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Holidays without late daughter are still hard

When I pulled Harlynn’s stocking out from the storage bins, I came undone once again. The sorrow was overwhelming, Val Kleppen writes. Special to Forum News Service1 / 2
Val Kleppen, Parenting Perspectives columnist2 / 2

FARGO — Thanksgiving was difficult. Earlier in the week, I became completely overwhelmed by grief. We took some time off from homeschooling because I couldn't rein in my emotions. On top of the grief was a giant weight of confusion. I was completely caught off guard by the intense sorrow. It was our fifth Thanksgiving since our daughter Harlynn died, but I hadn't experienced grief like this since the initial weeks and months after she passed away.

During our Thanksgiving holiday meal, I looked up to see one empty chair directly across the table from me. No doubt, the chair she should have been sitting in.

I knew the lump in my throat wasn't because of any of the food, but I didn't understand why it hit me so hard this year. I fought back tears as we dined. We had company at our table, and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

The juxtaposition of enjoying visiting with company while simultaneously grieving my daughter's absence was exhausting.

Two days later, with the Thanksgiving meal behind us, I began to go through our Christmas decorations and get our new home set up for the season. When I pulled Harlynn's stocking out from the storage bins, I came undone once again.

The sorrow was overwhelming. It was as though I was experiencing the initial stages of grief when she had just died. I couldn't think clearly. My brain was in a constant fog. Things around me seemed to move slowly. My arms ached. The tears were almost incessant. I couldn't sleep well. I was exceptionally anxious.

For being five holiday seasons into this journey of having lost our baby, I felt like I should have had a better handle on my feelings.

Why was I reeling so harshly after being so experienced in walking through grief during the holidays?

I hung Harlynn's stocking on the mantle, but wondered how many more times I would do that. I wondered if my tradition of writing her a letter on Christmas Eve and putting in her stocking was a tradition I should continue. I wondered if I should put her stocking back in the storage bin. I wondered what our other children would think if her stocking wasn't among theirs. I wondered why I had so many restless thoughts.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas is just around the corner, I wonder if the grief will resurface as intensely as it did just a few weeks ago. I guess I can never assume I'm beyond that point, though I'm confident I can navigate through it if it happens again.

I want Little Miss and Little Man to have fond memories of our holiday traditions, our meals, our time together. The fact remains, however, their memories may include moments (or days) when Mama falls apart.

I have so much to be thankful for, so much I enjoy, so much I appreciate and so much I love.

But I also still grieve.