I recently read a letter to Dear Abby asking for her advice on holiday cards – and it shows that some people, our Dear Abby included, just don’t get it. I am also sensitive enough to have warren this entry last week but held off posting it until after the holidays.
In short – the reader aske d if it was appropriate to send a holiday card to a friend or family who experienced the loss of a child or spouse that year. Abby told her that there is no rule, and those who are grieving would appreciate knowing they are remembered.
That is where the miscommunication is (misguided advice is more like it).
Most cards say HAPPY HOLIDAYS! in big letters. Or MERRY CHRISTMAS, or HOPE LOVE & JOY. Something that is very joyful, happy, and celebratory. And that is great. That is what holiday cards are supposed to do – convey the joyful holiday season.
But for those who have lost a child, especially those who have suffered this devastating loss in the past year, we are not going to have a happy holiday, a joyful season, or a wonderful week off from work. It is much different. I am going to light the candles of Andrew’s menorah, as we have done for the past three years, without him. It will be right there beside Nicole’s, and ours. We will say the Chanukah prayers – with a tear in our eyes, but a smile on our faces as we give Nicole her presents. Christmas Eve and Christmas day we will be with Dorothy’s family cooking, relaxing, and opening presents. All without my son, who does not get to open presents anymore, who does not get to enjoy the holidays, who does not get to spend time with his family anymore.
For Dorothy and I, this season is not totally merry, joyful, or even happy. Of course we get to have Nicole with us, and she is our joy and our lives. She makes us smile, and it is because of her we get up every single day and look forward to life. But we still miss our Andrew.
So, when bereaved parents get cards that say MERRY CHRISTMAS – we open them and say our holidays will not be merry, they will not be joyful. We don’t have our children with us anymore. At best we will survive the holidays, put on a smile on our faces when we are with our surviving children and with our friends and family, and be as polite as we can. But it is a very difficult season for us. You should all know that.
Now back to Abby. She says one thing that is correct – those who are grieving would appreciate knowing they are remembered during this season. Yes, we would love that. But not with a bright and cheery holiday card with bells and balls. But with a small hand written note or Thinking of You card. We love to receive letters or notes or cards like that – they brighten our entire week. All you have to say is that you are thinking about us, that you too, miss our lost children, and that you wish us peace this time of year. A long note is not necessary, but of course those are nice as well, but just a short sweet note that lets us know that you are thinking about us. That our family and our children are in your prayers and your thoughts this time of year.
I have attended many group meeting with bereaved parents around the holidays and I hear this so many times from so many parents. There are some bereaved parents who don’t even open their holiday cards, their loss is too raw and painful. Others open them and pile them away in a box. We do love to hear about your children and see them in their holiday best, but just be sensitive and realize that we can never take those pictures anymore.
Please don’t take this post as criticism or condemnation of what you have been doing your entire life. Holiday cards are a great thing, and we do enjoy receiving them – now that we are three-and-a-half years out. All I ask is that you be sensitive to those who are newly bereaved, or those who might be several years out but still very sensitive and having a hard time dealing with life and the holiday season. If you truly care about them, if they are truly your friends and family, a short phone call, no matter how hard that is for you, to tell us that you are thinking about us this time of the year, is so much more appreciated. Or write a personal note saying that you are thinking of them. Stop by and say hello for a few moments and show them you really care. That would make our holidays meaningful so much more than a holiday card.
I know this post may not be so popular, but I have never written to win popularity contests – just to enlighten those who have friends and family that have experienced loss. If you want to send a card, go ahead, I don’t want to offend or upset anyone. Sending holiday cards are very special to some people. All I ask is that you realize who you are sending the card to, their situation, and take an extra moment to do something that would really be appreciated by them.
Now I ask one more thing. After you have read this – print it out. Fold it up and place it in next year’s holiday card box. So when you get ready to go out and purchase cards, or you make your card list, you can re-read this post and maybe give a little peace and a smile to someone who is grieving.