Christmas without Nathan

I’ve been meaning to write about this. I will first share what Luke wrote on his blog

Nathan came up in conversation over dinner with friends a few weeks ago, just after Thanksgiving. Someone at the table asked how Susan and I were doing in this holiday season and the context was pretty clear. It occurs to me that perhaps others are wondering the same thing.

Thankfully there is a big difference between last year and this year. I could have skipped the holidays altogether last year. We traveled and were with loved ones, but the times were mostly painful and I did a lot of going through the motions. I can’t really explain what is different this year. I could say it was easier, but that wouldn’t be right. Holidays or not, there are moments where the loss is every bit as painful as it has ever been. And, good or bad, the holidays are times to focus on family and reflect on these things.

Thanksgiving was great. But it wasn’t great like Thanksgivings past. I thoroughly enjoyed extended visits with Susan’s family and Thanksgiving day was great fun. And I’m looking forward to Christmas and really expecting it to be a happy time with the kids and family.

It isn’t the same anymore though. I don’t think it ever will be. I don’t feel complete and I don’t think that any of us feel like our family feels complete. I can’t think of the holidays as “easier” or “better” this year, but I have been looking forward to them more and so far I have been able to enjoy them and I think that will hold true. For me, the holidays are going well, but they are not the same and they never will be. That sentiment isn’t me being still caught up in grief. Our lives are forever changed and shaped by this experience and the filter through which I view my life and these precious holidays will always include Nathan.

I appreciate the friend who asked. It was loving and considerate and it acknowledged that Nathan is so obviously always in hour hearts and on our minds. I can’t help but think, and fear, that these inquiries will dwindle over the years over the assumption that we “have moved on” or “had closure” or “come to terms” or because new friends we meet and become close with won’t have been in our lives when Nathan was physically with us. So next year, and the year after (and not necessarily around the holidays), let me know that Nathan has been in your thoughts. It will make me feel loved and it will warm my heart to know that he is carried in the hearts of others as well as my own. If you ask in person, I may or may not tear up or even cry. Don’t feel like you are responsible for surfacing the pain. It is always at the surface. And sometimes it is better to share those tears with a friend than it is to shed them alone.

Luckily for Luke and I, we feel very similarly about many things and this is one of them. I have to say that the very last part about sharing the tears…well, maybe not so much for me, as many of you know. Something you should know is this – I cry about Nathan a little every single day, privately. Someone shared a thought with me today “I plan on grieving for my child as long as he’s dead” . That is so true. When I am 60 I will be grieving for Nathan at holidays. Who knows what it will look like.

Things are not as raw this year. I was able to put a little picture of Nathan on the tree and photograph it with the girls. I was able to hang his stocking and the thought of it empty Christmas morning is hard, but I know I can bear it. I think that is the big difference to me this year, my ability to bear the pain has strengthened. The pain is not as raw and I can face it much better.

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13 responses to “Christmas without Nathan

  1. WOW Susan! Such a powerful post. I have thought about you all alot over the holidays and have been hoping you would be able to enjoy the season a bit more. I love what Luke has wrote and will remember that next year and every year after. (((HUGS))) Thinking of you all!

  2. Thanks for posting this. I didn’t want to say nothing, but I didn’t know what to say.Of course my circumstances are way different but I always find your writing so relatable. For me, I feel like something has been amputated. I’m functioning a lot more normally now than a year ago, but I don’t feel “better” as in “healed.” I just feel like I’m slowly getting used to working without what’s broken and is never going to grow back.I think of you often and I do wish you the best for the holidays, this year and always.

  3. I don’t want to imagine the pain of losing a child, so I won’t say I understand. I can’t. But I do know grief, and I can relate to what you said about missing your loved one for “as long as he’s dead.” My own loss was well over 9 years ago and just last week I had a moment. You know, I am sure, what I mean by that. Nathan is still very real (as real as our connection ever was) for me. His life, his death and your graceful parenting have forever informed the way I think about my own children. Nathan matters, even to other people, even today. And I for one, will be right there with you in never forgetting him. Merry Christmas, my friend.

  4. No words.. Just wishing you a Merry Christmas, with love, z.

  5. Someone told me that while the grief never goes away the edges get softer, and as the years pass I find that that is true. The grief says with us day after day, year after year, but the softer edges make it bearable.

  6. Thanks for writing this!I know this suggestion is too late, but our dead daughter’s stocking isn’t empty on Christmas morning. It contains little gifts for both of us (like an ornament in memory of her) or for the sibs we eventually had. This was actually my husband’s idea – I’ll never forget waking up that first Christmas expecting to see our daughter’s stocking empty but being so happy to see it was full!

  7. Susan, I too thank you for sharing this with us. I am so thankful to know what is in your heart (and Luke’s) this holiday season–and most likely every holiday season. I thought I would tell you that Nathan is still remembered here in our home, and always will be. Just this week G and M were playing some silly game in the bedroom where they started naming people for some reason. I was cooking and could not leave the stove to inquire, so just listened. Maybe they were naming Fisher Price Little people (the old school ones). Or maybe they were playing a version of what Rebecca and I used to do when we were little, singing “The Farmer in the Dell” and after the rat takes the cheese, we would start to add in our family members, friends, Sesame Street characters, etc. So G and M started their game by naming their best friends Katie and Claire, then friends Anwen and Tegan, then G said “Nathan and Julia!” : ) I am sure Nathan was pleased to be part of their game.Merry Christmas!Lisa

  8. I think of Nathan every single day, and of course you all who are still here on Earth. Thank you for sharing your feelings with us all so that we may better understand you (not fully having not been in your shoes!) and can then hopefully be better friends to you. (((HUGS)))

  9. I think of you all and nathan throughout this season, and during the year. I’m sure things change as time goes on, but the loss will always be there, and I hope you will feel able to volunteer that to friends even if they stop asking.

  10. I think I have said this before, but Nathan is very close to my heart because of many things but mainly because a) he is a junebug like my Eth and b) because his passing was so close to my mom’s. I hear you about grieving as long as they are dead, I feel that way completely. For us the holidays have just been off kilter without my mom, so I can only imagine that plus more is what your family is feeling. ((Hugs)) I hope that your family was able to find joy through the girls eyes, I think that is where you ability to carry on will be.

  11. Susan,I don’t know your family. I found your blog only because I was Googling “How can I keep from singing.”Nonetheless, I appreciate your sharing about your loss of Nathan. I have not experienced the loss of a child (I have two — Haley and Marshall), but your insights resonate with other losses I’ve experienced. Thank you for both yours and Nathan’s perspectives.I hope you find healing and wholeness in the new year.Bill DockeryTennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist ChurchKnoxville, Tennessee

  12. Susan, I don’t know you personally either, but I wanted to thank you for sharing. I think you have summed it up so well — the loss is still unthinkable, but you build up strength over time to bear it. I was reminded of a verse of my favourite poem (by Dana Gioia):For even sorrowSeems bearable when studied at a distance,And if we speak of private suffering,The pain becomes part of a well-turned taleDescribing someone else who shares our name.I wish you continued strength and grace in the New Year.

  13. Thank you and Luke so much for sharing these thoughts. I am just catching up with my blogging community after being away for a week, and your feelings, and Luke’s, mirror my own. I loved your friend’s line that you shared (in effect, “I will grieve her as long as she is dead”). How well that expresses the depth and the permanence of this change to our family’s shape. God bless all of you!

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