When The Holidays Aren’t So Jolly: Tragedy

christmas-tragedyIf you live long enough, you will most likely experience the tough stuff of life that tends to come in waves around the holiday season. Is this by mere chance? Do we just notice depressing events more during a time centered around family and the birth of Jesus? Or, perhaps could it be a direct result of spiritual battles during the celebration of arguably the world’s most influential, historical event?

Christmas, and the holidays surrounding it, have been extraordinarily happy times for most of us. However, certain events do occur around this time that impact us the rest of our lives.

I have two. One ended in the finality of tragedy and one has a happy ending.

This post will be on the tragedy and a subsequent one will follow on the other.

(Please note: because specifics surrounding the family member found at the center of this story are very personal, I have chosen not to reveal certain details. I don’t feel they are mine to share in a public forum.)

It was early December eight years ago. My eldest was almost three, my daughter was six months old, Bailey the Geriatric Maltese was still with us as neurotic and separation anxiety filled as ever and the baby daddy and I were sleeping.

At midnight, the phone rang. Let’s be honest here. You know that’s never good. We both bolted right up in bed as my husband frantically answered the phone.

“Hello?” Quick pause that felt like an eternity. “She’s DEAD?!” Heavy, irregular breathing. “I’m on my way.”

We had just learned that our sister-in-law was gone. An avoidable, unnecessary tragedy that honestly, should never have happened. Within five minutes, my husband was out the door and there I sat in that king sized bed, the white fur ball fulfilling his constant companion role, my babies sleeping, and me frantically grasping at straws to answer the “Why?”.

My in-laws and her family had not heard from her and were obviously concerned. Her husband was out of town so my in laws had gone to her house to check on her. It’s there they had found her. She had been gone several hours.

As many understand that experience situations like this, you are forced to undergo a quick education in dealing with law enforcement, the coroner and the complicated dynamics of family relationships.

From there, my husband and his father drove several hours to inform her husband and bring him home. Her family began dealing with their own pain. Complicated relationships only got more complex. A normal human response to tragedy is to want to blame. I understood where they were coming from on some levels.

For me, I also had many unanswered questions and guilt. Could I have done something to help her? If I would have known her struggles then I would have spent more time with her, offered my ear, gone to meetings with her, become more of an active presence and engaged in frank dialogue.

She had been in the family long before me. At the time, I was unaware of factors that had been in play for years. Ignorant to the realities of her hell.

We were even in the same profession when it happened. I remember having to assist her manager and partner in getting her business dealings together and transferred. At least I felt helpful in some way. Her death rocked their team. They too, looking back, had seen signs but, like me, had not understood the bird’s eye view of the situation.

That Christmas was hard. It was incredibly sad. There was a void. As a mother, I still look at the Christmas decorations she had bought for my oldest the first two years of his life. By the way, I REALLY hope our new dog and my youngest don’t destroy those because it’s evidence that his Aunt loved him, her handwriting and all. In fact, one of the last pictures I have of her was holding my daughter. I caught her laughing while wiping a tear from her eye when she was in her arms. I get it now.

All she ever wanted was to become a mother and, sadly, that wasn’t in the cards for her, in this life anyway. Failed infertility treatments had succeeded in a pregnancy but also in an early miscarriage. I like to envision her surrounded by the children that belonged to her for those short weeks, finally fulfilled, finally at peace.

As a wife, I learned that my husband worked through grief very different than me. He wanted to be alone and that was okay. I’m sure what he and his parents saw that dreadful night are forever etched into a memory they wish could be erased.

Fortunately, time heals some of the freshest of wounds but I always think of her in December. There was some comfort and closure to one of my biggest questions at her visitation. As an action oriented personality, I felt I should have known and been able to help her in some way. I fully believed that I could have motivated her to kick her addictions and demons. Her counselor, as she walked through the visitation line, looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Honey, we knew, were equipped to help her but we were unsuccessful. She was not in a place where she wanted help and your words would have fallen on deaf ears.”

I guess I share all of this to warn how beautiful people can lose sight of their value, how we never know what people are dealing with, that the holidays are a time of great joy but also of great suffering and a call to open our eyes to the realities of invisible battles people close to us may be fighting.

I never understood while she was living why I couldn’t get close to her. Anybody that knows me gets that I covet the closeness of friendships. There was some closure knowing that it was never me but the circumstances of her struggles.

The positive for me of the whole terrible experience is that I know more to better educate my children on addiction and I know more about warning signs, possibly to identify others in need.

In this Christmas season, be aware of your own inner voices, feelings and influence. There is no where that ever proves anything other than God is a substitutable answer to problems.

Chose wisely, live with purpose, love hard and share this if you feel the words will be helpful to others in any way.