That first Christmas after Jared died is a blur.  It had only been 3 months. I was so numb. Walking around in a fog. But I was determined Steven would have a Merry Christmas.  He deserved nothing less.

I remember the day I decided to get the decorations out of the attic. I pulled the rope to open the attic.  Pulled down the stairs. And slowly started walking up the steps. I got to the top step and turned on the attic light.  And then thought f*uck this. I walked back down the stairs. I sat on one of the bottom steps and just cried. I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t do Christmas without Jared. I was failing Steven. How could Christmas be merry if I couldn’t even get the decorations out of the attic?

A few days later, my girlfriends and their husbands showed up at my house.  They got all the decorations out of the attic and decorated my house. They knew I just couldn’t do it.  So, without me asking, they stepped in and did it for me. For Steven. They will never know how much that meant to me.

A few days later, I took Steven to see Santa.  Santa asked Steven what he wanted for Christmas.  And he said “my dad.”. I just sobbed, silent tears rolling down my cheeks.  Then Steven said “I want my dad to send me a paintball gun from heaven.” And Santa looked at me and I nodded.  Santa then said to Steven “I’m sure he will. Take care of your mom.” I will never forget that moment. My heart broke even more that day.  I never wanted my child to have to ask for a present from heaven. No child should have to do that. But that was our reality. And Steven was finding his own way to deal with his grief.

A new tradition was born that day.  I ordered a paintball gun and wrapped it in angel paper.  I will never forget Steven’s face when he opened his present from heaven.  His face lit up. He looked towards the heavens and just smiled. His dad had sent him a present from heaven.  And every year since, when he sees that angel paper under the tree, he knows he has a present from heaven. Something just from his dad.

Most of that first Christmas is blank in my memory but I clearly remember the day my friend didn’t try to fix me.  The year before we had all gone to Busch Gardens Christmas Town. We had so much fun. And my family of 3 had a photo taken with Santa.  My friend had invited Steven and I to go that first Christmas after. I texted her and said I can’t, I just can’t do it. A little while later my doorbell rang and there she was with 2 cups of hot chocolate.  She said I’m not here to change your mind, I’m here to sit and cry with you. She didn’t try to fix me. Didn’t try to make it better. She just let me honor my feelings in the moment. It was one of the best gifts I received that first year.

I remember my friend telling me that her children write a letter to her mom for Christmas.  So Steven and I each wrote Jared a letter and put it in his stocking. That way his stocking would be filled with love.  We still do this every year. It’s our Christmas Eve tradition to write Jared a letter and then put it in his stocking.

I have a lot of gaps in memory regarding that first Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  I know we went to Christmas Eve mass. I know I read Steven ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas sitting under the tree. I know we made Christmas morning breakfast and sang Happy Birthday to baby Jesus.  I know we did all those things but I can’t remember any of them. Not a one. The only present I remember Steven opening was his present from heaven. I don’t remember opening any gifts but I know I did.  I know my mom and my in-laws were at my house. But I don’t remember them opening any gifts. It’s just a big blank in my mind.

So much of that first Christmas after Jared died is a blur.  I’m sure I smiled and laughed. Just like you’re suppose to. I’m sure I said the right things, did the right things.  But I honestly can’t remember. I don’t remember taking any decorations down. Putting them back in the attic. I don’t remember much.  But I know we survived. I know Steven got his Christmas wish of a present from heaven. I know I never want to do it again.

They say the first is the hardest but the first Christmas I was numb.  I survived. Don’t remember feeling many emotions. It would be the next year that I would remember feeling.   And it hurt like hell.

Christmas is never easy. It’s a bittersweet time.  But that first Christmas, it sucked. And so did the next one.  By the third Christmas I could smile at most of the memories. I still shed tears but not nearly as many as the year before.  And this year, as I decorated for the 5th time without Jared, I was able to smile at the memories.  I actually look forward to the holiday season now.  What a difference 5 years makes.

I thank God I was numb that first Christmas.  I’m not sure how I would have made it otherwise.  And now I am thankful that I can feel.  Enjoy the holiday once again.


Carla always knew she would be a widow but didn’t have any idea how it would actually feel. When Carla met her late husband Jared, he was waiting for a lung transplant due to Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic disease affecting the lungs and pancreas. So she knew that most likely someday she would say goodbye to her husband. But she never dreamt it would be exactly one week before their 14th wedding anniversary. In August 2014, Jared was diagnosed with a rare bacterial infection in his transplanted lung and was expected to survive at least 6 months if not a year. Instead, he died just 6 weeks later. And in the blink of an eye, Carla became a solo mom to their 10-year-old son. And even though her life was forever marked before and after, she was determined to live life to the fullest because her husband would expect no less.

She founded Breathing for Jared, a Foundation to provide college scholarships to those suffering from lung disease in honor of her late husband. Became a supporter of the CF Foundation and Donate Life. And discovered that writing out her emotions and fears on her blog Transplant Wife and Widow helped her to process her grief

Carla recently remarried and is now blending a family with her new husband, bonus daughter, and son.