Growing up, Christmas was a wonderful time. It was twinkling lights, sparkling bulbs, wintery pine, and shiny packages with swirling ribbons. It was big family gatherings, abundant food with mouth-watering scents wafting throughout the house full of laughing, excited, chatting people. Every room, every foot, every inch of space in our house was decorated. Nothing was left untouched. Our family of countless aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and close friends would gather together and exchange gifts, feast until we couldn’t eat another bite, and sing along with our family’s very own sing-a-long Christmas tape (complete with song books for all).
As a child, it was like magic and light and love were bursting forth from within, just as soon as the season began, and all was lovely and good.
As I grew older, and moved out into the world, I kept the momentum of my family traditions alive in my own little home. I took great care in choosing the perfect things to make my house sparkle and glow with warmth and cozy wintery holiday cheer. I baked and cooked and shopped and wrapped and celebrated with family and friends. As Dickens would say, I knew how to keep Christmas in my heart.
I have a mother who loved Christmas so much, she always joked that one day she’d own a home with a “Christmas room,” where she could keep the holiday decorations up all year long, and go in whenever she needed the joys of the season. Needless to say, holidays were a major part of my upbringing.
I had visions of my own family carrying on the values and traditions I held so dearly in the core of my being. I could practically see my husband and me sitting by a well-stoked fire, with a great big sparkling tree covered in lights and beautiful things, opening gifts with our children in their matching Christmas pajamas, great big eyes, huge smiles and laughs as they scrambled to open their much-anticipated gifts. It was going to be wonderful, I just knew.
Once I got married, my husband and I continued on each year with the same, awaiting the day when a little one would join in the merriment.
I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when I held in my hand a little white stick with two pink lines and knew all the dreams and wishes I had for our family were about to come true.
But, life doesn’t work the way you dream it will. At least, my life didn’t.
I learned I was pregnant in September. By December, I learned our son was going to die.
That’s the year Christmas lost its magic; all of it gone in an instant.
Our sweet little son, the one who should have been wearing his little holiday pajamas and squealing with delight over his first Christmas gifts, would never come home from the hospital. Devastation and agony took over my heart.
Christmas – like most everything in our lives – fell away. We simply couldn’t find any reason to participate. Really, the fact that any holiday was still being celebrated by anyone was a complete offense to my soul. In the four years since his diagnosis, and death, I’ve simply done what I needed to survive, and that means staying as far away from Christmas as I possible could.
Now, here at our fourth Christmas, I find myself in a new place in my grief. As grief unfolds and ebbs and flows, I’ve learned to follow its path. I trust in my heart’s guidance toward healing and peace and I never push myself to do things I know are not right for me. This year, without forcing the issue or creating a false goal, I’m simply opening my heart up to the possibilities of redefining Christmas. It will never be what it should, for there is always a little life missing. But it also doesn’t need to be the hopeless empty time that it’s been in the past. By saying yes to my heart’s longing for a little bit of sparkle, a little bit of merriment, a little bit of cheer, I’m honoring myself, my past, and my inner longer for a family Christmas I always dreamed of. And, most importantly, I’m honoring the beauty of his life.
I’ve learned a lot in four years. I’ve learned that dreams sometimes need to be given up because you really don’t have a say in how life will unfold. But you can trust your heart and bring your child with you as you re-learn how to live. And that includes the holiday season.
This year, you may find me in front of my fire, with a loving husband, a small but sweet little tree, covered in the beautiful things we’ve collected that honor our precious son’s life, and surrounded by the photos of the little one we are carrying with us through life. We will hope together for better years ahead, we will celebrate the love that created our son, and we will cherish the time we had to parent him in life. We will cry for our loss, and smile for his memories. Together, we will redefine what it means to have a family Christmas. And maybe –just maybe – I’ll learn to hold Christmas in my heart, once again.