Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hugs for the Holidays

The holidays can be so hard on those who grieve.

Whether they are grieving fresh losses such as those of the precious children in Newtown, CT, or whether the losses were long ago, absence of a loved one comes into sharp relief at the holidays. I remember last Christmas when we were still in shock from Jack's sudden death. We made it through all the decorating, the shopping, and we even sat in our same place in the church balcony for the Christmas Eve service. We held it together through the hurt.

Then, on Christmas night, we went to the cemetery.

Tim wanted to go, but Margaret and I didn't.Tension ran high as each of us lashed out at the others, saying hurtful words and stomping through the grass as the sky grew dark. We were so broken and angry about Jack's death and the rubble that remained of our lives that the flicker of hope we'd been fanning and trying to keep going seemed certain to go out. I stood there in the cold and dark and felt more alone than I had at any other time in my life.

This Christmas will be different. The shock has worn off, so we feel the pain of Jack's absence more acutely these days. But we also have survived nearly 365 days since last Christmas and (most days) we know that we can and will do this.

It doesn't mean we want to.

It doesn't mean we are okay with what happened.

It just means we can and we will survive. We will laugh. We will remember. We will cry. We will celebrate. We will eat Mexican food.

The flicker of hope has grown stronger once again.

And truly, one of the ways our hope has grown stronger is the love and support others have given us, many times through this blog. Perhaps you need love and support today as you grieve a loss. Maybe you are feeling weighed down by grief as celebrations take place all around you. 

A few blog friends and I are proclaiming today "Hugs for the Holidays." If you are grieving any loss, please know that we are here to support you, hear your stories, look at your photos, and lift you up. At the bottom of this post you will see links to posts that deal with certain kinds of grief and loss, such as loss of a parent and infant loss. Feel free to link up one of your own posts, share a photo, or leave a comment about your loss. If you are experiencing another kind of loss, such as that of a spouse, please know that we are here for you too and would like to hear from you.

This holiday season, I hope we will all be able to be gentle with ourselves, enjoy pockets of peace when and where we are able to find them, and remember that we are not alone. Hugs.

For those grieving the loss of  a child, I want to share this peom by John O'Donohue

For a parent on the death of a child

No one knows the wonder
Your child awoke in you,
Your heart a perfect cradle
To hold its presence,
inside and outside became one
As new waves of love
Kept surprising your soul.

Now you sit bereft
Inside a nightmare,
Your eyes numbed
By the sight of a grave
No parent should ever see.

You will wear this absence
Like a secret locket,
Always wondering why
Such a new soul
Was taken home so soon.

Let the silent tears flow
And when your eyes clear
Perhaps you will glimpse
How your eternal child
Has become the unseen angel
Who parents your heart
And persuades the moon
To send new gifts ashore.

If you have had a miscarriage, stillbirth or lost an infant link here:

If you have lost your mom link here:

Your dad link here:

Your sibling link here:

A child link here:

A friend link here:

We have also created a special #HugsfortheHolidays Pinterest board so check it out for tips on dealing with grief and some inspiration to help ease the pain during this season.


Lady Courtney said...

Thanks, will visit the "lost your mother link" at home, where I can cry in private. It's hard, but Mom was strong, so I have to follow suit. Think of your angel Jack all the time. Hugs to you and your family. Merry Christmas! donna :)

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

What a wonderful way to minister to those who have experienced loss. Praying for you and others who are in the situations you listed above.

Stimey said...

I have been thinking a lot of you this month. Sending love to you and to all those linking here today. Love you.

Jill said...

Our first Christmas without my grandfather and while that loss may not be as acute or painful as the loss of a child or parent, it is still hard and emotional, for was a daily part of my life since I was born. Here's a link to a post I wrote shortly after his death last February. Thank you. My thoughts and prayers will be with all of those who grieve this holiday season.

Deb said...

Another on losing a child.

Arnebya said...

Thinking of you and your family.

These links will serve so many; they will serve me and I thank you.

Anne said...

Beautiful post Anna.This time of the year can be very difficult for those that lost a loved one.We have many family that have passed this time of the year so the holidays can be a little sad for us too even after many many years.
Praying for all who lost a loved one.And especially in recent news.

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to an amazing interview with the parents of one of the little ones in Newtown. Their poise, grace, and strength is awe inspiring and provided me, a far-away and grieving stranger, with my first real sense of comfort since last Friday.

Karah said...

Hugs & love to you and your family. The year we suddenly lost my grandfather to a heart attack, we went to the cemetery on Christmas Eve (after midnight mass--practically in the middle of the night) and lit a candle. That was twenty years ago this Christmas-- and we haven't missed a candle lighting. It's turned out to be a beautiful tradition.

Loukia said...

Thinking of you and your family... and this is a great thing you're doing. My heart bleeds for so many... xoxo

Annabelle said...

This is so nice. The long list of choices reminds me that none of us are alone in our grief. Thank you for reminding me of that today. Love & Blessings.

One crazed mommy said...

Beautiful post - grief touches everyone, and this is a great way to show that there are places to go to grieve, and that although you may feel alone in your grief, there are others out who understand. Thinking of you and your family, as always, and praying for all of the families who have had to, and will have to adapt to a "new normal" in their lives. Sending all big hugs for the holidays!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for choosing to see the light in the darkness and be a minister of grace. You didn't have to do that, but you did. Beauty from ashes.

Gina said...

Twas' 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38 when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate. Their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air. They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there. They were filled with such joy; they didn't know what to say. They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day. where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse. This is heaven" declared a small boy. "We're spending Christmas at God's house. When what to their wondering eyes did appear, but Jesus, their savior, the children gathered near. He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same. Then He opened His arms and He called them by name. And in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring those children all flew into the arms of their King and as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace, one small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face. And as if He could read all the questions she had He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of mom and dad. then He looked down on earth, the world far below He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe, then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand, Let My power and presence re-enter this land! May this country be delivered from the hands of fools I am taking back my nation. I'm taking back my schools! Then He and the children stood up without a sound. Come now my children let me show you around. Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran. All displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can. And I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight, in the midst of this darkness,I AM STILL THE LIGHT."

Momma Holmes said...

It is true that the holidays bring our sorrow to the front of our heart. Thank you for your post, your generous spirit. Do unto others, I'll share your gift.

Anonymous said...

That visit to the cemetary sounds so hard; cold, dark, and alone. I'm so sorry!

You're more than surviving. So proud.

Unknown said...

This outreach is inspired. I can't think of a warmer brighter idea.

I know this period is hard Anna. Believe me, I think of you all the time. If thoughts and prayers can be counted as hugs from far away ...

Halfway Between Hopes and Dreams said...

Thank you for providing the links. This will be our first Christmas without our 9-year-old and I honestly don't know what to expect. I'm hoping others who have walked this grueling road will have a little bit of insight. Thoughts of love to all who have lost loved ones...

Mama Mary said...

Thank you for joining us for Hugs For the Holidays! Your words, courage and compassion will help so many who are grieving. It seems like our entire country is grieving right now, especially for those little children at Sandy Hook. I will be thinking of you, Tim, Margaret and of course Jack today and always. Big hugs. xo

Unknown said...

Beautifully said. This 2nd year is different. The numbness is gone. The pain is there, but as you said, we know we can and will survive. That doesn't mean we've forgotten, or moved on, or got over it. It means we've learned how to live with it and how to bring them with us

Meredith Self said...


Anonymous said...

Really anonymous? I saw that CNN interview and several people in the room and I thought it was very strange. The mom-not a hair out of place, matching lipstick to her sweater, not one tear, didn't let the husband even speak it seemed, said she didn't have hate, was at peace and they colored on the child's casket with Sharpies. I could see this interview being appropriate in a year or two but this was mere days after her 6 year old was gunned down by a lunatic. Most mothers would be in a fetal position hysterical.

Anonymous said...

I was just trying to figure out how to send you a link to this devotional on Proverbs 31 Ministry's website and read this. So here you go - it's about Sandy Hook but also losing a child in general.

Martha said...

Hi Anna. When I saw you this afternoon I wanted to speak words of love and encouragement. Nothing came except for those feeble words when I hugged you goodbye. I really do want you to know that you are not alone. We remember jack and have his picture on our kitchen bulletin board. We are not forgetting him and will never. Love to you.

Anonymous said...

Everyone grieves in their own way.

Alexandra said...

Oh, Anna.

Always wanting to help others, always.

I don't know how you do it, except I do.

I know where your strength comes from: His promise.

His promise of holding Jack in His arms till you and Tim and Margaret are there to do it.

Peace to you, especially with all that this week's events brings to the surface.
Peace to you, lovely woman.


Shell Flower said...

I love the idea of starting a linky for sharing memories of loved ones we can no longer physically hug. Sending your family love and hope over these long nights. I hope your little angel visits you over the holidays in some unexpected moment of grace.

IrishRN07 said...

Thank you for this. Your family is in my prayers, this week especially.

Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

Anna, you are a remarkable woman. Reaching out to so many others in this way. This is a beautiful tribute from your heart which understands how really awful the holidays can be for those who mourn. Bless you Anna!

My Inner Chick said...

Sending MANY hugs from Minnesota this very moment. Xxo

Anonymous said...

The interview I found very moving was the one CNN conducted with Lauren Rousseau's (substitute teacher) boyfriend Tony.

The interview with Lynn McDonnell...more concerned with her looks and image if you ask me.

EatPlayLove said...

What a lovely gesture and place to feel at home, as you are so remarkable at Anna. Sending a hug from Colorado as Christmas is upon us.

McKenna said...

Thank you so much for doing this with us Anna, I hope this Christmas is a little bit easier for you and your family.

ella said...

Oh Anna, thank you so much for providing these links. I lost my dad when I was 19 and had no idea there was such a site. How wonderful.

I also lost my husband several years ago, unfortunately I'm all too familiar with death. Losing a child heart aches thinking of your loss. Still to this day. And always I suspect.

I saw a letter written by one of Sandy Hook's victim's best friends, a little boy named John writing a goodbye note to his best friend Jack. Of course your Jack came to mind, and the tears flowed, for both Jacks. And for all those grieving and hurting.

Thank you for sharing yourself through this blog. There is much sadness this Christmas, but there are also good things happening.

susan said...

Thank you Anna. I lost my sister-in-law just over 3 years ago and so miss what could have been. I wrote the following post on my blog on her birthday this year.

Anonymous said...

Against my better judgment, I looked at the video of the McDonnell family that someone posted. Didn't think I could watch something so painful.

There's a moment in the interview when Mrs. McDonnell is talking about leaving messages of love on the casket before saying goodbye, when she pauses, and takes a breath. It is all too much. And then, determined to honor her little girl, she continues, weighing each word. She will never give her a wedding, but she can do this, and she will do it perfectly.

The father doesn't talk much about the emotions he experienced when he says telling their son was the worst part. It's not needed.

They sit together, no space in between. The room is filled with tenderness, and the memory of Grace.

Diane Hill said...

I think of you and read your blog often. We just lost our son last Thursday. He was born and passed on the same day an hour later. We knew it was comming but the hole in my heart is so big. Thank you for letting us know we are not alone.

Anonymous said...

I get that the McDonnell's are trying to get beyond the horror in the classroom and honor their daughter Grace by moving forward with purpose and meaning. I believe they did the CNN interview, looking their very best, for Grace. They said they want to remember her as she was--so beautiful with the side bow in her hair. I'm sure they want her to remember them as they are--beautiful, loving, tender, and smiling.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how to post a link but
my grandson Henry died of SIDS when
he was 14 days old. That was 5 years ago and oh how we still miss him. We talk about him and know we
will see him again. His siblings speak naturally of him. He is such a good part of our lives but we all wish we had a 5 year old running around. Thank you for listening. Except for our immediate family no one ever mentions Henry and they become silent when we speak of him. Don't they know that he is still such a beautiful part of us.

San Diego Momma/Two Funny Brains said...

I can't ever imagine losing one of my children, but none of us can, can we? You share with such grace and soul strength and it's a hope beacon for those who can't express the grief yet.

Jack is with you.

I'm sorry, so very sorry for his absence from your life.

Penny said...

Anna, thank you for thinking of others in the midst of your own pain.

I hope that those who leave comments on your blog realize that it's an inappropriate place to be writing their particular views of how grief stricken a parent is or isn't based on their behavior/dress/etc during an interview. This is a time to be kind to others, not judging them because they aren't reacting the way we imagine we would at such a time.

I will be thinking of of all of you who are grieving.

Laura at Ms. Smartie Pants said...

Thank you for this Anna. This year will be very different for me and my children since loosing my husband and their father in August. We are taking it day by day, and leaning on God and friends. Blessings to you!

Rach said...

The holidays can be especially excruciating. Thank you and your friends for taking the time to work this out. I'm so glad I live in a time when we can reach out to one another in our grief instead of closing ranks and trying to do our best to survive it on our own.

As I've said before, a burden shared is a load lightened.

I pray you and your family will have an easier time of it this year.


Rach said...

Okay, a comment to all the anon commenters going back and forth about the mother's appearance in that interview.

You have NO idea how she's feeling. She's probably trying to hold it all together. Maybe she's still in shock and the reality of it all still hasn't set in for her.

Maybe her baby loved for her to look just like that, so to honor her child she's focusing on that.

Maybe she doesn't cry in public. Maybe she CAN'T cry yet. Everyone grieves in their own way and their own time and it's not for us to judge them.

Instead of casting aspersions on how we perceive they are grieving, we should instead be supporting them and showing them love.

I know I had a good facade in public and only fell apart at home. Please cut these people some slack and know that unless you've actually walked that road, you have NO clue how she "should" be acting.

prenni5 said...

This is AWESOME!!! You are awesome. I love it!! What a great idea. It's really a gift to those who are grieving to offer them a voice. You have a huge heart and that's why I love you. I'm thinking about you a lot these days and hoping you're getting through YOUR grief during this emotional time of year. Love you! -Annie

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

Thank you all for sharing your your losses and your love here on this page! Please keep those stories coming, and know that you are not alone.

I want to say that if you had seen me right after Jack's death, even on that horrible night, I would have looked and spoken very much like Grace's mom. I was very composed. I felt so much love, strength, and hope, even in the days immediately after Jack's death. I believe the Holy Spirit gave that to me, was carrying me the whole time.

Everyone grieves differently.

Lynnette said...

Thank you Anna for a place to remember our lost loved ones. We lost our precious baby Barrett at aged 6 1/2 months in March from SIDS. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him, cry for him, and wish I could turn back the hands of time. But I can't...all I CAN do is be there for my daughter and son-in-law, raise money and awareness about SIDS and pray that other families are spared this horrible loss. For someone who normally loves Christmas, this season has seemed to last F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I am hoping the symbolic turning the page on 2012 means that we will all heal just a little bit more in 2013. Anna, have kept you in my prayers and find great solace in the words you write so thank you for daring to put yourself out there emotionally.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughts on Grace's Mom. Remembering how similarly composed you were at Jack's funeral, I posted the Grace link here because I thought it, too, showed tremendous strength, love, and hope, and might offer others of us who have walked the walk the same.

Peace to you and yours this holiday.

MomtoJADE said...

I found your blog within a month after your son's death. You are one strong woman. When I mean strong I mean in the grace filled, truth talkin', "when I am weak, then I am strong" kind of way. Thank you for doing this...

I was moved on Monday to post my simple words about the Double Edge of Christmas on my blog. It is my tribute to Sandy Hook victims and my reflections on Christmas and the Hope. I would like to share/link it, but don't know where or if it is appropriate.

MomtoJADE said...

Thank you Anna for your kind words on my blog. I don't blog often, but the thoughts were placed on my heart and I feel compelled to share not for my own glory but His.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

Excellent post for those in need.
You know you are in my thoughts and prayers this holiday season.

anonymous 2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theresa O said...

Awesome post Anna. Praying for all the families hurting this time of year. Thoughts and prayers during this Holiday Season..... said...

Tears for you and your family today.

Sara said...

Anna, that you have chosen to share your pain and love and grief and humor with the world, is a tremendous gift to those of us who are so moved by your words.

I'm amazed how often you take care of us, when it really should be the other way around.

My heart is forever broken for you that Jack is not here on Earth. And my heart is forever inspired by you, for how you've chosen to honor him by opening your heart, when it would have been so easy to harden it and shut down.

Much Love and Peace to you, Tim, and Margaret.

Heidi said...

Beautifully written, Anna. What a wonderful thing to do.
Thinking of you, and holding you and your family in my heart...

Kayme said...

I did not see where to link for "loss of spouse" but I posted above anyway. If there is a better place, please feel free to let me know. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I know that losing a grandmother isn't nearly as sad as losing a child, or a parent too young. She was in her nineties and had a good, long, full life.

That doesn't mean, though, that my love for her was any less, and although I cope quite fine most days, my heart still aches for my first best friend during the holidays.

Grief isn't a contest. You love who you love. The poorly metered, terribly rhymed poems coupled with blurry photos of angels that comfort distant relatives on Facebook do nothing for me. I feel a little alone sometimes.

I am so glad to have known her.

Bryce Fleming said...

A reader left a link to your blog on my blog in memorial of my daughter who died suddenly and mysteriously just over seven months ago. Grief shared is grief buffered. I have realized over the last few months that there are all sorts of grief, some worse than mine. The parent just south of me that lost his daughter under the wheels of a drunk driver, the parent that is watching her daugter die inch by inch from cancer, the parent who's child disappeared to be found in skeletal remains months later. My daughter just stopped living one beautiful spring morning. I hold myself to blame; it was the only time in her life I was not there to save her. Share if you wish:
Thanks for sharing. I only hope we both will find a new light at the end of our tunnel.
Bryce Fleming DVM