February sits smack dab in the middle of winter, when the skies are grey, the trees are bare and it’s cold outside. You go to work when it’s dark and come home when it’s dark. No neighbors are outside to chat with, the kids are bored inside and although the days are short, they seem to drag on and on….
Every year for the past 15 years, I brace myself for the arrival of February. Chelsea, my beloved daughter, passed away on February 10, 2001. It was only 15 days before her 10th birthday. So every year, in February, I celebrate her life, and mark her death. You would think that after 15 years it would get easier. Some years have been easier than others, but when you lose a child, the heartbreak never truly goes away. Yes, you learn to live with it. You learn to smile and laugh again. There is even joy to be found, but when thoughts drift to her, it’s just…hard. Would it be different had she died in the spring? I doubt it, but mid-winter only exacerbates the emotion that is as grey as the sky.
What should I do on February 10th? Some years I’ve taken off work, stayed under the covers and wished it would all go away. Pity parties don’t help, but sometimes the tears just fall regardless of how hard you try to not let them. Other years, I try to celebrate her life, remembering the good times and how sweet she was. I can look at pictures and watch home movies, but still the tears…. Sometimes we’ve gone on an adventure she would have enjoyed. Another year I was on a business trip and was so busy that I didn’t remember until I wrote the date. I almost panicked. It made me feel like a terrible mother. Then my own mother called to check on me and I broke down into a million pieces.
I used to struggle with terrible depression in the winter. One doctor diagnosed me with SAD: Season Affective Disorder. He suggested I try light therapy. I diagnosed myself with SAD, but I was just that, ‘sad.’
Then, there’s February 25th, Chelsea’s birthday. This year she would be turning 25. That’s hard to imagine… This day is a little easier. We always get a cake, sing happy birthday, then write messages on balloons and let them go. I love to see what Ethan and Charlotte, (my son and daughter who came after Chelsea passed away) say and write to her. They never knew her, but she is every bit a sister to them as Ashley, my oldest daughter. They talk about her like they did know her. Hopefully, because we all have talked about her so much over the years that they feel like they do. I love when they ask questions about her.
Now, when the holidays are over, and we round the corner into the new year, I see it in the distance. I know it’s coming and I try not to fear or dread it. It’s a time to remember Chelsea and celebrate the life she lived. I don’t make any definite plans as to what I’ll do or how I’ll feel, because every year is different. Awareness and acceptance of my feelings is what has made the difference. It’s okay to feel sadness and even pain, because even though it hurts, it is healing. The most important thing is to let yourself feel – all of it – the good, the bad and the ugly. Grief is a process and there is no time limit. It really never actually ends.
The best part is that after February is over, spring arrives. A renewal and rebirth of life. The trees bloom and the sun comes out and life is new all over again. I take a deep breath and know it’s going to be okay. My joy and hope is in knowing that I’ll see her again one day. So, until then, I will remember her with a smile, (and most likely a tear) and live my life to the fullest, experiencing as much joy as I can along the way.