Empty Arms Bereavement

Making Space, Holding Light

Healing a Heart
By Sara Barry

Eight years after my son died, I still find myself bracing for December, wanting to retreat or hibernate. Wanting to jump right ahead to January and the new year. But I can’t so I deliberately make space.

I make space to honor the life and love and joy of this season. I hold space for the grief and love and sorrow this month brings. In one intense seven-day stretch mid-December, I honor the birthdays of both my daughters and the death of my son.

I worried, even before my girls were born, about this month. I wanted to throw them birthday parties and share joyful Christmases. I wanted that, and yet I felt the weight of December 17 and the days leading to it. I have learned to hold it all.

I make space. I conserve energy. I make choices to let go of things that don’t matter.

That means I do my Christmas shopping early. I’ve given up on sending holiday cards. I postpone all appointments until January.

I say no to projects that feel too big or overwhelming or rushed. I say no to adding too many activities to our calendar—even ones that sound like a lot of fun.

I say yes to coffee dates with friends who will sit with the fullness of this month with me. I say yes to stepping outside to feel the sun on my back. I’ve said yes to my neighbor making birthday breakfast cake for my daughter. I’ve said yes to my sister picking up a gift for my nieces. And sometimes I’ve said yes to doing those things myself.

I say yes to a Christmas tree (though I didn’t always). I say yes to the bright red birds that remind me of Henry’s smile.

I say yes to birthday cake and parties—and yes to the down time I need after.

I take off the day he died. I wait to see what feels okay on that day, which may be sitting in front of the fire or walking in the woods or looking at pictures or making Christmas cookies.

We go to the cemetery as a family in the cold, waning light when my girls are out of school and lay a wreath in front of his stone. My husband and I hold each other in the cold and then turn back to the car. There is nothing else to do there. 

A week later, Christmas. Dark and light, sorrow and joy, life and death. These contrasts are stronger and deeper in December. And yet each has it’s part. You hold can space for both sides. You can hold both parts together and feel it all deeply and fully. May you you find light and peace and joy in this season.

How do you make space for yourself and your loss at this busy time of year with its call to be merry? Have you found light in the darkness?

2 thoughts on “Making Space, Holding Light”

  1. Lovely, Sarah. We enjoy going through all of the ornaments on the "kids’ tree" and remembering when our son made them. We also make a photo ornament for each year. We did this before he died, and continue it now, even though he isn’t in the new photos. I do have to do some things in Dec that I don’t want to do, but I try to be gentle on myself.

  2. Sara, this brings me right back to that time eight years ago and the deep heartbreaking sorrow and helpless I felt for you. Thank you for this.

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