By Kristan Rojas

Many of us have various ways to celebrate the holidays. In my family, we have a Christmas tree filled with special ornaments that were either purchased for or made by my children.

As I placed each cherished ornament on the tree this year, I allowed the memories of holidays past to enter my mind again. For the first time in 14 Christmases, I did not sob my way through decorating the tree. There were quiet and soothing tears, but I was able to do this task without giving myself reprieves. Perhaps this is a sign of healing or perhaps, next year, I will sob again. Either way, it brought some clarity to me.

I realized that I am parenting my children from a distance now…. both of them. With my son, this was a sudden and premature distancing that occurred when he was ten. With my daughter, it was a gradual distancing that has occurred over 26 years.

Both of these transitions were painful and life-altering. However, with Katrina it was done in the “appropriate” or “normal” way. With Joshua, it stole my breath and weakened my soul.

When we first become parents, we envision all of the milestones that will occur in our child’s life. We haven’t even heard their voices yet, but we know what they will accomplish. He or she will be an active, energetic, healthy and happy young person who will take life by storm and achieve every goal and hope we have for them

However, for some of us, sadly, all of us here tonight, many of those hopes and dreams go unfulfilled. Their physical lives, here with us, end before all of our wishes come true.

Like the rest of you, I found myself struggling after my child passed away. I somehow had to actively be a partner to my husband and a hands-on parent to my daughter – all the while continuing to be Josh’s parent from afar. There were countless days when I didn’t even want to put my feet on the floor but there were precious ones still here who needed my love and attention.

Though this gave me a purpose, it also challenged my heart. The bravest thing any bereaved parent can do is allow themselves to actively love those still around them. Being so vulnerable again is so difficult, yet so necessary to our survival.

I would be lying to you if I said the past nearly 14 years have been easy or that we have achieved perfection at all. Yet, as a couple and as parents, Pat and I have evolved over the years. We have become a kinder, gentler version of us. Our rough edges have been smoothed over by tears and empathy. We have learned to forgive and accept and just grieve next to each other in the quiet. The petty arguments and silly expectations are not nearly as rewarding as peace. Peace in our own hearts and peace with each other. Losing Joshua made us realize that we needed to appreciate each other more and cling to what we still have.

I would also be misleading you if I said our relationship with our daughter is flawless or an example of perfect parenting. The teen and college years were especially challenging for us. Yet, over time, we have learned to understand her need for independence and that she has to be who she is. This, unfortunately, means that she is literally thousands of miles away from us. This also means that many of mom’s dreams for her may not occur. She has her own set of dreams, as is her right. We continue to support and love her from a physical distance, yet we remain connected by the heart.

The same can be said for how we love our Joshua. Though distance and realms divide us, we continue to love him and be connected to him by the heart. We cannot speak with him on Facetime or hear his giggle. Yet, he is around us. Whether it be a rainbow or cloud formation that resembles wings in the sky or his jersey #6 appearing randomly in our lives, we truly feel that he sends us signs when we need them the most.

These words are not meant to be bragging or prideful. They are meant to give many of you who are new to this journey hope. Hope that the future holds many wonderful things for you. Hope that peace will enter your heart again… in time. Hope that even if you are not able to be a perfect partner or parent, you will find balance.

Be sure to stop along the way of this journey to look back and see how far you have come. You may not realize it yet, but you are a quiet warrior. You continue on and cling to what you have as you remain connected by the heart to your precious child. Be gentle with yourself and know how worthy and precious you are.

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