Remember when I said that I feel as though I am finished with my writing? Well, there are events that bring me back to paper and pen (so to speak), as writing can be very therapeutic. I’ve learned from hard experience that when a child dies, nothing is ever finished. For all parents I’ve communicated with via “Gold Star Families” and “Compassionate Friend’s” facebook pages, special dates are especially brutal. My son’s birthday without him is not just incomplete but heart-breaking. We had our second birthday without Jake, and this one was different because I have learned some coping strategies over the past year and a half. I made a plan for a busy day and I stuck to the plan, each activity with Jake in mind. He loves others and everyone was his friend, so I went to the VA hospital to serve his brothers in arms and spent some time facetiming with my daughter and granddaughters, and even though I had a good cry at the end of the day, I did more than just “get though it”. I thought of Jake and acted upon his memory. I truly celebrated the day my boy came into my life and I celebrated in a way that would make him happy.
Thanksgiving was a bit more difficult for some reason. I guess because Jake was always such a big part of the cooking and continually hovering over my shoulder making seasoning suggestions. The mashed potatoes were his favorite food and he always made them. We added to our collection of “Turkey Curl” videos, which has now become a tradition. The best part was that my niece and her husband (back from his deployment for 1 week), drove here from Colorado to love and support me though the holiday and Hannah let my granddaughter, Emma tag along which made the weekend busy and joyful! They will never know how much that meant to me! Between the moments of joy, I could feel that familiar rock in my stomach and the ever-present sense that something important was missing. I think the rock has become a part of my anatomy; esophagus, intestines, stomach, rock… That rock and I know one another better than I would like.
I tried to ignore Christmas best I could, but then I kept thinking that Jake would want me to break open the decorations. He loved decorating and he loved everything fancy, and Christmas decorations are truly fancy. After changing my mind continuously for two weeks, I finally ripped off the bandage and did it! I opened the boxes of memories, even the many handmade ornaments he had lovingly created over the years; gifts from his great big heart. Memories of my creative little boy who had grown to become my creative young man, always finding joy in making something from an idea in his head. As I unwrapped each ornament, I cried a little, smiled a little and felt a small sense of accomplishment. I was brave, and I knew Jake was happy!
We spent Christmas morning at the VA hospital and delivered fleece blankets to the hospice patients, each having the insignia for the patients’ branch of service. For Christmas afternoon and dinner, we invited those we knew had no family near, making our own “family” and celebrating the birth of our Savior. My husband read the Christmas story in Luke as always, and we felt gratitude for our many blessings, even with the ever present rock in my stomach. I wish I could convince everyone who is suffering a loss to volunteer and serve others, because it lifts the grief even if for a bit. It is the only answer I have discovered and it is a great one! For that, I am truly grateful!
Okay! This is my favorite Christmas 2015 moment: We have a tradition that is somewhat like an advent calendar. We have 25 ornaments with a different name for the Savior. Each day we add one to the tree and look up scriptures that reference that particular name for Jesus Christ. I had completely forgotten that Jake had added two of his own as a joke (a scene from “Talladega Knights”). I was in tears as I opened the box, but as soon as I saw the two forgotten ornaments, I chuckled. He is still making me laugh almost two years after last seeing his face.
Much like last year, as soon as Christmas ended, I felt a sense of panic! I remembered a new year would begin and it would be another year in which my child would not be on this earth. I cried and felt a sense of injustice that I am here to begin 2016 and Jacob is not. In my mind (and sometime aloud) I found myself repeating, “I don’t want to go forward, I want to go backward”. I just want my boy and nothing can be done except to bring his memory with me as I am forced to go forward; me and my rock.