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Monday December 18, 2017


I sat across from a little girl whose mother was dying and asked her what she wanted most for Christmas. She responded, "All I want for Christmas is my family to be normal again—well, that and an Easy-Bake Oven."

I have found that the opening words of one Christmas song have the amazing ability to make me laugh while causing me to think seriously about what children who have suffered loss really want during the holidays:

Everybody pauses and stares at me. / These two teeth are gone, as you can see. / I don't know just who to blame for this catastrophe! / But my one wish on Christmas Eve is as plain as it can be! / All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.

Kids have the unique ability of describing what they want for Christmas in a way that convinces everyone around that it really is a legitimate need. At the top of every child's list of things they can't live without is that one toy that supersedes all others. Every Christmas, without fail, we watch Ralphie ask for an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle. In his dreams, it has the ability to make him a hero. He's not afraid of shooting his eye out! His only fear is not getting that BB gun.

All children have a list of items they expect to receive. Whether it's written down or not, grieving children all want basically the same thing. Like a little girl missing two front teeth, they all want something returned that has been lost. They may not know whom to blame for the catastrophe, but their one wish on Christmas Eve is clear: All they want for Christmas is a return to the way it used to be.

Small children often ask for their loved one to come home on Christmas, while older children and teens understand that is impossible. Still, there's something they want more than a new game or gadget. They want things to be the way they were before the sickness, before the accident, before the funeral, back before the holidays were just sad days in a constant stream of bad days.

The greatest gift you can give your grieving child is not a present, but your presence. Even in their pain, kids need moments to just be kids and be held. They need to see the Christmas tree replace the hospital bed. They still want to enjoy opening gifts and gathering with family even if someone they love is missing. 

Though the holidays are a magical time, we are still very aware that they don't make pain disappear. Have you ever wondered, "How can I give my children 'normal' when everything is changing?"

If there's one thing children know, it's what they want for Christmas. Ask your children what they want. Let them express how they feel about the approaching holidays and what they would like to do differently or what traditions they want to keep. Allow room for change. Give a child room to imagine and you may be pleasantly surprised at their ideas. Your loss has been a family loss, so let the decisions on how to handle it be family decisions. This may be a wonderful opportunity for mutual healing and creating meaningful family traditions.

Adults want to give their child a perfect, memorable Christmas. Don't stress over imperfection! After a death, unexpected expenses arise, making it difficult to do what you once did. The first Christmas was celebrated in a stable. It's okay for yours to be simple as well. Realistically there are no perfect holidays, so don't feel pressured to create one. Both tears and smiles will likely be mingled with the wrapping paper, and that's okay. Enjoy your good moments and bear your bad ones together.

Remember: You may not be able to replace your child's two front teeth, but you do have the unique privilege of waiting with them while new ones grow.

—Ben Webb, Guest Contributor

Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today at 336-789-2922 (toll-free 1-888-789-2922).

Tags: Grief Support