo-ness. It seemed like his house too, even though he never physically lived here. I decided that I would put up the tree and decorate the house and the lights and the garland and wreaths, just as I would if he were here. I did it for him, and it felt good and right. But when it came time to hang his stocking, I was suddenly stunned into the realization that on Christmas morning there would be nothing there. His stocking would be empty. Or, we would put things in it that we ourselves would take out, and that we ourselves would use, or give away, or tuck away in a drawer. Theo would not have those treats or sweets or toys that other children would be enjoying from their own stockings. And that thought brought another fracture to my already broken heart.

It was December 21st, the Solstice, that I hung his stocking with such care. Looking at it hanging there, flat and empty, looking exactly like I felt, I decided to ask for help. Asking for help was something I had gotten much more used to learning how to do, and I was getting much better at it. This grieving thing is very difficult to do on your own. I went upstairs and I emailed our family and friends and I asked them for help in filling Theo's stocking. This is what I wrote:
"Sometime between now and Christmas, do something nice for someone, no matter how small or large, it doesn't have to involve money--just commit a random act of kindness. When you do it, think of Theo and dedicate that act to him and his sweet spirit. Please write it down and send it to me through e-mail. I won't read it. I will print it out and put it in his stocking and then on Christmas morning, we will open up all the notes and read them. If even only a few of you do this, we will have a really beautiful thing to share on Christmas in our sweet baby's memory and someone else (the recipient of your kindness) will benefit by a true example of the spirit of Christmas. I will pray that all of us will be struck by inspiration, that something will come to each of us, some kindness that we can share of ourselves, in Theo's name and in his memory, to benefit someone else."
We received so many responses, I was stunned as they came to my inbox daily. They came from all over the United States, many from people we didn't even know, because others had forwarded the email on. We spent the day opening the folded pieces of paper that I had printed and placed inside his stocking as I received them throughout the week. Those messages brought so much comfort to us. Knowing people were thinking of him, that he was not forgotten. That so much goodness was being done in his memory. The third year without him, I made his Stocking Kindnesses public by starting this blog.

You can read the original messages if you like by going back to the archived blog entries to the very beginning on my first post dated Monday December 1, 2008.

This year, the 5th year of Theo's Stocking Blog, our 7th Christmas season without him, I once again extend the invitation, to our friends, our family, the whole world at large, to commit a random act of kindness in honor of our child as well as in honor and memory of someone you love who has died. It is in remembering and honoring them that we continue our relationships with them. And it is how we invite others to share in our love for them.

I wish you a season of warmth, light and love,