The little ornaments they made are still so perfect. All these years later, their tiny glued-on faces and pipe-cleaner reindeer antlers are still in place. Well, for the most part.
One by one, I unboxed those decorations and hung them on the tree, reliving 23 years of memories all at once. It’s a strange rush of emotions… painful because two of my sweet boys who made those ornaments for me are gone forever; joyful because I had the privilege of so many happy Christmases with them.
Then the stockings.
I hate this part.
Do I take out and hang all four? Or just two? What’s the right thing to do? Does it even matter? This is our fourth Christmas without Nick and Jack and I still don’t know what to do with the stockings.
Oh, and Christmas cards. I love receiving them. I find so much joy in seeing how our dear friends’ families are growing and succeeding and changing the world. But since our boys passed, I haven’t sent any Christmas cards from our family. I just can’t do it.
This is the so-called ‘most wonderful time of the year.’ I see it on my Instagram and Facebook feeds and in overflowing shopping bags at the mall. But while everyone else is looking forward to family gatherings and putting the perfect gifts under the tree, I am aware of the two faces missing from my family pictures, Christmas gifts I won’t be buying and the two empty seats at our table.
There’s not a day I don’t think about losing Nick and Jack. My heart and soul changed forever the day they died, as did my reality of a “happy” life. The new reality is a heartache that will always play a prominent role in who I am because it’s now woven into the fiber of my being and it will stay there – even during the happiest of times.
But here’s the thing. Life is not all darkness and devastation, nor is it all sunshine and roses. I’ve learned it’s a balancing act. And at times, that balance is exhausting.
Yes – this will probably always be a difficult time of year for me. I’m not asking you to understand or to try and relate, but here’s what I want you to know. As time goes on, I’m getting better at not wallowing in the sadness. I have accepted the fact that this is simply my normal.
I’m also able to find periods of clarity when I can reflect and be truly thankful for all the blessings in my life – there are many. It’s a mindset and a choice. We can choose to focus on all we’ve lost and everything we don’t have, or we can focus on what’s in front of us today and the moments we’re blessed to share with the people we love. It’s a conscious effort we make every single day.
I truly feel that, in some ways, our loss opened doors to blessings my family may not have otherwise received. And by refocusing our outlook, we’ve realized those blessings. For example, I am so thankful for the opportunity to share our story with the hope of rewriting someone else's story - saving lives in the process. I’m thankful for each new friendship that has been nurtured out of darkness, because our lights shine brighter together than they ever could alone.
I’m grateful for realizing my purpose. Had I not suffered this loss, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit schools across the country and meet the people I’ve met and speak to over 90,000 kids in more than a dozen states. Each person I have met along the way… has been a blessing in one way or another. Then there’s the invitation I recently received to be part of the Survivor Advocate Network with the National Safety Council. Get this: pairing our story with their connections could potentially reach hundreds of thousands of people across the country. That’s a chance for Nick and Jack's story to save more lives!
I share all of this because I know I’m not the only one coping with a loss during what is supposed to be such a happy time of year. I know there are others out there like me because they send me messages on Facebook and via email. Their hearts are also aching. They too don’t know what to do with their loved ones’ stockings. They also can’t bring themselves to send Christmas cards.
Just like mine, their families will never fully be the same. We’re different now… trying to navigate our new normal.
For us, that means creating new traditions. We’re finding new ways to celebrate the holidays, discovering new traditions where joy is present. This Thanksgiving, for example, I slowed way down and spent the entire weekend with my boys. I didn’t go into the office, didn’t check emails and existed in the moment. I enjoyed those moments more than I ever did before and it felt so good. My boys are a true blessing in my life and I do not take that for granted.
If you’re struggling with a loss of your own this holiday season – death, job loss, divorce or something else – I want you to find hope in knowing joy can exist hand-in-hand with pain in this chapter of your life. I encourage you to appreciate every second you have with the people you love most. Find the beauty in those relationships.
And if you’re still struggling to see the good, look harder. Find it. The pain is real and raw. But joy is waiting for you on the other side…
Becky Savage’s two teenage sons – Nick and Jack – accidentally overdosed on a deadly cocktail of alcohol and prescription drugs on the same night in June 2015. Becky and her husband Mike turned their unimaginable grief into a powerful message: educating students, parents, lawmakers and anyone else who will listen about the dangers of prescription drugs. The couple created 525 Foundation (the boys’ hockey numbers were 5 and 25) with a goal of preventing another family from experiencing the pain the Savage family still struggles with every day. To date, Becky has bravely shared her story with more than 60,000 high school students from Indiana to Texas to Oregon and presented at conferences across the country. She’s spoken to members of a United States Senate opioid crisis committee, serves as an ambassador for the Walgreens #ItEndsWithUs campaign and participated in countless interviews for podcasts and news media.