” Rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” ~Shakespeare
Grief and depression are often exacerbated by the holidays; we tend to look back, remember Christmases past, and for some of us, the whole month holds dates of great significance in our lives.
I was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh on 12/11/78 [and] diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on 12/24/78, a time when the survival rate was less than 5%. Chemotherapy began on 12/26/78 after an overnight at home with radiation scheduled to begin on New Year’s Day.
On 12/17/07, I was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic to have 2 of my heart valves repaired; four months later my heart died, and this beautiful heart I carry, gifted to me was seated in its place.
Last year, 2017, on Christmas Day, my mom’s brother, Dave, died of complications related to Parkinson’s disease. His death was a sobering event as he was the last sibling to die. I lost one of them each year for 3 consecutive years. It was exhausting with little time to process because the reality is life continues; it doesn’t stand still, and our culture doesn’t allow for taking ‘too much’ time to grieve.
So, you can see December is an emotionally charged month for me and my uncanny ability to remember exact dates of events isn’t always conducive to ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.
I, however, am blessed with 40 years of perspective on my childhood cancer and its treatment, 10 years on my heart transplant, and almost 4 years on my mom’s death which if you know me, then it won’t surprise you that I have some thoughts to share with you:
- Grief hurts deeply and some days are worse than others
- There is no timeline for grief; we don’t go through the steps of grief, then pack it away in a box
- Grief is a companion of sorts; strive to embrace it as part of you over time
- Nothing brings a parent who’s lost a child greater joy than to hear their child’s name, so don’t shy away from talking about him/her by name
- Establish a new tradition to honor your loved one; I have a small Christmas tree that I decorate with all the ornaments I made with my mom through the years that brings me joy!
- I’ve found that it is JOY that makes pain tolerable and pain that makes the joys all the sweeter
- Shakespeare was on to something with rosemary. I believe rosemary has a nostalgic property, thus it permeates the holidays stirring memories. Lean into those memories, be gentle towards yourself, and remember, it’s okay for the tears to escape.
Holding all of us missing loved ones in this heart of mine: THIS day, every day…
PS When my mom died, the staff of the Hospice House placed a cross made out of ribbon and a sprig of rosemary on her door; rosemary, that’s for remembrance…