Your Stories

Traditions, Comfort, Hot Chocolate, and Cheez Whiz on Toast

Times traditionally spent with family are often the hardest thing to bear after your child or loved one dies. These occasions make the sorrow of not having them with us more glaringly obvious and so painful that it can be difficult to bear. The first years were the worst for me but they have gotten better in time. I always thought that idea was a cliché and wouldn't have believed that "time heals wounds" in the first few years after our daughter died, but I can now say it is true, because I've been through it and it has proved true in my case. It's not easy but after talking with other parents it seems that everyone eventually finds their own ways to cope. There is no one size fits all. In the early years after a child's death many people start new traditions-going out for dinner instead of a home based family meal, going skiing or going out of town instead of being at home for family get-togethers. In time though, reinstituting old traditions can bring comfort and provide warm memories and that's where I am this year.

I was thinking about this today because it was the first real snow we've had in our area of the BC Lower mainland and I found myself thinking about my daughter, Brenna. As much as I still miss and even ache for her periodically, my memories of her now are not sad, but seem to be held together and bound with a warm glow and feelings of love.

We always had a tradition of letting both our girls stay home from school on the first snow day. Now of course, Brenna was in a wheelchair so there were some practicalities around that but it was always a special day when it seemed the world hushed (and traffic does virtually stop here), we turned on the fireplace, drank hot chocolate and had Cheez Whiz on toast (or blended it up for Brenna and gave it to her in her g-tube), snuggled under fleece blankets and watched TV. When we felt adventurous we'd bundle everyone up and go outside and build a snowman--but never a regular snowman--cats, dogs, Winnie the pooh, and even little mice. We would use Calvin and Hobbes cartoons for inspiration.

When evening came we'd turn off the electric lights, light some candles, open the drapes wide, watch the snow fall and the TV. We even had a specific movie/show line-up based on their ages and interests: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (great winter scenes), 101 Dalmatians, Sound of Music, Pingu (it's a cartoon about a little penguin), Madeline (the little French girl), and Balto.

After Brenna died we did carry the tradition on for the sake of our younger daughter, Keeley, but it was never the same. We always let Keeley stay home from school on the first snow day but she ended up doing stuff on the computer, I made myself busy on the other computer and Bruce would watch whatever was on TV. I realize now we were all essentially to try to 'forget' the pain we felt. Don't get me wrong we still made snowmen, we did turn on the fireplace and light candles but there was always a residual of underlying pain. For the past 4 or 5 years or so as Keeley was reaching adulthood, snow day just kind of slipped away. I was working, she was working, and Bruce was working. And that was ok. And maybe letting go of it completely was what we needed in order to make peace with it.

Brenna died in 1997 and I just cannot believe it is 15 years for us since her death. Sometimes it still seems new and fresh and other times it seems like it was a world away. Keeley is 20 now and moved out of the house 2 months ago so no doubt I'm dealing with the some empty nest syndrome emotions but this morning when I woke up and saw the snow, I had an almost literal heart pang which was all wrapped up in missing Brenna, missing Keeley, and missing the way things used to be. I took the time to just sit down and think about it all. Happy times and thoughts of those days flooded in and I ran through all of the things that made our "tradition" of the first snow day a "tradition". I got up from the couch, put the fireplace on, made myself a cup of hot tea in my snowflake teapot and watched the snow fall. And then I decided to take the day off.

It's afternoon now and the snow is melting-it probably won't stay into the evening--with weather in the Lower Mainland this might be the only snow we have all year! Still, taking the day off allowed me time to slow the world down and do some thinking. I realized our snow day tradition was about doing something unusual, something decadent and spending time together. All day I've done just that--I've spent time doing things I truly enjoy, including writing this experience and working on some art-it feels decadent and unusual. I'm going to bring back some of the old traditions and honour those warm memories. First, when the darkness falls in a few hours from now, I'm going to turn off the electric lights, open the drapes and put on some candles. Then I'll snuggle under a blanket with Bruce and watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (my favourite), Brenna's favorite-101 Dalmatians and Keeley's favourite, Pingu. Hot chocolate and a slice of toast with Cheez Whiz on it will be my evening snack. And who knows if it snows again tonight, maybe I'll get out there and create one of the other Calvin and Hobbes snowmen scenes I've got listed on my bucket list.

During the times that have special meaning to you, whether the loss of your child or someone dear is new or if you have been on this journey for some time, I wish you the gift of time to slow down, step off the world and take care of yourself and your family. I wish you time to discover new or old traditions that will bring you comfort and warm memories of your loved one.

By: Susan