Almost three and a half years ago I was thrown into the world of the grieving parent. At the time, I was in a highly alert state, taking words that were said to me and dissecting them one by one. Sometimes people said things that I found confusing, and maybe even hurtful. I started reading…
We hang our stockings over a fireplace, down our staircase, on a mantle, or in our case that first Christmas without our daughter, on a dresser. It’s a line of stockings for everyone who will be celebrating with you, but what about the ones who aren’t? What about the glaring hole you see where one is missing, or perhaps instead, the stark reality that though there is one there, it will remain empty.
The holidays are both a joyful and painful time for those who are missing someone deeply who should be celebrating with them. It’s hard to know how to bring those you’ve lost into your holiday celebrations. Do you get them something or does that just elevate the ache?
Each person is different in their needs and what to do with the empty stocking, the unopened gifts, or the glaring reality that there are no gifts wrapped under the tree with the name, oh the sweet name of your loved one.
So I want to offer you something simple, a way to still give gifts albeit different to the ones you have loved and lost too soon on this coming Christmas day. And it begins with what to do with the empty stockings that may hang in your home.
Even though we had lost our first daughter, Sophie 4 months before Christmas came I couldn’t bear seeing stockings hung with my husband and my name and not our daughter. Of course, I could have taken them all down and so ignore the glaring absence that was of course never far from my mind and heart. But I knew for me, that wouldn’t be helpful. So we got Sophie a stocking, one that matched ours and it hung there on our dresser for weeks as I’d pass by, stop and tilt my head, tears in my eyes wondering “What could I do with this stocking? What could I put it in so it wouldn’t remain empty? What’s to be done about this empty stocking?”
As I reflected on the meaning of Christmas, the celebration of the Savior of the World finally coming, finally breaking through the darkness to bring His hope and light to a watching waiting world, I was reminded of his great gift to us and the gifts that were given that first Christmas. Gifts of presence and worship as the shepherds came, gifts of gold, and precious oils as the Kings came to worship. Gifts are given out of little and out of much but all gifts given out of joy to the one who they knew was bringing the greatest gift of all, Himself. Gifts that came from hearts set on more than temporal things but the hope of what was coming. And I was drawn to a passage in the Bible where Jesus says in the book of Matthew “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Christmas season is a time for giving, but also getting and sometimes the two can become confused. Our consumer attitude can often override our giving attitude. I wondered if perhaps the gift I could give our daughter was the gift she had given me. A reminder of where our true treasure lies, of what really matters, that the things we give and receive at Christmas will fade away but how are we living our lives for things that will last? What a beautiful tradition it would be to begin our Christmas with this perspective as we open gifts that it would not be about the gift but the giver of the gift and ultimately the greatest giver, Jesus who gave himself for us. So I decided we would call Sophie’s stocking her “treasure stocking” and instead of filling it with gifts, fill it with a note each year from each of us, telling her how she has reminded us where true treasures lie, writing the impact she has had on our lives and the ways her life is still storing up treasures in heaven.
Before I continue I want to acknowledge (if you’ve read this far) that I realize not everyone reading this believes in Jesus, or celebrates Christmas. And though you may not resonate with my motivation for how we have begun to approach our empty stocking I wonder if it may trigger some ideas for you, treasures you could fill the stocking or whatever is meaningful to you this holiday season, of your loved one with of the ways in which their life has changed yours? Treasures of love and memories to be read, pondered on and added to for years to come.
I decided to make a little treasure box to stick in Sophie’s stocking, including a note we would read each year about that verse in Matthew and why we chose to make her stocking a treasure stocking. I made gold coins (basically I cut circles out of gold paper from Michaels) and Kevin and I both dated and wrote a small note on each coin telling Sophie what she has taught us and continues to teach us. It’s the first thing that we did that Christmas before presents were opened. And it’s the first thing we’ve done every Christmas since.
We’ve added another treasure stocking for our 2nd daughter, Dasah who we lost a year later, and we’ve added another stocking for our son who came into our lives through adoption almost 2 years ago. And we joyfully fill that one with temporal gifts. But before we open our gifts that will not last but are sweet to give and receive, we read the notes in both our girls treasure boxes, and then we write on our little gold coins as we take time to remember the gifts that our children who have gone before us have given us, and the greatest gift their lives have pointed us too, that little baby in the manager that entered into our broken weary world so that we could have hope even in the midst of great loss.
So what’s to be done about the empty stocking? Perhaps there are treasures you can fill it with too. They may not be gifts wrapped in wrapping paper and quickly torn apart, but they could be gifts that you will read each year and be reminded of the impact of the little lives gone too soon, inviting them into your Christmas celebration to set the tone for your family of what is most important.
And I’d love to hear how you have loved, honored and celebrated the children you have loved and lost this holiday season. What have you done with their stockings? What traditions have you begun as a family to remember your children? I imagine we can all learn much from one another as we share how we grieve and remember our children, spurring ideas to draw us into a deeper celebration of the lives that though are no longer here are forever a part of our hearts.