After Jackson died I wasn’t planning on making a holiday card this year. But despite my initial urge to “boycott the holidays”, we ended up making one. Here’s why.
On October 26th we visited our good friends S & N to pick up a delicious meal train dinner they had so lovingly prepared for us and spend some time together. When we walked into their house the very first thing I noticed was Jackson’s 2nd birthday party invitation on their fridge. Like a magnet, I instinctively walked over and gently, lovingly, put my hand on the picture of his face. Our friends came over and nervously asked if it was OK that his picture was up and expressed that they hadn’t known whether to leave it up or take it down for our visit. I immediately turned to them and, with tears and a smile on my face, told them “I love it”.
That was the moment I knew that we had to do a holiday card this year. That I wanted to blast every fridge and mantel with Jackson’s face this year. That I needed to behaviorally communicate to everyone we know that the only way we could handle and survive the holidays this year was to have Jackson front and center.
We also knew that people were understandably going to be nervous about bringing him up, saying his name, or “reminding” us that he’s gone. The truth is that it’s impossible to remind a grieving person of the absence of their loved one. But I didn’t understand this – or so many other things about grief – until Jackson died. So, I knew that people were going to need our explicit permission to remember Jackson with us this holiday season.
I’ve also learned that although there are some universal truths about grief, there are also individual differences in how people prefer to be treated. Sheryl Sandberg says in her book, Option B, that it’s important to treat others as they want to be treated, not as you would want to be treated in the same situation. So, it can be understandably difficult to know how to treat us right now. People are unsure of what to say and how to act – and I would be (and have been), too. I quickly realized that the most efficient and effective way to get what we needed was to be direct and clear about what we find helpful versus not. Although books often depict this kind of coaching as an unnecessary burden on the bereaved, I have found it to be somewhat of a “win-win” when it comes to receiving social support. Our friends and family have expressed feeling “let in” and more confident in reaching out and, as a result, we have felt better understood and optimally cared for.
We decided to make the card – and this website and the Kindness Project – to express in no uncertain terms how much we want to remember Jackson over the holidays, and forever. I searched through hundreds of templates and found exactly one appropriate, perfect sentiment: “A Year to Remember”. Not “Joy”, or “Happiest Holidays” or “It’s a Wonderful Life”. We needed a simple and true statement that reflects exactly how we feel, that we want to remember Jackson’s second and last year with us. Although we can’t prevent the world from going on and we can’t force people to stop carrying on with their lives, we can ask everyone we know to at least remember him with us.