For the last fourteen weeks I have been dreading Christmas day. Just hours after Jackson died, I remember realizing that Christmas was around the corner, and he wouldn’t be here for it. I remember the sensation of actual, stinging pain in my chest. Since then, I have been somewhat bracing myself for what we all expected to be a particularly excruciating day.
Christmas day and the entire holiday season has been hard without Jackson. But the reality is that every day is hard without Jackson. Every day we wake up missing him, go through our days missing him, go to sleep missing him. Every day we also have “normal” moments and interactions – and every day we also get struck by waves of grief that crash hard. And Christmas day has been no exception.
Looking around at the dinner table last night, I was struck with an overwhelming gratitude for my family. I think of all the people who wake up and go to bed each night missing their mom, dad, brother, sister, grandparent, friend, spouse. And, although each morning we wake up to the loss of Jackson, each morning we also wake up to the miracle of still having our parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and each other (and Stella, of course). The only gift of mortality salience (awareness that death is possible and inevitable) is that we are so damn grateful every single day for those who did not die. We simply do not take life for granted any more.
My heart goes out today to those of you who are missing your moms – especially a couple of women in my grad program who lost them too early. I am sending love to those missing their dads – especially a few of our college friends, a friend from my lab, and Adriana’s friend who lost hers a few weeks ago. Hugs to those missing their brothers – including another close lab friend and one of our Greenlake neighbors – and those missing their sisters – including my brother’s friend who lost his adolescent sister to SUDC several years ago. Hugs to those who lost their grandparents – like my and Adriana’s high school friends who recently lost their beloved Grammies. Another set of squeezes for those who have lost close friends, like a colleague of mine who has lost two of her best. Holding close those who have lost their spouses – like our close family friend who lost her partner to cancer and Sheryl Sandberg who lost her husband Dave and wrote a book that has changed our lives. I realize now, more than ever, how lucky I am to have all of the above relationships still present in my life, plus Bryan’s extended family and many wonderful friends.
Finally, I stand together with the thousands of bereaved mothers and fathers out there missing their children and reminding us we are not alone. Specifically, I stand beside four courageous and loving mothers: Dana, Laura, Ashley, Tracy. I couldn’t face this without your deep understanding and incredible strength. Shep, Maria, Cricket, Whitney, and Jackson will never be forgotten. And although supporting me through our loss of Jackson will never be worth the incredible cost of losing your children, you have all deeply touched and changed my life.
I don’t know if we will ever be “happy” again, but we will certainly be kinder, more grateful, people. Our culture is unfortunately fraught with insidious “feel-goodism” and an impossible quest for happiness – whatever that is. But that is no longer my goal for this life. We are committed to appreciating what we have, giving to others, and always honoring and remembering Jackson, knowing that joy and grief will be forever intertwined in our lives. Having a greater appreciation for life does not diminish our pain, and we certainly wish we could have both gratitude and Jackson – or if forced to choose one – just Jackson. But it’s not a choice. So we run with gratitude, appreciating each day that we and others wake up, arrive safely at their destination, and clear annual doctor’s visits. I am aware each day that the universe is indiscriminate with tragedy; bad things happen to good people all the time and the universe will not necessarily spare us in the future because we’ve made this enormous payment already. As Bryan often says, each day is a gift. Thank you to all who participated in Jackson’s Kindness Project this season, I can’t begin to tell you how touched and moved we are by all your contributions in Jackson’s memory (more on that here).
Jackson, we wish you could be here with us today to see your tree, covered in pink lights with each ornament picked out specifically for you. Mama made cookies and I know you would have loved them and asked for more. And when I said no, you would have asked Abuela. Christmas songs keep entering my mind and I wish we could sing them together. We played salsa music last night and you would have loved dancing with Tita and riding the Boosted Board with Tio. You would have cracked up at Stella and Callie running around together with zoomies last night, and you probably would have told Callie “no kisses” by now. I wish you could read books with Dada, play house with Abuelo and Abuela, and sit on your Biso and Bisa’s laps. I wish you could have played with sticker books with your friends Daniel, Addie, Parker, and Levi a couple nights ago at Auntie Sara and Uncle David’s house. I wish we could snuggle and draw shapes together and wear matching pajamas. I wish you were here to open your presents. CC, Gpa, Uncle Chris, Uncle James, Jo Jo, and Jack are all together, remember our last Christmas in Camano and missing you, too. We had “foopie” (smoothie) for breakfast this morning and will be having Fred’s steak with rice and beans for dinner, your favorites. We will light your candle at the table so you can be with us, although my heart breaks this is how you “join” us at the table, now. It’s no “merry” Christmas, but we are grateful for you and the most precious gift that was your life and our memories together. We love you forever, my sweet boy.