A Christmas Blog: The First Christmas

By Mary Cucarola – 12/9/23

“It’s another way of trusting, that even in the darkness of those sad, sleepless nights that feel like torture, your new beautiful life has already begun to grow.”  ~Dear Sugar Letter, #37 by Cheryl Strayed.

I attended a funeral this week for a CFS scholarship recipient. He was young, with an 8-year-old daughter, and a wonderful family, who loved and cared for him while he was in hospice. The church was entirely full of family members and friends, decorated with a lovely Christmas tree, flowers, and other holiday decorations.

He died of renal and liver failure from alcoholism. The family did not hide the reason he died; it was in his obituary and the sermon by the Lutheran pastor, so I applaud them for being honest about it. Families usually feel stigmatized and judged by others due to their loved one’s addiction and do not mention their cause of death.

Christmas is hard enough for those who have lost a child, and I feel for the family losing their son at this time of year. In fact, it brings up memories of when I lost Cody, and how emotionally traumatic it was at the time. The first Christmas without him magnified the pain and heartache, and I honestly thought I could not live without him.

Fortunately, I had a good grief counselor who kept me from going off the deep end, as well as support from family and friends. Nurturing the healing by letting myself grieve, feeling what I truly felt, without self-incrimination, was instrumental in getting through that first year.

I felt anger back then, anger at Cody and myself, but mostly God. I had to be willing to stay with it while I sorted it out and faced the loss, recognizing I could not change it. I ran up and down my stairs to ease my anger and pain. Oddly, it made me feel better and whenever the anger overwhelmed me, I headed to my stairs.

Seeking out things that make you feel better is key. Things that absorb your attention and distract you from the sadness. Things that calm you and that you enjoy, even though your heart is broken. Things that make you laugh. I have an old childhood friend who is very witty, and he would call to cheer me up and make me laugh. He was a life saver at the time, and I will always be grateful to him. Laughter in the face of pain is good medicine.

Limiting things that make you feel worse can also help ease the pain, too. Drinking too much alcohol will not help, trust me on this one. For me, not dealing with Cody’s personal belongings would have been a burden to me, so I dealt with them right away.

I am not saying it was easy by any means, but looking at his possessions caused me to fall deeper into my grief. I kept only those things that held meaning for me, like his letter jacket, his golf team items, his John Elway jersey, his AA chips, his God Rock, his AA book, the note on his nightstand of things he wanted to do to better himself. I keep them in a box in my bedroom and occasionally go through them when I am feeling strong and need to feel near him. They still smell like him.

Getting through the first Christmas is challenging to say the least, and it will take time to recover from the loss. Reach out to someone, run up and down your stairs, meditate, or laugh. Embrace your grief in your own way. It is a natural response to loss.

Grief is not a sign of weakness; it is the price of love.

Merry Christmas,

Mary Cucarola – 12/9/23