Stairway to Heaven: Remembering Those We've Lost at Christmas
Christmas is supposed to be one of the most joyous times of the year, but for anyone who has lost a loved one, the Christmas season can be anything but joyous, and sometimes we have to look for new ways to deal with the pain of loss and to celebrate their life. I know this pain very intimately; I've lost a child and a brother, not to mention grandparents and a friend.
After a 16 hour labour, filled with intense back pain, I delivered my first baby - a son. My pregnancy had been as perfect as "perfect" could be, with only bouts of heartburn as a side effect. I had no "morning sickness"; I don't believe in it. I didn't drink or smoke. I was probably at my healthiest, though definitely at my heaviest, just before my son's birth.
Immediately after birth, there were complications. I knew my baby was dying. I could see it on the faces of my doctor and the nurses. I could tell by the way one nurse lifted my baby's tiny discoloured leg and let it drop. No response. I could tell by the aching silence that filled the room. I could tell by the way I couldn't breathe.
My son died 4 hours later, en route to a children's hospital. I remained behind, lost in a fog of despair. "A fluke," the doctor told me later. "A brain stem haemorrhage." They'd had no warning. Neither had I. That was June 1989.
When Christmas arrived that year, I felt a mix of happiness and sadness. I was pregnant again and scared to the bone. I mourned the loss of my firstborn, a son who wouldn't be receiving a toy truck from Santa that year. I was supposed to have celebrated Christmas with my husband and child that year. I felt ripped off, and scared that the same thing would happen to my second baby.
So I bought a decorative angel for the tree, in remembrance of my son. I bought another angel ornament for a table display. This was the beginning of what would become my angel collection, which now resides on a special wall we had built in our new home, a wall I call my Stairway to Heaven.
My brother Jason was killed 4 weeks after Christmas in 2006. His photograph resides on my Stairway to Heaven wall. He was only 28; his murder has never been solved. Other family members who have passed on are also displayed and remembered on the wall―my husband's grandfather and uncle, my two grandmothers and one grandfather, and one of my best childhood friend's who committed suicide.
Though their losses are still strong, I choose to celebrate their lives. Their pictures remind me of who they were. I rejoice that all but one lived long enough to love and be loved. I smile when I think of my son, of what his life could have been. The anger and debilitating pain is long gone; time does heal, if given the chance. I miss not knowing him. I'll never forget him―my firstborn, my only son.
When my daughter was born, one year after my son, I discovered my daughter had a tiny splotch in the middle of her brow. My doctor told me it was called an "Angel's Kiss". Many years later, I took a closer look at the only photo of my son and discovered that he had the same splotch. No wonder I collect angels.
To those of you who have lost a loved one and are finding this Christmas particularly hard, please know that time will heal your pain. There is always light at the end of even the darkest tunnel. You'll never forget your loved one. Maybe you'll build a Stairway to Heaven wall. Maybe you'll collect angels. Maybe you'll find another way to honour and celebrate the LIFE of your loved one. Because that's what matters―their LIFE.
This Christmas, I wish you love, forgiveness, hope, faith, and above all, peace.
You can learn more about Cheryl and her novels by visiting http://www.cherylktardif.com and http://www.cherylktardif.blogspot.com.