Each year Vicki Blount writes a letter to son, Tyler, and puts it in his Christmas stocking.
Unfortunately Tyler isn't there to read it. And because of emotions, husband, Pat, chooses not to.
“Maybe some day I will when I am a lot tougher,” Pat said.
The holidays are tough for some for different reasons. Among those are the individuals who have lost loved ones. Like so many things, there's no one way to handle it. But some of those who face this each year shared their experiences in hopes that doing so might helps others or at least people would know they aren't the only ones going through this.
On a June night in 2000 in Enid, Tyler Blount, 17, whipped under a saddle bronc horse at the Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association Finals. He was kicked in the head and suffered fatal injuries.
After helping stranded motorists for an hour during the 2009 Christmas Eve Blizzard, George Miller, 57, was walking back across State Highway 29 just east of Marlow to get in his truck. He noticed a young woman's car had just slid off the road close to him. He stopped and began to turn around. The young woman later told George's wife that George looked her in the eyes as if to say “I'll be there in just a second.” At 2:25 p.m., amid the horrible visibility, a car struck and killed Miller.
Patricia Loder was driving home on a spring day in 1991 with her and her husband Wayne's two children in the car when a speeding motorcycle struck their car. Pat survived. However, Stephanie, 8, and Stephen, 5, did not. Pat is now executive director and Wayne is the public awareness coordinator of The Compassionate Friends, Inc. a national, nonprofit, self-help organization offering friendship, understanding and hope to families grieving the death of a child of any age, from any cause. Pat and Wayne live in Milford, Mich.
For the first time since Tyler was killed, the Blounts will not be living in Oklahoma during the holidays. Earlier this year, Pat received a job opportunity that would allow him to work in the New York City area, a longtime dream of his. They made the move from Guthrie to the Philadelphia area.
Before they left, Vicki and Pat visited the cemetery separately.
“It is always a difficult place for me to go,” Pat said. “It's the hardest place for me to separate Tyler's soul, which is surely in heaven, with his physical body that is buried there. The thought of what is physically in the grave is overwhelming even 12 years later.”
This year, they plan to spend Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania and travel to Oklahoma shortly thereafter to see their son, Mike, and his family. Then, Pat and Vicki intend to be in Florida for Christmas with their son, Matt, and his family.
Pat and Vicki have four grandchildren, and they “have been lifesavers for us during the holidays.”
This was Tyler's favorite time of year. And it makes Pat laugh when he recalls how his son, even at 15 years old said he was certain Santa Claus existed because he knew their family could not afford the kind of Christmases he had all of his life.
“It didn't matter if a present cost a $1 or a $1,000, they were all priceless to him,” Pat said.
Friends are there
In August 1970, Janet married George Miller the day after she turned 16 and just about three months after he had graduated from high school. Although the loss pains Janet deeply, she blames no one because the weather was terrible, the snow blinding. George was always helping people and that's what he died doing, assisting others in the blizzard.
But Janet recently talked about her toughest challenge during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons since her husband's death.
“For me it's him not being here to teach my grandsons things only he could,” Janet said, “like what kind of mushrooms are good and which ones are bad or how to shoot a gun with safety first.” He loved to take them hunting, whatever the season happened to be.
More than anything, she said, they could have seen in their grandfather what it is to be a good person, and her granddaughter would have seen how a man should treat her with respect.
Janet said family and friends are important throughout the year in helping each other deal with the void.
For example, she said a close friend lost her husband about six months before George was killed. Her husband had been George's best friend in high school and through his life.
“She is always there for me and I for her,” Janet said. “We are both Christian ladies, have the same principles and we keep each other in check which is something everyone needs. I think special friends are important. For one thing, they tell you the truth always, even if you don't want to hear it.
“Christmas and Thanksgiving is all about family and our family is missing a big piece.”
Wayne Loder of Compassionate Friends said he thinks it is important to let individuals know their loved ones haven't been forgotten, whether it's by making a call or sending a card, or in other ways.
The Loders did not celebrate Christmas for a few years after the loss of their son and daughter. But when they had other children, they decided to celebrate Christmas and wanted to remember Stephanie and Stephen.
“We asked all of our friends and relatives if they would write a remembrance note of something that was special to them about our children,” Wayne said. “When we read those stories, we cried. It really touched us.”
Another year, the Loders asked that individuals would provide an ornament that reminded them of Stephanie and Stephen.
Among the many they received was a pair of tiny white dance shoes and a little wooden train car on a track.
“And those go up on the tree every year,” he said.
Christmas Eve in 2000, their first without Tyler since the accident, was one of the toughest days of Pat and Vicki's lives. They had always made a big production of Christmas Eve and then set out gifts from Santa after the boys went to bed, even when they were teenagers. That night in 2000 was the first time in 17 years they didn't do that.
“It was truly gut wrenching,” Pat said. “I think for me this year may not actually be tougher since we have moved away from the place that held so many memories. Maybe I can leave those feelings in a box this year and not open it. But that's a pretty big maybe. It's not Christmas Eve yet.”