The building buzzed with excited kids and parents, lights blinked and carols played. My boys and I stood in line, my oldest son cradling the weighted bear we use to hold our baby’s place in pictures. The bear was dressed in Christmas jammies, the ones I had spotted in a store the night before we would learn our baby was dead. These were the jammies my real-life son never got to come home in. A bear was the best we could do given the card life had dealt us. It was our turn to step up to Santa. I smiled at my boys smiling, both missing teeth this Christmas. As the camera clicked, I felt the ache of missing my youngest. He would be three this year, perhaps outgrowing Santa’s lap, and like his brothers, would insist on standing.
The holidays once you’ve experienced child loss is riding a wooden rollercoaster. Soaring highs, gut-sinking lows, and lots of jostling on the turns. I do what I can to make this time of year special for my family.
Celebrating Christmas is unique at our house. That first year, it was merely 6 weeks after his death, and I barely got out of the bed for the day. His due date was December 22nd. My husband begged me to come down so the boys could open presents. I was lying in a bed of Christmas pine needles that year: every breath hurt, breathing was a reminder I was still alive and my sweet baby was not. I merely survived. If this is your first year without your baby, do whatever you need to survive. Be kind to yourself. Take it slow. Our family needed space. If you feel like you need something this season, don’t fear insisting on getting it. You have every right to do things as you need. This is your Christmas. Maybe you leave town altogether. I hear Vegas is lovely this time of year.
My husband loves Christmas. He cues the Christmas music almost as soon as we’ve taken the Thanksgiving turkey carcass to the trash. I have to make a conscious effort to make Christmas special. Having the energy to do that requires I make time for myself to grieve when I need to do so. In this busy time of year, make time-outs for yourself. Sometimes that simply means journaling in a private space. Sometimes that means ugly crying through half a box of tissues in a private space. Say no to stuff you don’t want to do. Avoid that Aunt who asks about your family status. Decline an invite to a gathering where you know there will be a newborn.
I dial back on social media so I am not overwhelmed with Baby’s First Christmas photos. The space we needed that first year evolved into having a private Christmas morning with our boys, complete with my husband and I adding a shot of alcohol to our coffees. Why not? This is our Christmas. Every person gets to decide what you want or need for Christmas.
This time of year, I pay extra attention to the sky, the sunsets, and the birds. Birds became a special symbol so I make sure to keep the feeders full. Cardinals in the snow make my heart swell. We call Reece our little snow angel and that first year, we’d send up little prayer requests for snow. About five inches floated down after Christmas Day. My oldest said, “Whoa. Our baby sent us a lot of snow, Mommy.” Since then, every snowfall is met with a smile and a tear in my eye.
Does your baby have a special stuffed animal? A moose represents our baby. So I bought a moose cookie cutter to include in our annual batch of Christmas sugar cookies. Who says you can’t have a special Christmas monkey or winter fox? Do it. I hand out Reese’s peanut butter trees at my family’s gatherings. It is a little way I can have him there with us without making a big announcement.
Taking pictures with Santa means our weighted bear holds Reece’s place. He has a stocking like the rest of us. If I send out Christmas cards, I sign our baby’s name in it alongside his brothers’. I add a little halo over the R. (I actually stopped doing letters because it was busy work that didn’t bring me joy.) This is supposed to be a joyful time but sometimes, it’s just really not. So definitely don’t do any extra work that is inherently joyless for you. Life after loss just sucks sometimes. And when it especially sucks, I shall crank Christmas jazz and make a batch of cookies. I really love making Christmas cookies. My boys love to cut shapes and decorate them. So I will always make time for Christmas cookies. We will be knee-deep in loose sprinkles. Because our Christmas is ours and your Christmas is yours.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Arica Carlson is married and mothering three little boys, two on Earth, one in Heaven. When she isn’t writing or working, she can be found outside with her family.