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From the Fall/Holiday 2009 issue of For Those Who Give and Grieve.

For those of us who’ve lost a loved one, holidays can be exhausting. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s important to give ourselves “permission” to do what’s necessary to help us cope. What helps you get through the holidays?

IN FEBRUARY OF 2010, I WILL BE STARTING MY 11TH YEAR. AS A VOLUNTEER FOR MAGGIE COOLICAN...IN DECEMBER 1998, MY SON,BECAME A TISSUE DONOR TODD, A POLICE OFFICER, DIED OF A FATAL GUNSHOT WOUND. IT WAS A VERY PUBLIC DEATH, AND RECEIVED A LOT OF MEDIA ATTENTION. TODD'S BURIAL WAS ON THE DAY WE NORMALLY TRIM OUR CHRISTMAS TREE....USAUALLY IT WAS THE PARTY OF THE YEAR FOR THE SMITH FAMILY...NOW, GLOOM AND SADNESS PERVAILED...I WONDERED IF I WOULD EVER SMILE AGAIN.....A WEEK LATER . MY DAUGHTER LISA CALLED TO SAY THEY WERE GOING TO HAVE THE TRIM THE TREE PARTY THAT EVENING..SHE POINTED OUT THAT THERE WERE FIVE CHILDERN UNDER 11 YEARS OLD WHO STILL WANTED CHRISTMAS...SHE LEFT THE DECISION TO ATTEND, UP TO MY HUSBAND AND ME ...AT NOONTIME I FOUND MYSELF BAKING MY "MY FAMOUS PEACH PIE" FOR THE PARTY. WE ARRIVED JUST AS THEY WERE PLACING THE LAST ORNAMENT ON THE TREE....AMID SQUEALS OF JOY FROM THE CHILDERN MY HUSBAND TOOK ME IN HIS ARMS AND WE DANCED AS THE MUSIC PLAYED "DANCING AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE" THE CHILDERN CLAPPED AND I SMILED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN DAYS... AS THE LITLLEST BOY SAID " YOU STLL BELEIVE IN SANTA CLAUS AND THE BABY JESUS.. RIGHT MAMARN" "OH YES" I SAID

SOMETIMES IT IS NECESSARY TO PUT OUR OWN GRIEF ASIDE TO BRING HAPPINESS TO OTHERS..AS I WRITE THIS, I AM REMINDED OF WORDS FROM AN OLD POEM
"INSTEAD OF WAITING FOR OTHERS TO BRING YOU FLOWERS. YOU PLANT YOUR OWN GARDEN AND SOW YOUR OWN SEEDS..AND YOU FIND THAT THAT YOU REALLY ARE STRONG AND YOU REALLY CAN ENDURE...AND YOU LEARN AND LEARN, WITH EVERY GOODBY YOU LEARN"
HAPPINESS, LOVE AND PEACE TO ALL... THIS HOIDAY SEASON
JEAN SMITH DONOR MOM
VOLUNTEER
MTF
LIFE CHOICE DONOR
SERVICES

Posted by: JEAN SMITH


Surround yourself with cherished memories:
My son, DJ, although sweet and kind and athletic was not very creative, nor ambitious. In high school he was required to work on an art project. Because of our love of the Christmas season, he chose to build me a one-of-a-kind Christmas tree made out of wire coat hangers, gold garlands and a string of Christmas lights. While I admired the hard work that went in to it, his sisters only saw a hideous mass of wire and stringy gold. Never the less, I put it up each year, hanging my treasured ornaments on each wire “limb”. DJ passed away just after his twentieth birthday. He was an organ donor. My husband and I were moving to a new house just days after his Celebration of Life Ceremony (funeral). Everything was packed, including that Christmas tree. When December rolled around, and I unpacked that tree, it was a bit worse for wear. We spent hours reshaping the wire and attaching loosened gold garlands. The string of lights, however, were unharmed. I again hung my most treasured ornaments on each wire “limb”, including some given to me thanking DJ for his gift of organ donation. This year however, when we plugged in that tree, it no longer resembled a mass of wire and string but a gold, glowing reminder of generosity and thoughtfulness that DJ represented in life AND in death.

Posted by: Shelly J Sinn


What helps me is decorating our Christmas Tree with ornaments our daughter made and ones I have made in her Memory, some with her picture on them. Being with our Family and celebrating our Blessings as we Remember our Angel Michelle for being not only a gift to us but also the gifts of Life and Sight that she gave to others. The Spirit of Christmas is in our Giving.

Posted by: Cindy Jo Greever


In the 19 years since my son, Rob, died, my family and I have tried a number of things to help us get through the holidays. I have to admit, it has gotten easier over time. I think that is because we have incorporated Rob's death into the fabric of our lives and that has allowed us all to move forward and actually enjoy holidays again. What has helped us? The first few years, when we had young children, I felt it was so important to celebrate Christmas even though it was difficult for me to buy and wrap gifts. But I wanted my surviving three children to have good holiday memories. They had already lost their brother, I could not take Christmas away from them, too.
It also helped me to find a needy family or child who I could buy gifts for at Christmas in my son's memory. I continue to do that. It also helps our family to make sure we incluide Rob in some way in our celebration by hanging an ornament or lighting a candle or sharing a memory. In these ways, Rob's life and death remain part of our family story.

Posted by: Susan Means


On August 31, 2004,my daughter, Susan, age 34, was robbed and kidnapped and died from injuries sustained when she tried to escape her assailant.
I miss her every day of the year, but the holiday season is especially difficult. One of the traditions in our family has always been to "hang" stockings for Santa to fill on Christmas eve. The first Christmas without Susan, we knew she would still want to be part of this tradition. Susan always baked peanut butter cookies for the holidays and gave them as gifts. We decided to bake her favorite cookie and package them in bags tied with pretty ribbons and an angel ornament. We put the bags inside the stocking for everyone. When each person took theirs out, we ended up talking about Susan and happy memories;a wonderful way to remember and honor her on Christmas Day. This new tradition with Susan's stocking has continued every year. I know she is smiling and happy she is still part of our Christmas!!

Posted by: Bobbie Boyer


We lost our 16 year old son on December 13,2002. Holidays since than have not been the same. We now go away for Christmas and try to visit family for the other holidays so we are not alone. Last year my husband decided to stay home and put up a live tree. He put every onrnament we owned on the tree including Michael's. IT was difficult but something we needed to do to face the holidays in our future without our son. One major thing we did was establish a scholarship in our son's name and do a golf tournament to raise funds for it annually. It has become a mini family reunion. His death has brought my family closer and for that I am most grateful as well as all the people he helped as an organ donor.

Posted by: Hope Casseri


The holidays were always difficult after a family member passed. I wanted to avoid them! So when my mother passed away and the holidays came upon us, I realized I was going to HAVE TO face the holidays with a smile on my face for my own family. So as before, we instilled our old family traditions for the holidays as well as coming up with new ones. Our old family traditions include making a recipies that have been handed down for many generations from my Irish grandmother who is now gone. One of our new traditions is the making of gingerbread cookies. That way old and new traditions are combined. Now instead of dreading the holidays, I actually look forward to our old family traditions along side our new ones.In our hearts, our family members who have passed are still with us to celebrate along with us.

Posted by: Debbie Hinkley


when i lost my daughter amber indec 7th 2005 i never thought i would get through it. she was a l.p.n. and 26 years old and left a 6 year old son behind. the holidays and her birthday are very rough. how do i cope? well every holiday i go and decorate her grave with all the things she loved about the holidays. from january to december every holiday she ha special things she decorated her house with, so taking them to her grave helps me alot because her,things are with her. christmas time i have a nativity scene i set up with her picture in the middle of it and candles around it. her son andrew also decorates things on her grave, family and friends is the greatest support you can have to get through the rough times.She was an organ donor, her corneas help a baby and a young man to see again and i know that makes me feel good since she was a nurse and helped people she continued to help even after her death. debbie mccray

Posted by: debbie mccray


when i lost my daughter amber indec 7th 2005 i never thought i would get through it. she was a l.p.n. and 26 years old and left a 6 year old son behind. the holidays and her birthday are very rough. how do i cope? well every holiday i go and decorate her grave with all the things she loved about the holidays. from january to december every holiday she ha special things she decorated her house with, so taking them to her grave helps me alot because her,things are with her. christmas time i have a nativity scene i set up with her picture in the middle of it and candles around it. her son andrew also decorates things on her grave, family and friends is the greatest support you can have to get through the rough times. debbie mccray

Posted by: debbie mccray


Our 22 year old son, Jeremy, became an organ donor following his death in NM in 1992. We'd attended The Compassionate Friends (TCF) in Seattle, where we lived, for a little over a year, before one of the board members asked me if I would be on the Holiday Panel. I was the newest grieving panel member, and so was asked how we'd gotten through the first series of holidays. I remember getting choked up, because we had three holidays between the time he'd died, and Christmas that first year. Sadly, the holidays were just a blur, so that's what I shared. Being on the panel some years later, I was able to share the difference, as we'd had some time to grieve, work through re-defining our family unit, and roles within that unit, and how we'd used that time to reinvest in the community. By this point, we'd been advocating for organ and tissue donation via the NW Kidney Center and Life Center NW. These 3 organizations offered holiday remembrance celebrations, so we always felt supported. We have life-long friendships we didn't have before.

Posted by: Denise Montoya


It's been 16 years since our son Scott died as the result of vehicle accident. He's been gone now for as long as he was alive. The first years were the most difficult. We too kept the tradition of bying him an ornament and placing it on the tree. He loved the holidays. As a little boy I would find that he had left his bed and fallen asleep under the tree. At first putting up the tree broke my heart, but now my husband and I decorate the tree in his memory knowing how much he enjoyed this holiday. We sit and watch the lights knowing Scott's with us. We talk and share his memory not only during the holidays, but throughout the year. Grief still sneaks up on us and cuts like a knife, but the good memories we have enable us to work through those times.

Posted by: Lillian


My son Bradley loved holidays, any holiday, from New years all the way through to Christmas. since his passing I do what I feel I can do. Some years I really get into a holiday, but if it's a year I don't feel I can handle it, I don't try.

Posted by: Linda Jordan


Our 17 year old daughter died right before Christmas of injuries suffered when she and her boyfriend were t-boned by an adult speeding red light runner. Sarah loved Christmas and had just decorated our home for the holidays. Every year on the anniversary of her death we decorate the house as a way of remembering her. Our family has always attempted to avoid "hustle and bustle" around the holiday and focus on the meaning of giving. We honor Sarah and her passion for teaching preschool by carrying that passion on. Every year we adopt several preschoolers who are in need of gifts and provide them with toys and clothing. This helps to focus on what brings hope rather than on what we are missing.

Posted by: Sue Wintz


I lost my 16yr. old daughter Tiffany Taylor on Dec.24,1996. Christmas had always been my favorite time of the year and I was determined that in memory of my daughter I would not let that change. Every Christmas Eve I light a candle and burn it all day in her memory. I know she would want me to continue to love Christmas and to be thankful for the time we had together.

Posted by: Linda Brown


I have chosen to honor Amanda by being active with Team Oklahoma. Attending the US Transplant Games gives me strength and keeps me in contact with those who truly understand my loss. If you have never attended the US Transplant Games, plan now to meet us in Madison, WI next year!

Posted by: Cheryl Manley


My 19-year old son died in 2003, right before Thanksgiving. Needless to say, that holiday and Christmas just really didn't happen for me.
The first few years, I did not even do any decorating, except at my son's grave, but now, I do put up the tree and I do get into the spirit, but perhaps not in the same way I did before.
I always buy a special ornament for my daughter in remembrance of her brother and one for myself, as well.
I like to donate to charity in memory of my son and this helps me as well.
Knowing that he was an organ donor and helped so many is also a comfort.
But the holidays will never be what they used to be for me and I have accepted that new reality.

Posted by: Stephanie Willis


Since I lost my son Justin close to Christmas, it was especially painful to celebrate my favorite holiday without him. My family and I decided to travel to a new sunnier destination over the holiday rather than spend it at home. We invite family to join us there.Each family member chooses one activity they want to do while we are there. It could be star gazing or snorkeling or just trying a local resturant. We started a new tradition that helped us start living again.

Posted by: Pamela White


We have a special ornament for Mac on our Christmas tree. We have a wreath that I made and a special poem that we read as we light candles in remembrance of Mac, this is always a part of our holiday to keep his memory alive. We always have a memorial for him in the Indpls. Star for his birthday. We always talk and remember family stories of our fun times and memories of him. He is always with us. In memory of MAC WINKLE 2/2/76 - 7/6/94

Posted by: Linda Winkle


My son Terry died March 11, 1998 at age 19 and gave the gift of life to 7 people. Christmas was his favorite holdiay. I buy a special ornament each year in his honor. When I have grandchildren some day I will pass these ornaments on to them and tell them of the uncle they never met. I also buy gifts for less fortunate families and children in Terry's honor. He was always a giving person and this way he still gives on long after death.

Posted by: Kathy Snow


I lost my husband almost 2 years ago.We have a son who has always loved Christmas more than any other holiday. My mother-in-law used to make cinnamon rolls when we would visit her in Hilo, Hawaii. I watched her many times hoping I could make them also. She is Japanese and did not speak much English. I have treated our family to these cinnamon rolls every year ONLY on Christmas morning. I didn't think I could continue after I lost my husband . . . I have made them for 2 years and will every year to honor and remember him and his comtribution to this family.

Posted by: Roxanne Kuramoto


I lost my husband almost 2 years ago.We have a son who has always loved Christmas more than any other holdiay. My mother-in-law used to make cinnamon rolls when we would visit her in Hilo, Hawaii. I watched her many times hoping I could make them also. She is Japanese and did not speak much English. I have treated our family to these cinnamon rolls every year ONLY on Christmas morning. I didn't think I could continue after I lost my husband . . . I have made them for 2 years and will every year to honor and remember him and his comtribution to this family.

Posted by: Roxanne Kuramoto


I am organizing a candle lighting ceremony in our commuinty. I have also gotten involved with the Boys & Girls Club and have brought the "Festival of Trees" to our town. My daughter liked the Boys & Girls Club and this is my way of keeping her spirit alive. Christmas was always her favorite holiday and she was always about giving to others and didn't care about receiving.

Posted by: Linda Johnson


It's comforting to remember my son Adrian's smile,he is the Christmas candle that lights my heart,written on his boot headstone is "Life is a Dance" So dance for Jesus during Christmas birth!
Mary Jane Camarillo-Balderrama

Posted by: Mary Jane Camarillo- Balderrrama


For the first 3 years after my husband's death, I didn't decorate for any holidays. Then the next year my 7 year old granddaughter asked me why I didn't have a tree "like grampa used to put up". Since then I have a tree and our family spends a little time talking about our memories of Christmas when he was alive. I realized that by not keeping rituals was stealing from those of us still alive.

Posted by: peggy salters


This is our fourth Holiday Season since my husband, Ron, passed. What helps me get through the holidays is respecting and honoring the traditions of the past that were important to us as a family, but also realizing that we need to establish new traditions that reflect who we are in the here and now. One that is very important to us, is that we still have the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, but instead of another big meal at home on Christmas, we go to a very exclusive inn, and let ourselves be pampered by the very attentive staff. On the way home, we get a movie, and enjoy family quiet time at home with the "Yule Log" ablaze in the family room fireplace. This our time to talk about Christmas Past and keep Ron's memory a part of our celebration.

Posted by: Mary Schuler


The LORD is the one that helps me get through all of the rough places in my life. Then comes my children and their families, and then my dear friends they too are a blessing to me and such an encouragement to my life.

Posted by: Jean Shannon


The LORD is the one that helps me get through all of the rough places in my life. They comes my children and their families, and then my dear friends they too are a blessing to me and such an encouragement to my life.

Posted by: Jean Shannon


For the first 4 years after my son Nick died in a bicycle accident I couldn't bear to put up a Christmas tree so we hung favorite ornaments from our living room archways. Since I had given both of my children a special ornament at each Christmas, I had 24 wonderful, memory-making ornaments to hang for Nick. In the past few years, we have again began putting up a tree, but we put all of Nick's ornaments on the mantle in a special place of honor. As I look at each one I remember why he received each ornament (a soccer-playing Santa for the high school soccer days, a hot-air balloon for his trip to England) and I smile at those cherished memories. I have found that creating a ritual involving the life of Nick, rather than just his death, has helped me heal. I do sometimes look at the ornaments and feel sad for a moment, but I think that is just part of the "healing, but not forgetting" part of losing a child.

Posted by: Peggy Lehr


It seems like only yesterday since I lost the love of my life- my husband Cliff Echols. He was only 36. Even though its been 8 years, my heart still feels the love deep inside and that helps keep his spirit alive within me. One of my favorite movie quotes of all times sums it up. "If the people we love are taken from us, the way they live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever."

Posted by: Robin Cote


Holidays can be a very emotional time after loosing a loved one. We lost our daughter Kacy on July 29th 2007 as a passanger in an auto accident. We have not yet put up a tree in our home for Christmas, as It just has not felt right. However, I purchasesd a small tree in a basket, decorated it all in hot pink (Kacy's favorite and signiture color) and placed it at the cemetary. Additionally others will bring a new ornament and place it on her tree, we call it Kacy's Place.

Posted by: Theresa Wagner