Loss and how to get through the holidays. Losing my joy.
The holidays are a joyful time in which we connect with our faith, celebrate traditions, and celebrate family. While this is true for most it wasn’t always true for me. You see if I am living in my truth, I lost my joy during the holiday season of 2003. My then 5-year-old son Jakob was in the fight of his life battling a rare form of brain cancer. We spent Thanksgiving in the ICU watching our child clinging to life on a respirator. Praying for our miracle. Jakob would pull through a few days later but that wasn’t the end of his fight. A few short weeks later we were told that there was no more they could do. Jakob's cancer had become resistant to any treatments. We then tried desperately to remember all of the traditions we had with Jakob at Christmas and wanted to be sure we could make them happen for him. We filled his hospital room with family and decorated a small tree with his favorite ornaments. They were mostly plastic army guys, sponge bob and hockey bobblehead figures, and a handmade manger ornament Jakob had made in preschool (my favorite). We loved on him like crazy that year and never left his side.
Before Jakob fell asleep on Christmas Eve, he gave me a huge hug, told me he loved me and asked if I was going to be ok. I assured him that I would and promised he didn’t have to worry about me. Jakob never woke after that evening. He went peacefully in the early hours of December 27th, 2003. The single worst day of my life.
Fast forward to the next holiday season and I was frozen with grief not sure how I would ever celebrate a holiday again. And at first, I didn’t. I closed myself off from others and retreated until all the joy and magic of the season disappeared into cold January. This went on for more years than I’d care to admit. But then, one fall day, five years later, I was overcome with anticipation for the holiday season. I had come to fear the season approaching, knowing it would bring back memories and feelings of loss.
I had always used grief as a shield from the holidays and other joyful events, but this day was different. I felt a need to evaluate that as I remembered a promise I had made to Jakob on his last day here with me...
He didn’t have to worry about me because I was going to be ok.
I wasn’t living this promise and I certainly wasn’t honoring the life of my son. I knew exactly what I had to do and, though it wasn't going to be easy, it was time for me to put up the Christmas tree, feel the memories and celebrate the life that I had with my son.
I dug out Jakob’s little tree and all his ornaments including my favorite - the handmade manger. My heart swelled with love when putting up each ornament and with each, a sweet or funny memory washed over me. I felt joyful again. I had stopped looking at grief as a shield and start to view it as an ocean with waves. I began letting the waves come over me and sometimes I felt knocked down by them but when I let the waves wash over me I realized I was ok. From this holiday season on, I began to speak about the memories of my son with family and friends. By opening up and sharing, the conversations invited something back in that I thought I had lost forever - JOY. If you are reading this and are currently experiencing a BIG wave of grief, I hope it washes over you and you are able to experience joy again even if it is just for a moment. I believe allowing joy back into our lives is the best way to honor the life of the people we lose.
What is the difference between joy and happiness?
Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience but are very different. ... It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.
In 2019, Chelsea's raised $1,550 for The Compass Center from our Empowerment Events and free-will donations. The Compass Center is a non-profit Sioux Falls organization that offers free counseling, therapy, abuse intervention, advocacy and so much more. Thought their mission is heavily geared towards abuse care and prevention, their focus revolves around helping those get through traumatic and life-altering experiences. If you've experienced a loss or are having trouble wading through a situation that's creating trauma in your life...you are not alone. You are loved and cared for and deserve the care you need to come out on the other side.