Losing six relatives within six months was a challenge for me. What a year it was – it all began on March 17, 2008. My father who adopted and raised me died that day. He had congestive heart failure and diabetes. Papa always had tried his best to provide and host family outings for us. He sponsored our family gatherings at restaurants and special venues, such as Elton John’s concert, Barnum & Bailey’s Circus and Medieval Times, just name to name a few.
But, what I would give just to have a moment again with my father where we simply sit, talk, hug each other, and tell him how much I love him, miss him and appreciate him. To honor his memory, my husband and I participated in a 5k walk, “Walk Me Home” and raised funds for the needs of foster children one weekend in May when it would have been my father’s birthday.
A few months after Papa passed away, my great uncle and his wife, my great aunt, died about three weeks apart. “Uncle Doc” and “Anna Margaret” always hosted our annual Christmas family reunions. They were very loving and social people. I always had told them how they inspired me to want to continue extended family gatherings when I get older. I am grateful my mother’s cousin, Mary, continues this tradition for now.
Then, the next month, on July 19, while out celebrating my fifth wedding anniversary with my husband at Ft. Worth stockyards, I tripped on a piece of brick and fell forward so quickly I had no time to attempt to catch myself. As a result, I had broken arms and a severely bruised chest. This same day would have been my parents’ 39th anniversary.
Then, six days after my fall, on my birthday, July 25, my uncle died. This brought a range of emotions within me as I was grateful for having known “Uncle Steve” for 10 years, but saddened that I had no more time with him. I have been reunited with birth family since 1998; he was my birth mom’s brother.
And on August 3, my great aunt, “Aunt Martha,” died. She always had the most soothing, calming effect on others around her.
I attended a six-week grieving support class August through September, where I felt comfortable speaking openly about my feelings and sharing thoughts with others who were also affected by great losses. I had been seeking guidance and asking God to show me direction on the possibility of helping others who were grieving. One of the teachers asked me on the last day of class if I would like to volunteer and help future classes. It was an answered prayer, so I accepted.
Then, Mama passed away on September 23, two weeks after class ended. I felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to be with her when it was her time of passing. I spent the night in the hospital the last night of her life. I read to her as Papa used to, and I sang to her as well. The medical and hospice staff encouraged me to speak with her as they explained that hearing would be the last one of her senses to go. I did not have this opportunity with my father, so I really cherished it with Mama. Then, I realized my mother would no longer be suffering in pain from Parkinson’s and diabetes. She no longer misses Papa. My parents are together again, now in Heaven.
The hospital chaplain came to visit me while I was staying in Mama’s room. I specifically asked him for advice and to pray with me over the thoughts of whether I should continue with helping the class or not. And I will never forget his reply. He told me that sometimes your story and presence itself can help spread some hope to others. At that point, I knew the answer and have been volunteer-teaching Grief Recovery since January 2009.
I experienced that holiday season without several relatives for the first time. There are so many traditions I had with my parents especially, so I think of them often even still during this time of year. But, I have found ways to cope with the holidays after losing so many loved ones.
For Halloween, I placed six mini pumpkins on my fireplace mantle to represent my six lost loved ones. I also passed out a variety of candy to the trick-or-treaters that was each of my loved ones’ favorites, such as taffy for Mama and Baby Ruth for Uncle Steve. I found this gave me more strength and even inspired me to continue the tradition of Halloween, even if it felt differently this year.
For Thanksgiving, I said a prayer of gratitude. I thank the Lord for the blessing of having had the time I did with my lost loved and for how much they all affected me positively and helped make differences in my life.
And for Christmas, I lit six candles and hung six angelic ornaments on the tree. I truly believe that all of my lost loved ones are now my guardian angels, and that itself gives me so much strength, courage, and determination to continue on and celebrate the holidays. And I know that is what they would want me to do.
*Pre-order Chelle’s life story, which includes her losses as well as her adoption-reunion story and much more at coffeetalkwithchelle.com. The estimated release date of her book is late Jan. 2012.
About Chelle Baxter
Chelle Baxter is a talk show host and freelance journalist. Check out her talk show, where there’s always variety in life.