Kathleen was born the end of September, so we were barely functioning by the time Christmas came upon us. I recall wanting to just hide until it was over, but because we had a two-year-old who was just realizing what Christmas was about, that was not an option. Obviously, we wanted to enjoy that time with Emily, but to say that our hearts were not in it like we wished they could be, would be an understatement.
To make matters worse, Christmas would also be the first time we saw many of our family members for the first time. While that was the result of making the choice not to have a memorial service that they could have attended, it nevertheless was a big stress.
I wish I could tell you that in the end it all went extremely well and that we had a wonderful time that holiday, but that would be a lie. Many of our interactions with family were strained, not because they didn't care, but because they did not know what to say or if they should say anything. I recall mentioning Kathleen's name in a conversation with my aunt, and she said, "who in the world is Kathleen?" Every time we were expected to sing a song in church about a Baby in a manger, or a star shining down in the East, I wanted to run and never look back. All in all, it was a nightmare that we survived. But, it was not the first nightmare we had experienced, so it all started to feel sort of like that is what our lives would be like from then on.
I'm happy to say that I was wrong. But you would not have convinced me of that at the time.
For those of you whose loss is recent, just know that you will make it through like so many of us have before you. But give yourselves the right to take care of yourselves and not be forced to do things to make someone else feel comfortable or put up a false front for the benefit of others. Your reality may be that this is going to be a tough Christmas -- and that's OK.
That being said, don't fall into the trap of thinking that you don't have the right to feel good, smile, and enjoy this season. While tears, sadness, and a sense of hopelessness are very normal emotions at a time like this, they are not the only ways to honor the memory of your baby.
Try and think of something that will help you get through the celebrations and chaos of the season. Going to a concert or attending a pageant may help you recall your own childhood and the joy and excitement you felt. Volunteering somewhere where you can feel like you are helping another child find happiness, can also feel good. Or, it might be something as simple as bringing a candle to your celebration, lighting it, and letting it shine throughout your day -- even if you are the only ones who know its significance. Sometimes sharing a poem or prayer before dinner, while sad, can help break the ice and let others know its ok to talk about your baby and that the tears are OK. Once that has been done, it often is a lot easier to relax and let yourself smile and laugh.
Whatever you decide to do or not do, know that each year the season will likely get easier. I can honestly say that now when I sit in church on Christmas Eve, look at that Baby in the manger, and think of that star shining down on the world -- I find a sense of calm in knowing that those things hold a little different significance for me than they do for many of those around me.
May we all find peace.