After Losing My Son, It's So Hard Not to Dread the Holidays

Christmas TreeKathy Glow is hands down one of the best bloggers out there. Her Life With the Frog blog details her life with her four sons, her husband and the pain of losing one of her sons to a brain tumor. She is honest, wise, loving, and always devastatingly real.

We love her and know you will, too. She has graciously agreed to take part in our "12 Days of Gratitude" series featuring some of our favorite bloggers musing on the concept of thankfulness. See below:

Yep, you read that right: I'm dreading the holiday season. I know that is un-American or un-Christian or un-human or just plain un-something.

But I have my reasons.

Well thought-out, albeit neurotic, reasons.

The first being the sickening consumerism that has taken over our country. Let me just preface this by saying, I like to shop. I don't love it, but I like it. I like pretty things.

I like to have pretty things.

But I have too many pretty things. I don't need anything else. Nor do my children.

But we live in a society that tells us that we do. Every year, every new season, we're supposed to believe that we need the hottest new item - the updated phone, tablet, toy, trendy outfit du jour. This is some one's job - to think of ways to get people to spend money on things they do not need. To make them believe they need it.

It's worked on me many times.

And it's working on my children. Every time they watch TV or a movie. Every time a catalog comes in the mail. Every time they talk to a friend who has the latest thing. As parents, there is no time during the year that we hear, "I WANT" more than at Christmas time.

I look around at the overflowing abundance that we have and sometimes I feel sick. I feel sick like I've done something wrong, and I want to rewind and do it again. Do it better and more low-key.

Black Friday makes me sick. I understand getting good deals on things people need. Without the incredible deals, many parents might not be able to afford much, if anything, for their children at Christmas. What makes me sick is how much earlier and earlier it begins every year, pooling backward into Thursday.

I heard the term "Gray Thursday" on the news. Did you mean Thanksgiving Day? The day that we are supposed to be thankful for all we already have? The day we are supposed to celebrate overcoming adversity and working together with people who are seemingly unlike us, but really no different than us after all?

Because it's become a day that we have forgotten, and replaced with a day that we push and shove and trample and think it's okay to be rude and short with people just to save a few bucks.

This leads me to the second reason I dread the holidays: disappointing my children.

I'm a bad liar. Why does Santa not look the same? Why didn't Santa bring me all the things I asked for? How is Santa going to come down our Chimney? How is he going to get all around the world in one night?

I can't remember what I answered to all these questions from each of my children. And what are they hearing from friends? And reading in books and seeing on television? Too. Many. Lies. I can't keep them straight.

And they always seem to change their minds between Thanksgiving and Christmas about what they want. We cut things out of magazines last weekend and I thought 'We better hurry up and send these to Santa so they can't add anything else.'

But then I look at what they cut out and think again of the selfish consumerism. They are just things they saw and thought they needed to have.

Buying things just to have things.

And then I think of all the people - all the children - who have little to nothing, and I feel sick again.

Which leads me to reason number three: how to be generous during the holidays.

I am a generous person. I like to give to causes and donate a dollar here and a dollar there for St. Jude or Salvation Army. I love getting gifts for friends and family on birthdays or for new babies or weddings.

But I struggle with how to carry out that generosity during the holidays.

A few years ago, I got sucked into a radio campaign soliciting holiday gift donors for families. This campaign was different! You deliver the gifts to the family yourself! You get to see where your donation is going! You get to interact with the family!

It sounded like a great idea. I could take the boys and let them see how other people lived. People who had next to nothing. I excitedly shopped for the clothing that the mom had asked for herself and her three young children. They really must not have anything if she was asking for clothes.

When it came time to deliver the gifts, I looked up the address and realized it was in an area of our city known for gang activity. I was nervous to go, and didn't want to bring the boys after all.

And I'm glad I didn't. The mother, who merely called for Hubby and I to come in rather than opening the door for us, was sitting surrounded by her well-dressed children in front of a flat screen t.v. bigger than ours. A computer with a printer sat next to it. She ordered the children to take the gifts. They did and placed them under an ornately decorated tree bigger than ours and bursting with beautifully wrapped gifts.

I don't know this woman's situation. I never will. But the whole experience just left a bad taste in my mouth.

And reason number four, oh reason number four, might just be the reason for all of the other reasons.


He's not here. He will never be here again. Of course it hurts every day, but it hurts so, so much right now. Right this moment.

Because he will always be five years old to me. He will always be exuberant and enthusiastic and creative and the only one not afraid of Santa. He will always be the one who loved Christmas songs and sang "Jingle Bells" to the whole family even when he was sick. He will always be the one who surprised me with his gift requests because they weren't simply things he saw in a catalog (well, maybe I can think of one or two things that were), but they were things that meant something to him. Things that were so original.

So Joey.

For the past two years, I have pulled out his ornaments - the ones made by his hands or the ones bearing his face or the ones that were purchased with him in mind - and I have cried. I have cried on a day that for nearly 40 years I have loved. The day we decorate the tree. That to me is Christmas.

Unwrapping each ornament, looking and remembering where it came from, who it came from, or how or why it was acquired. Oh sure, there have always been some ornaments that were purchased purely for decoration sake, but most of the ornaments on my mother's tree and on mine tell a story.

But Joey's story just stops. And it taints a day that should be happy. A holiday that should be joyous.

I feel a bit hopeless, like there's little of this I can change. Hubby knows I feel this way. I started to get sad last weekend when the boys wanted to decorate the house then, and Hubby wanted to play Christmas music. I was sad when he suggested we not put up our Christmas lights. They are done professionally and are quite expensive and like so many, we've been trying to save money.

As always, he makes me see reason and makes me feel better at the same time. He said, "We need to make the holiday special for the boys." That's true. It needs to be magical for them. They are only little for a short time.

And the lights went up on the house because he knows there needs to be a little magic for me, too.

And we've talked about ways we can help people we personally know who are having hard times.

And we've talked about Christmas experiences we can have with the boys.

And we took their list to Thanksgiving dinner and decided what the cousins and Godparents and grandparents would buy, leaving us and Santa with the right number of gifts.

So I'm hopeful this year.

I know I will still worry.

I know I will still get that sick feeling.

And I know I am going to cry.

But, as always, I'm going to remember why Christmas is my favorite holiday. It's not because of the gifts, but because of the joy and the beauty of the story about how a little baby boy was born a long time ago.

I think if I keep in mind that baby boy and my baby boys and teach them about the love and joy, I don't think I'll need to dread the holidays after all.

What about you - are you a lover of all things Christmas or are there things you dread or feel sad about, too?

Image via wolfsavard/Flickr

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Shandi80 Shandi80

First off, very sorry for your loss.

Secondly, working in retail has made me almost loathe the holiday season. I see firsthand all of the greed and selfishness people radiate this time of year and it makes me really disgusted and sad. It sounds cliche but the media is to blame for the greed. TV is literally programming the brains of men, women and children and they have no idea, they just know they NEED the next big thing and they need it NOW. 

I have to admit though, since we had the means to buy presents for our family and friends, we did. The last few years, we have not had enough to even have Christmas dinner, so they understood why we couldn't get them presents. This year though, I was just dreading receiving any presents...I too, feel as if I don't really deserve anything. I don't really NEED anything, which makes me fortunate and grateful. My clothes may have holes in them, but I make do until they fall apart and go buy more.

Ok, wow, I just wrote a lot. I guess my point is, I feel you. Consumerism and greed sickens me also. And next year, I probably won't participate in typical Christmas activities, and will be refusing to accept presents. Happy New Year.

flowe... flowerfunleah

Don't let the consumerism and selfishness of the many ruin the holiday season for you. Whats great about your blog post is that you're carrying out what Christmas is all about right there, it's right in front of you, you're doing what the holiday season is meant for. You're giving, you're teaching to give, you're spirits are up for your children even when it feels as if they're devastingly down, you're doing a good job.

Do you know Ty Louis Campbell? If not I think you might find it interesting to read this mother's blog. She runs a foundation to help fund and find a way to wipe out pediatric cancer. I've been following her blog for nearly two years now and her little boy, 5 year told Ty, passed away this past October of a brain cancer. I support her foundation. It's funny that I just finished reading her blog this morning and here's your blog when I'm checking The Stir. 

You're doing an excellent job mommas! I love your blog!

Badge83 Badge83

Slightly off topic but in response to flowerfunleah's post--Ty's family is in my community. His illness hit home. In 1998 (which seems like just yesterday), I lost my four year old cousin to cancer. He was a tough little cookie and fought bravely until the day he died. During his struggle my uncle started a fundraising foundation that helped cover his medical costs. After his death, the foundation changed paths and began assisting local families who were struggling to care for their ill children--usually terminal cancer patients. The money given could be used to pay for rent, food, medical care, etc. It also helped cover upgrades in pediatric wards of local hospitals--just things that would help entertain the kids during extended stays/treatment. The foundation was a wonderful way to honor Ryan's memory.

nonmember avatar SB

My family and I have also experienced loss. in 2001, my younger sister passed away due to disease at age 5 on thanksgiving day, and for a while after that the holidays were always really sad. All i can say is that with time, everyone including my parents has come to feel a lot better about it. Hope everything gets better for you as well!


my kids each got two toy presents and a new out fit.. i told them i could not afford christmas and my kids told me, its ok mommy cause its about family and jesus.. andi tell them that on income tax i will get them a few more things.. my kids dont belive in santa which is cool but they believe in there family and the love that should surrond christmas time.. i really enjoyed this..

Kitty... Kitty65212

Krista I really like your comment.KIds dont need to have Santa.They need God and family. Some Moms said this year they were more concerned about the light bill than the holiday.I think kids who know items are bought with Moms  money are more likely to appreciate their parents  honesty and generosity when its there. Every year tax time is when my family gets decent stuff because then Im not so strapped.

honey... honeycrisp

I'm so sorry for your loss, and of those who have commented. 

I just wanted to put in my two cents about Santa. When one of my kids was seven or so, she asked me if I believed in Santa. I said absolutely, but to me the concept of Santa means love and generosity and kindness, things we should remember all year long. The Santa in the red suit is just a symbol to remind us of these attributes. Christmas is about our Saviour and family, about taking care of others. Nobody in my house believes in "the man in the red suit who comes down your chimney" but we do and always will believe in Santa, or at least what he represents.

Maybe you can develop a family tradition at Christmas. We made care packages with food and hats and hand warmers and gave them to homeless people we found downtown. We were surprised by the gratitude we encountered (and how sad is that, our being surprised), and it gave my kids some food for thought. I plan on doing this annually now.

I do hope you find more peace, I know the ache of loss.

nonmember avatar Gaylen

I can emphathize with you. Have lost 2 children, but losing my son 4 years ago does not make Xmas easier. Like you, I dread the holidays as he passed way before Halloween. There is this emphasis on famly and being happy. But our families are fragmented forever and happiness is not always abound.

nonmember avatar Gaylen Ramolete

I emphatize with you as having lost 2 children. My son passed way 4 years ago before Halloween. I dread the holiday season with so much emphasis on family and happiness. Our families will always be fragmented and we do not have to be happy during this season.

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