What is the holiday season when grief stands guard at the door?
This is the question that haunted me daily in the first two years after my son, Asante’s, death. How could I enjoy the laughter of friends and family, the smiles of people in the street, and even find thankfulness in the midst of my pain? How could I find joy and help my daughters and husband feel love when I felt as if part of my heart and soul was gone?
My first holiday without my beautiful son came five months after he passed
away on November 24, 2016. My family and I were still struggling,
replaying the how and why. How do you live when you lose a child? Why
was this happening to me? Why did my 18 year-old-son, Asante, leave me?
I dreaded people’s sad eyes, lingering as though they understood my grief,
or maybe I dreaded my pain reflected in their eyes. My son was not
ashamed to hug people as they came through the door for holidays. He
was not uncomfortable with smiling, laughing, or dancing. He enjoyed
family and the smiles he could give others. So, how was I, a mere shadow
of his stature, supposed to handle another holiday without him?
The answer to the how came in the gentle breeze of the wind and the
harsh cries of the rain. I was learning to live with the pain of not having
Asante here with me every day. My daughters were struggling, my
husband was lost but protective of my daughters and me, and I was lost
(and still am sometimes). I embraced the idea that this pain was always
going to be a part of who I am and that days were forever different without
Asante. I held myself and cried for the pain and loss that would never
leave. And, with every tear drop I bumped into memories that held his
laugh, his dancing, his smile. You see, memories were in the pain. Memories that made me smile and cry…a new world of contradictions. On every holiday, I see Asante greeting everyone at the door, waiting for everyone to grab a plate so he can overfill his own, and dancing as if no one was watching. I started to realize that though no holiday would ever be the same, having memories to smile and hold on to regardless of the pain was a blessing. It is in this understanding that I met my grief and began to breathe in my pain.
So, what is a holiday when grief stands guard at the door? It is a time, day, season for us to remember that our pain comes from our love. It is a time for us to not allow others to determine what our new version of how we celebrate holidays will be. Asante was an avid reader, and for his birthday, we host a book drive and donate it to local schools. For Thanksgiving, we not only say his name as part of our blessing and what we are thankful for, but we give in his name. For Christmas, the gift we would have given him, we donate to someone in his name. And for his love of learning, we bestow a scholarship on someone every year. My family and I will never experience holidays the same, but we have found new ways to incorporate his spirit in how we love.
I wish I could tell you something more concrete, but each day is an experience of love and remembrance that loss in love comes with pain. Be gentle with yourself and your pain. Find a way to move through the maze of grief and love on those around you. With your family, find a path that makes sense to you. All of our grief journeys are different but what connects us in our experience is love.
No holiday will ever feel the same because we are forever changed by our grief. But find your own way to incorporate your child in the holiday the way you feel best. I know holidays will never be easy. I know I will cry; I will be sad; I will become distant; but, I will meet the memories of my son Asante and remember love.
His name is Asante, and it means thank you. So, in Asante’s name, thank you for allowing us to share.