I was not all that surprised.
Christmas music always makes me think of my grandma. Grandma died three years ago, on October 15th, 2010, a day that feels like both yesterday and a million years ago. Sometimes, in weak moments, moments when I'm tired or caught off guard because I see something Grandma would have thought was funny, I forget that she's gone, even. How is that possible?
I've been volunteering with Oak Tree Corner, a children's grief group, for six years now, so I understand that the the stages of grief are not something that can be charted. It's not like, OK, I will be in denial for a week and then angry for three weeks and I will bargain for just a few days, but I'll be depressed for three months, and then I will enter acceptance and will be done grieving for this person forever. CASE CLOSED.
I know that's not how it works. I understand, logically, that the grieving process is a dark and convoluted mess, a twisted timeline that loops back in on itself and starts and stops depending on mood or circumstance. And yet I'm still surprised when I find myself weeping quietly in the car along to the sweet sounds of Karen Carpenter singing, "I'll Be Home For Christmas."
And I'm lucky. With the exception of my younger cousin and a friend's brother from college, the deaths in my life have been due to old age or after a long illness. They've been grandparents and great-aunts and uncles, a beloved pet, sad still, of course, but not altogether unexpected.
So when I go to Oak Tree Corner and I hear some of the things these kids are struggling with, I realize just how lucky I am. My grandma was a twin, identical, and I remember how confusing it was, emotionally, when I saw her twin for the first time, just before the funeral. So when I hear a story of a child struggling with something similar, but like, times 100, it makes me wonder just how else I could be helping. Because if I was confused, how confused was that kid, you know?
It does get easier as the years go on, but it still hurts. The fresh slice of pain, blade-sharp, that took your breath away that first year fades to a dull ache as the years pass. It never stops hurting, though. It just hurts in a new way.
I spend a lot of my time thinking about Oak Tree Corner and the kids there. And yet I still always feel like there's more I could be doing. If only I thought about myself less, tried a little harder, gave a little more...yada yada yada. Everyone feels like that, though, like there's more they could be doing, because there IS always more we could be doing. So, today feels like a good day to renew my efforts a bit, to pledge to do more next year than I did this past year, and to look for new ways to help.
You can also find a list of children's grief support groups throughout the US on the National Alliance for Grieving Children's website.