I particularly like Christmas cards. I like anything that arrives specifically for me whether it is snail mail, email, or FB message. (Bills are exempt from that, of course) I send out my Christmas cards early to make sure that nobody fails to send me a card because they don’t know my address. I pin-up my cards and admire them throughout the month, donating them to a local elementary teacher in January.
The whole month of December is celebratory for my family since both of my children were born in the month of December. Jack was born on December 7; Georgie, December 23. I spent the night before Georgie was born addressing Christmas cards and wrapping presents. The first Christmas with each of my children was exciting and amazing; we were celebrating beyond the traditional.
Three weeks had passed since Christmas, 2008 when Jack died on January 15. The tree was down, but there were still a couple of gifts for folks I didn’t get to see during the holidays. A couple of missed decorations remained on table tops. I put everything away in the weeks after the funeral. I boxed all decorations and lights and set them high up on the shelves in my closet. That’s where they still rest. It is impossible to look at mementos of Christmases past, decorations made together and hung together on the tree.
When you lose a child, you get plenty of advice from well-meaning friends and family. Some of it is lovingly stupid. “Life goes on and so should you.” (“I don’t want life to go on. I want it to go backwards.”) “Jack would want you to get on with your life.” (“And you would know that, how? He was 20. He never imagined that he wouldn’t live forever. I never imagined that there would be a life without my child.”)
My stages of grief-disbelief and numbness, bargaining, yearning and anger, despair and withdrawal, and acceptance-followed a U-shape, rocking up and down as I rocked up to disbelief, slid down to despair, achieved acceptance, and then slid back to anger. I thought there was something wrong with me. One of the most helpful pieces of information I got from a counsellor was that grief isn’t linear and what I was doing was normal. It helped to learn that there wasn’t a timetable and that there wasn’t a right way or wrong way to get through this.
In November, 2009, I decided that I would not put up a tree or decoration, but I would send out Christmas cards. I usually make my own cards and decided that I would put Jack on the front of the card. Because Jack’s cat Ginger died 10 months after him, Ginger joined him on the card.
It was difficult to work on the picture. Studying a picture of Jack, thinking of his quirky and funny personality, and drawing his face were sometimes painful. I spent much of the time in conversation with him. When I finally got something drawn that I felt was passable, I felt like we had accomplished something together.
Midway through last year, I got the idea of letting Jack be the Grinch. His dog, Jewel, died in May and I drew her into the card as Max. Ginger did a cameo as the cat. My drawing is sloppy and I use sketchy lines. I ended up studying manga books so the lines were clear and the design was neat. Again, I got the experience of talking to him as I drew. I experienced the regret of parting when I finished the card.
This year, I knew that I would draw the card but hadn’t any idea what it would look like. Waiting for a friend to finish her doctor’s visit, I was sketching people in the waiting room and got the idea of drawing Jack in the manger setting. He rarely sat quiet and was often doodling on his guitar late into the night.
I often journal; writing helps me work through resentments and fears. Drawing has been a god-send for me. Looking at Jack’s face for an extended length of time is both difficult and healing. There’s a mixture of thoughts that process as I draw Jack. Recognizing the beauty of God’s creation and the reality of our loss mix with the joy of memories. There is a feeling of sad peace. In the end, Jack has given me a gift that I am able to pass on to those who knew and loved him, too.