Every holiday since my son Ryan died, I hope the uninvited guest doesn’t show. I think, “Maybe this will be the holiday that he won’t make an appearance.”
The season begins and at first things go well. I can feel quite fine for a while, even unexpectedly happy as the memory of the holidays catches me by surprise – and I slowly let my guard down. I actually begin to fully consent to the joy of the season.
I fool myself into believing I won’t have to contend with my unwelcome guest this year, and all he brings with him when he barges in, unannounced and uninvited – the mess he so recklessly creates of my emotions. For a while, I begin to feel like I’ve been given an annual reprieve – and I exhale.
And then it happens: A song on the radio, a smell coming from the kitchen, a photo on my timeline, a keepsake unwrapped for the first time in twelve months – and there he is sitting close beside me again: this grief visitor that doesn’t ever take a holiday.
At first I’m devastated by his intrusion, knowing that grief has once again broken open those locked away rooms in my heart that I try to fortify. I feel the lump in my throat, the tears streaking down my cheeks, the ache from deep within my heart, and the void I’m feeling again because he’s here – grief is back.
I don’t want this right now. I don’t want him in this house. I want grief to let me be for one freakin’ holiday so that I can receive those tidings of comfort and joy that I’m supposedly entitled to but never seem to get my arms around. I want grief to leave. Where is my “peace on earth!”
But then I realize that he hasn’t come here uninvited to do me harm. He’s come here to surprise me with a gift that I hadn’t asked for, wouldn’t say I wanted, but I know I so desperately need.
The gift he gives me is this terrible, painful bittersweetness that reminds me just how much I loved my son Ryan – and how much he loved me – and that is the reason to be feeling such sadness now. This heartbreak is a monument to my son, these tears are a tribute to his life and our love.
That’s why grief is here. Grief is the price of deeply loving someone. Grief’s presence is a testament to the endless love I felt for my son – and that love has to have somewhere to go – it didn’t end when his life ended. The fact that I am feeling such a deficit in grief’s presence is a celebration of how blessed I’ve been, to have someone for whom I grieve so fully. The love for a lost son pouring out of my soul with nowhere to go – so it materializes in tears and deep sadness.
Grief is here right now to give me the gift of feeling it all again freshly, so that I never forget how beautiful those past holidays were, how easy gratitude was then, how kind and beautiful my boy was, and how effortless singing a song of joy could be when I held him in my arms.
And yeah, maybe this is all much more difficult now, and maybe I’ll never have a holiday quite like those again because of the loss that’s taken place – but this uninvited, unannounced grief reminds me that just as Ryan left a legacy of love with me, so I’m given these days to do the same with those around me today I hold dear.
I have this season and these holidays and this moment to be present with those I treasure; to make memories and create traditions and appreciate the beauty of life – because that is what Ryan did with me while he was with me – and while he could. This is what love does.