Death at the Holidays, Margaret McAbee

Husband’s Death Left Mark on Holidays

Several years ago, just a few days before Christmas that I received that late night phone call that would forever change the lives of my children and me. My husband had been stabbed to death. His death left an indelible mark on our holiday celebrations.  I am certain we will never celebrate a Christmas in our family without remembering. It seems a death connected to any holiday or other special day takes on a life of its own and colors that particular event for years to come.

The first years after his death were naturally the most difficult; the holidays likely would have been ignored if our extended family hadn’t guided us through the motions. The birth of my first grandchild in mid-December gives us something new to celebrate. While most of us don’t like change, some things are constantly changing and evolving.  Families are like that, too.

My little boys, then six and seven, are now grown men. Children, nieces and nephews have married and a new generation is being born. Grandchildren are the proof that life goes on and they bring wonder and joy to the holidays. Our family has grown from the seven of us to 13 with marriages and births.  Likewise, my extended family has grown and changed. Several nieces and nephews were born and others have married and had children since Bill’s death.  Our family continues to change and grow. The feelings of sadness have gently drifted into the background. Shopping remains the most difficult part of the holidays for me, but it was never my favorite thing to do.

I remember how painful the death of my husband was those first years when someone would wish me a Merry Christmas. I could hardly maintain my composure.  Unfortunately, society doesn’t afford us a symbol of mourning to shield us from such greetings and most of the folks we meet aren’t aware when one is mourning.  I learned to limit my shopping during the holiday rush and to do more through the mail to avoid those situations.  After a few years, shopping became less difficult and now most holiday preparations are enjoyable.

Early on, I found that I didn’t have to look far to find someone with whom I wouldn’t trade places. The number of people who witness the murders particularly troubles me. Many children witness the murder of their parent or discover the suicide of a parent. Often children are left without parents because of homicide or suicide. They often lose their home as well as their parents.  Grandparents and other relatives who step up to care for the children left behind leave me in awe. I admire their courage for taking on the challenges and responsibilities of raising another family. I can’t help wondering where they find the strength and energy for raising children along with coping with their grief. Thankfully, there are people to love and care for these children.

I’ve learned to count my blessings and focus on the positive things that happen in our lives. I am grateful for my family and friends. I’ve been fortunate to meet many wonderful people through my work with victims. It is truly a privilege to be allowed to walk with people on their grief journey and to witness their healing and personal growth after a tragedy. I’ve been fortunate to see that happen with many of you. I am also blessed with many dedicated people who give generously of their time and talents to sustain the work of the Survivor Resources. It would not be possible to maintain the level and quality of services we provide without their help. Hopefully. the coming year will bring peace and healing for each of you.