This will be our family’s first Christmas without my son, Zakkary. The whole world seems to be celebrating while we are left wondering how we will survive. The loss slaps me in the face again and again and sometimes, other people’s words or lack of words slaps me too. Honestly, it would suit me just fine to cancel the holidays altogether but my duty as mom to nurture and encourage my surviving son, Dylan and my commitment to honor Zakkary’s memory causes a flight or fight instinct that prevails no matter what. For many of us, the biggest and best small step we will ever take is to reach out and let someone help us. This journey is not about doing it alone, it’s about figuring out what help and support we need to move forward and then seeking out that assistance. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of self-respect, hope and strength. The idea behind Christmas is to shine light in dark spaces and to give hope, to offer gifts and extend benevolence to others. I have been extended an enormous amount of grace and mercy during this loss and I recognize that I have already received the most beautiful precious gift a parent could receive. Zakkary will live on through the relationships he formed, through the people I have grown close to that also loved him, through his beautiful music and through his last selfless act of organ donation. Our family will be sending out holiday cards to Zakkary’s organ recipients this month with the hopes of meeting the people who were given the gift of life because of my son. If you or a friend has lost a child or loved one, The Compassionate Friends organization can put together a customized packet of bereavement materials to support you as you prepare for the holiday season. Some tips include:

1. Don’t put too much stress on yourself or allow other people to dictate to you how you should get through this.

2. Let close friends and family know that you are struggling and need to be able to talk about your child at this important family time.

3. Tell people that you need to have your child acknowledged by others at Christmas – to see their name in a Christmas card or to remember them with a toast, many people would be scared of doing this unless you tell them.

4. Within the family try to talk to each other, about how you are feeling, or what you all might want to do. If you have young children in the family be aware that they might wish for Christmas to carry on as before – although this can be enormously painful for you.

5. Develop a Christmas ritual involving your child – attend a candle lighting service with other bereaved parents, spend time at a special memorial place on your own or with others, make or buy a special card or decoration for your child.

6. Spend time with people who understand. Avoid those who don’t.

7. If you can’t cope with the idea of Christmas at all, go away and do something completely different. (Be aware, though, that sometimes being away from supportive friends or family can be more difficult and the jollity of strangers may be painful).

What matters is that, as far as possible, you are able to do whatever feels right for you, and eventually be able to carry the loving memory of your child with you into future Christmas-times. Thank you all for your love and support.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Renee Williams

This article appears in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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