A Hard Christmas

My family is separated by roughly 600 miles. When it became time to leave the nest, my sister went west while I came south. During the past two years, we have enjoyed a rekindled relationship as I am sure is common when a family member sails turbulent seas. Tragedy has a way of stripping away the veneer of the inconsequential and revealing that of true worth. Family, friends, love, goodness, joy, fellowship – those are things of significance.

We quit exchanging Christmas gifts between adults long ago and focus on the children instead. I once came upon a toy so loud and obnoxious that I knew her home was incomplete without it. It was an ambulance that screamed, “In an emergency, dial 911” at an outrageous decibel. I considered it my service to her. My nephew could barely talk at the time, but after he got the present from Cool Uncle Mark, he certainly knew who to call if mommy took a fall down the stairs. That gift paved the way for cash-only Christmases.

 

It never seemed like a big deal until this year. I suggested to my lovely wife that instead of sending cash through the mail, we could put money under the tree for our children and they could do the same for theirs. The problem didn’t hit me until she said, “We would still have to send them $20.”

Why?

They’ve got four kids, we’ve got… we’ve got…

Oh yeah… We’ve got three.

We used to have four.

Christmas is hard.

* * * * *

Christmas is like a tumbler full of mirth at its finest. When family and friends come home to celebrate the cheer of the season, you drink to your heart’s content and are filled by its warming sway.

When you are hurting, the tumbler has a jagged edge. Your attempts to avoid the broken glass often fail and you are forced to drink your cheer from the chipped side of the cup. You can still get the expected, pure taste of joy, but you might cut your lip taking it in. Other partygoers with intact glasses assume that it is easy to spot the barb before letting it touch your mouth, but often it slips past your sight and the holiday warmth is replaced by the metallic taste of blood.

* * * * *

I knew getting decorations up this year would be hard. I also knew we would run into special items that brought Kylie’s sweet face to mind. I was prepared to be sad when the carousel, large plastic Pooh, and her ornaments were unpacked. The Santa hat she wore for years was bound to cause a tear and her stocking makes me pause each time I pass.

Christmas

But there have been so many holiday surprises – jagged edges.

For instance, it always took two vehicles to get our Christmas tree. I would have it loaded in my truck which only seats five, while mom hauled the kids in the minivan. This year as I walked to the truck expecting to be alone, I noticed the rest of the family following me. While I was surprised, they had done the math and knew we would all fit.

I hated doing the elf on the shelf thing! I hated it with a passion… yet now I miss it so badly.

I didn’t like tiptoeing around the Santa issue either. You have to be bright to keep a secret of that magnitude and I have never been accused of luminosity. Over the years I let slip so many stupid things that nearly gave the whole thing away. We made the decision to let our children be children and believe as long as possible… even if one quite possibly got to high school unsure. At last check, Kylie believed and thought people who didn’t believe were just wrong. Never one to be judgmental, they could be wrong if they wanted to – it was okay with our little elf.

A typical December 23rd would find us scrambling for the final presents. We joined Amazon Prime one year because it was the only way to get Christmas delivered on time. The fact that this year we were done shopping on December 8th should be a good thing. Only it isn’t. It simply reminds us that was have a quarter less presents to buy.

Christmas cards. Such loving reminders of people who care about us. Our mailbox is full every day. The cards of impressive families were delivered in early December while ours were almost always a kind of New Year’s surprise. I do enjoy the cards. But now when I see their smiling faces all I can see is complete families whereas ours is not. Don’t stop sending them – this is a “me” thing, not a “you” thing. Forgive us, though. There will not be a reciprocal card from us this year.

Gatherings are nearly impossible. I want people to have a Merry Christmas. I really do! But being surrounded by joy at a party is nearly suffocating. I’ve never be claustrophobic, but I can now imagine what the overwhelming urge to break out of a confined space feels like

 * * * * *

I know I am not the only one hurting at the holidays.

As I have considered this aching I have for Kylie, I have stumbled upon four truths about Christmas this year that I would like to share with others who are hurting, grieving, or lonely.

  1. Christmas will be hard.
  2. You aren’t alone in your hurting.
  3. Sitting in a fetal position crying doesn’t change truth number 1, it just gets uncomfortable.
  4. December 26th will come.

 

So let us raise our glasses to the smooth side, drink in every bit of Christmas joy we can scrape together, knowing that the decorations will soon come down and maybe, just maybe, next Christmas will hold a bit more merriment.

 

God Bless and Merry Christmas.

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50 thoughts on “A Hard Christmas

  1. “When you are hurting, the tumbler has a jagged edge. Your attempts to avoid the broken glass often fail and you are forced to drink your cheer from the chipped side of the cup. You can still get the expected, pure taste of joy, but you might cut your lip taking it in. Other partygoers with intact glasses assume that it is easy to spot the barb before letting it touch your mouth, but often it slips past your sight and the holiday warmth is replaced by the metallic taste of blood.”

    That is great writing, my friend.

  2. This hits too close to home for me this year. We lost our sweet Rachel to complications from leukemia 4 short weeks ago. I have been following your journey since we began ours just over 18 months ago, finding you through Jeff, as we received our treatment in Pensacola. Our new normal stinks, punctuated by frequent episodes of tears and pictures that look as if I don’t recall how to smile. Thank you for continuing to honor your courageous Kylie. Thank you for your honesty and thank you for being transparent to those of us on similar paths. I know that we will make it, if only because we know we will see Rachel again. We owe it to our other 4 to keep finding ways to live and honor our sweet girl.

    1. Oh, Angela. I am so sorry for your loss and just four weeks ago. I wish I had magic words that would soothe, but aren’t there. I pray your family and my family find some joy this season. Rachel and Kylie would want us to! Blessings. Email me in the contact link you want to talk to me or my wife further.

  3. At this point I am crying with commiseration. I do not mind you making me cry, it means I can still remember Kylie so clearly, as well as the rest of your family. I never want to forget her nor her family. You have entered our lives so trustingly of our prayers as we gave them to you. We still pray for your family and for God to make things easier, because time does not heal all wounds. It will take a superhuman effort to go forward as you have been doing. But, please keep in touch because you are worth knowing!

  4. You are definitely not alone! Thanks, again, for giving a voice to the feelings so many of us have! Hugs to you and your family!

  5. It is hard to believe that our children are having a better Christmas than we are but I know that they are and must think on that. All of the “firsts” are more jagged and painful than any other time. I pray that you and your family will have the peace that only God can give forever and always…..Dale, Brandon’s Mom

  6. Kylie and your family are ever present in our thoughts and prayers! Rejoicing with you in knowing that she is dancing and no doubt singing at the feet of our Savior and that one day, you will be reunited with your precious girl. Embrace your memories as well as your tears, God is forever near.

  7. I thought your ambulance story was great. What a cool uncle!! Lol
    I love your writing because it is SO touching (I usually cry…sometimes sob) yet it is really funny at times.
    You should write a book about Kylie, her life, your life and your experiences together. If you never want it published at least it would be there for your other daughters, your wife and your grand kids one day…but maybe it would help others going down that miserable road of losing a child.
    Kylie was indeed a super beautiful smart talented uplifting brave lovable child. She touched more people in her life then most people do in a lifetime.
    So very sorry for your loss.

    1. Thank you Cassidy. I am writing some things. I don’t want her story to be a history of treatment, so I’m working at a couple of other angles. Reliving it is hard and fun – like everything else.

  8. I believe that every day…every milestone helps file down the jagged edges a bit until you are able to drink from the glass again. You definitely still hit some jagged spots now and again but you must focus on your memories to comfort you.

  9. Mark, I will think of you and your family this holiday season. I will think of all the beautiful pictures, I have seen of Kylie since I began reading your blog. I will remember your four points because they are very valuable for all the families, that are also missing a family member who died too young or too soon! My Hope for 2016 is that CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS will remain a priority for many people and others will join to make a difference. Childhood Cancer is cruel, unfair, and heartbreaking. I am sorry for your forever loss of Kylie. I will always remember the children, I knew and those I met through a parent. They are the faces of courage.

  10. You have amazing strength through such grief. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing. I lost my daughter and then last year my brother and the holidays are just so hard. The way you share, I really admire. It is deep and real and beautiful. Thank you and I am so sorry ❤️

    1. Thank you,mats very kind. I read about Isabelle a few weeks ago when I found your blog. I am sorry for your loss(es). I hope we both can find a little bit of joy this year.

  11. I just discovered your blog. We too are having a Hard Christmas! Our daughter Taylor was diagnosed with Cancer last May, and the passed away this Jan, so we have a similar timeline of pain and heartache. Last Christmas we spent much of Dec in the hospital, and while it seemed hard, now i long for those days, because no matter how hard they felt, we were still all together! I too hope that as years go by we will be able to experience more merriment in our Christmas. For now we are filled with tears of sadness, mixed with grateful hearts, for the 3 yrs and 8 months we had with our amazing little angel. I hope you feel Kylie’s spirit, and the comfort that only God can provide this Christmas.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss. I too wish we could go back to last Christmas. Kylie felt like crap and had radiation on Christmas Eve, but like you said, we were together. I pray your family and mine can get just an inkling of joy this year. Blessings to you.

  12. I’ve come back to this post a few times in the last few days. It is so real and honest, and I always appreciate that about your writing. Today I went back to church for the first time in months as I had the day off work and wanted to see my friend’s kid in the nativity. He has the same name as my childhood friend who died a few years ago on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day and found myself getting teary as I walked up the road to get to the church service on time. Such a silly thing and I don’t know where it came from. I’ve cried tears (and I may have yelled a bit at God) over the last year for Kylie, and now seeing those elf photos, I totally see what you mean about Harold the elf and Eliza the elf. They are DEFINITELY related (must be cousins). Now Eliza the Elf has extra special meaning, because she’s a wee reminder to me of the awesome Myers 6. To pray for the 5 Myers still here missing their youngest. I’m hoping there’ll be joy amongst the pain and praying for peace in the midst of it all.

    And to all the commenters above who are also missing loved ones. Please know that I’m thinking of you and have sent little prayers up to the heavens for you all as well. I wish I had some kind of magic or something that could make it all better, and I don’t. I don’t know of anything I could do or say that could make it better, and if I knew it I would most definitely try to do it. It sounds empty to say I’m praying for you and thinking of you, and wishing times of joy in the midst of sadness. x

    1. It doesn’t sound empty at all, Laura. We are trying to do exactly what Kylie would want – steal every ounce of joy we can find from this hard road. Blessings to you and thank you for making our day a little better with Mog! Very sweet story…

  13. Iyup. This is what I posted tonight on FB

    I have been doing pretty well this month. But as Christmas approaches it is getting harder. I am having fun taking Julia around to the Christmas lights and hearing her get excited. And talking to her about Christmas is fun too. But under the fun, there is always that sadness. The sadness of missing Alexander. The memories of his second Christmas in the hospital, too sick to come home. Remembering visiting my friend Michelle and Tony in the hospital to bring them a little Christmas joy, on which would be their precious son Cole’s last Christmas. And the memory of helping my friend Jackie say goodbye to her beautiful Shelbie the day after Christmas a year ago.

    As you go about these last few days before Christmas, if you run across a Grinch, be kind, and say a little prayer for them. it might not be that there heart is two sizes too small, but that it is broken in a way that can never be repaired.

    https://thecookiegal.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year/

  14. Quoted a bit and linked back to you. I lost a son in November and found out my mother has inoperable cancer last week. It will be a jagged Christmas and your words were so accurate,

  15. Mark, this post is so touching and very well written.
    I’m so sorry for this. I really am. Writing this in tears, I feel for you and your family. I decided to read your post right before my quiet time. Now I know what’s first on my prayer list.
    Many hugs and much love and thoughts.
    Staci ❤

  16. Hi Mark. My name is Mike, and my wife’s name is Kezia. We lost our daughter Saoirse to Neuroblastoma when she was 18months old. She died December 13th 2012. Our tree was already up. It was excruciating. Saoirse had helped decorate it. So we went the reverse.. we didn’t take it down for quite some time. Christmas gatherings and parties are difficult too. I can relate. Sometimes I can feel the looks we get, the sad faces we seem to spark.. I feel like I’m the downer of the party because my child died of cancer. Its been 4 years this month.. still difficult. still cry. We have a son now, he is two and a half, going on fifteen. We need to be there for him and make the best of it with xmas. You are not crazy. Big hugs and smiles for amazing memories from all of us.

    1. Mike. I am sorry for your loss and I see those looks. I understand them, but I don’t really want them. It makes me feel even more the outcast sometimes. We aren’t alone, there seem to be a lot of us grieving these days.

      2 1/2 going on 15. Haha. He will keep you lively, I’m sure. Hugs right back. I pray we both can find some joy this season!

      1. There are a lot of us unfortunately. Have you ever heard of Camp Sunshine up at Sabago Lake in Maine? There is a bereavement camp 2x a year for the entire family. bonding activities, care for our children, support groups for mom’s, dad’s and all. We have applied to go and have gone a few times and have developed some amazing friends and a pretty strong support system. We can find the joy… 🙂

        mike

  17. When a dear friend lost her child in an accident, she used this analogy: losing a child and having to continue on with life is like losing a leg and having a prosthesis. For the rest of your life you will be reminded that your leg (child) is gone but with the prosthesis (time) you will learn to walk again. It’ll never be the same…but you will walk.

    I’m so, so sorry for the pain your family’s going through.

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