Parental grief and the dreaded first holiday

Special to The TelegraphDecember 23, 2012 

Many families in our neighborhoods are suffering through their first holiday season without a loved one. Four years ago, I had my first dreadful holiday without my son, Mikey. He ended his own life on the Nov. 10, 2008, after suffering a delusional episode. I’ve spoken to dozens of suffering families while bringing Mikey’s story to the community. I see the anguished eyes of other grieving parents, beseeching me to give them some magic words that will somehow lighten their sorrow. In me, they see another parent who has lost a beloved child, and wonder how I still manage to laugh and smile and speak of my son’s death without choking back sobs.

Of course, the sobs come when I am alone with my thoughts and aching for Mikey with every cell in my body. Like me, these parents will learn how to navigate through their days and welcome the freedom that moments of solitude bring in the night; freedom to cry. We relish the freedom to cry without stopping, without apologizing, without causing others around us to feel the need to console us. Tears wash the soul clean. Our souls should be spotless by now.

But in my tearful solitude, peace settles in. Without the clamor of voices and noises around me, somehow Mikey draws nearer to me. I hear his voice, behold his grin, and admire the gracefulness of movement he possessed. I can envision his feet propped on the ottoman beside mine, and his presence is as palpable as the pile of soggy Kleenex next to me. Alone with my thoughts, I am not alone.

I wish I could carry these other parents in my arms and gently set them down on the other side of the tunnel. I’m acutely aware of how the holiday season is looming over them like a monster, threatening to engulf them in misery. But it won’t. Like me, they have a new awareness of what it means to be truly thankful for the love around them; to be grateful for the loved ones who are still sitting at the table, passing the mashed potatoes.

The dreaded first holiday will bring with it a surprising feeling of gratitude, along with the obvious grief. We give thanks for those still with us, as well as those who only join us in spirit. We feel thankful for the joyfulness of the children around us, but we also feel thankful that cranky old Aunt Flo is still here and, well, cranky. We take nothing for granted anymore, and that is the gift of grief.

For this holiday, I am grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve received while bringing Mikey’s story to others. Mikey didn’t let autism affect his ability to succeed in life, nor did it handicap his capacity to love. Mikey was always thankful for any act of kindness that was shown to him, and that is the true spirit of the holiday season. May your day be blessed with the love of family and friends, and please pass the gravy.

Diane Bucci was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, but has lived most of her life in Colorado. Mikey was diagnosed with mild autism when he was 3- years-old and passed away when he was 25. Bucci currently resides in Colorado with her longtime companion, Sneakers the cat. For more information, please visit www.dianebucci.com.

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