Matt,   You remember my favorite Christmas song,  John Lennon’s “So This Is Christmas And What Have You Done”.    Those words always made me stop and think about what I had done with the gift of the year I’d been given.   I would examine my behavior and think about the things I did and all the other things I wanted to do but put on the back burner for another time.    Alway under the incredibly naive assumption that I was in control and there would always be more time.

I heard the song on Pandora today and I had to sit and catch my breath.   Thinking back to another year leading up to Christmas without you.   So this is Christmas and what have I done?   Another year older and a new one just begun.   This year those words hit me as I felt that now familiar wave of grief slap against my hurting heart.   This year I became older but you remained 37.   This year I lived with a grief so powerful that many times I had to force myself to breathe.   This year as I looked back my soul fills with regret.    Things I wanted to do with you and say to you left undone.  Thought that there would  always be a tomorrow dance through my brain.   There will be no new year for us.  No my sweet boy.   No happy Christmas.   No happy New Year.

So this is Christmas and what have I learned?

I’ve learned that the pain of losing a child crushes your soul.   Changing you from the very core of your being.  The loss is indescribable,  heart obliterating,  life altering.   The pain lives in every breath and step I take.   This pain is invisible to others, but excruciating to me.   This pain has become a part of who I am.  It will remain an ever present ache with every passing moment until my last breath.

I’ve learned that grief has no stages.   Grief has a mind of its own.  Hitting so powerfully at unexpected times.  There is no rhyme, reason or warning as to when and where it will strike.   I’ve learned not to fight when those waves hit.   I’ve learned to let grief wash over my soul until it recedes.   I’ve learned grief doesn’t keep track of how long it’s been…….

I’ve learned how brutal the second year truly is when the fog has lifted and reality comes home to stay.    Never believing that any pain could be worse than that heartbreak of all the firsts.   The second has been brutal.   Kicking me to the curb slicing open my broken heart with every memory of a life that used to be.  Leaving my heart battered and bloody.     I’ve learned that shock never subsides.   I’m shocked with every punch of reality.   You are really gone.   There is no pretending this year.    My heart knows you will never be home for Christmas.   As the holidays approach pieces of me shatter to the ground.

I’ve learned that normal died the day you did.   Leaving me alone to navigate life as a bereaved parent.   For the rest of my life, I have to learn how to survive the pain.   This excruciating torture cannot be described in human language.   My grief over shadows joyful moments as I realize our life is permanently divided into before and after your death.   How I think and feel have been severely altered.   I have been taught the ultimate lesson.   We are promised nothing.  Not tomorrow, not months, nothing.   I no longer sweat the small stuff.

I’ve learned to hide behind my mask and move on.   Accepting that people are uncomfortable with grief.   I carry my elephant and play the game of surviving around those who could never imagine life after child loss.   I’ve learned that expectations lead to further heartbreak.

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So this is Christmas and what have I done?

Since your death,  I have lived the experience of Gods power in my life.   He closed the door of your addiction and opened a door of understanding and compassion for others.   Out of my brokenness,  A Hug From Matt was born.   Your life taught me to see past the shell of a person by being able to look into their soul.   I honor your life by ministering to those who are addicted and homeless.   I feel your presence in their smiles and hugs.   Bringing joy to those the world forgot brings peace and joy to my heart.

I have found the words to share our story with the world.   To shatter the ugly stigma that follows those who suffer from your disease.   Words that touch another parents heart.  Words that bring help and hope to those who share our story.   From my grief a new person has emerged.   I am fearless.   An advocate for change in the treatment of Addiction.

I have surrounded myself with parents who get it.   The broken ones.  Parents who were once strangers now hold a piece of my heart.   We encourage each other and cry together as we crawl through the days that many would never survive.   Knowing that until one experiences this loss it is almost impossible to express.  We have a permanent bond.   The bond that only a bereaved parent would understand.

Your death has impacted my life in ways I would have never imagined.   Time now allows me to stop and smell those roses I once ran by.   My faith is deeper.  Prayers are no longer recited from memory instead they come directly from my heart.    I appreciate every moment I spend with those I love.   I take nothing for granted  knowing that in one breath the world can be changed forever.

So this is Christmas.   Another without you.   This year I can reflect on the beauty that came out of the ugliness of your untimely death.   I can reflect on what I have done to honor your life.   This Christmas I will remember your smile.   I will feel you in the hug from your brother.   This Christmas you will live on through me forever……..