A beautiful, yet difficult, time of year for many....

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.


  1. Thank you for being so open and honest and reiterating to me that its OK to be sad and that it does take time to navigate this winding path. I hope to follow your lead and have opted to honor Christian by doing a clothing collection drive for homeless men, women and children in his memory. If you are to heal, help another...

    Your post always seem to help me and remind me that I am on the healing path, now I just have to stay the course :)

  2. I was getting pretty low thinking about last year's Christmas. Being a matter of months after Emma died, I suppose it was inevitable that it would be hard. Thank you for our balanced view of this time of year. I hope that this year will be more gentle for me too.

  3. Thank you for this post, Tim. It's been 2.5 months since our baby Selah was stillborn, and I seem to have hit a stretch where mustering up the energy to care about anything is getting harder rather than easier. I think it's because the holiday season is upon us. The whole holiday looks so different from what we expected...I, too, feel like each successive "nightmare" is yet another indication that this is what our life is going to be from here on out--so I really appreciate your assurance that it isn't. It's hard for me to really believe, but since the assurance comes from someone who's been here, it gives me hope.

  4. Thank you all for your responses. They each bring up some very important points for all of us to remember, and your willingness to share will be helpful to others, I'm sure.

    It is VERY important to remember that each of you are on the path toward healing. The fact that you might feel yourselves slipping backward this time of year, is very normal. I know that does not make it any easier to live through, but hopefully it will provide a little assurance that you are not losing the battle... you are simply marching forward and facing some strong resistance.

    To be honest, after all these years, I fight letting myself think back to that first Christmas because those feelings of hopelessness seem to surface again so easily. I guess it's good for me, however, because it makes me more sensitive to those of you with more recent losses -- just one of the many gifts Kathleen's life brought mine. I can tell you it's a lot easier being the "supporter" than it was to be the one feeling like they needed to be supported. And I have no doubt that, because of your child's life, you will all continue to touch people in a way you would not have otherwise.

    These are the moments where I fall into the trap of trying to find those magic words to make the sadness go away. I have to remind myself that I can't, and shouldn't even if by some miracle I could. This is your journey right now and it's important to let yourselves feel both the sadness and the joy that this entire experience has brought you. While I can't fix it, I hope it helps at least a little to know that those of us who are further along the path, are here to help. Hang in there, and yes, stay the course.

  5. Tim,
    As I write today, I too am prpeparing for the Holidays. Only four days have passed since I attended my third candlelight vigil at the Angel of Hope memorial in St. Charles, MO. I am not new to this feeling of grief, as my wife and I have lost three little angels in the last five years. There is no comfort in numbers, or routine, just seemingly an exponential growth of grief. Each year we attend the Dec. 6th vigil, we find our selves bundled for the seemingly coldest day of the winter thus far. This year was no different, 100's of people huddled to themselves comforting spouses, children grandparents and close friends. All of us finding comfort beneath the Angel of Hope statue despite the cold and bitter wind. When we lost our first little one, she was most certainly would have been our first daughter, she was easy to put a name too. Sophie Marie would have been special. As the months have passed and turned into years the last two were genderless and nameless for me. Until Sunday evening at the vigil. The wind was gusting all the while we stood among the candlelite mourners, and from the east, just above dark tree tops flew by a flock of geese, honking along their journey. As an avid outdoorsman and waterfowl hunter, I listened with a clear heart and new found intestity. My wife grabbed my arm tighter and whispered that our boys in heaven just wanted me to know that they had seen the birds as well.

    I have buried this grief for the last three years for the most part- always being the rock for my bride. These little angels are and will always be special for each us. It never gets easier, never gets more comfortable, no matter how long it has been. The truth is though, there is peace, peace through hope, and the firm knowing that three of them are waiting to meet me in heaven,.. I can't hardly wait.
    Sophie & the Boys Dad.

  6. The holidays can be a really tough time for parents who have recently lost a beloved child. Everyone is supposed to be joyful during this time of year, and you just are not feeling that way. I can related to the strained interactions you had with relatives. When it comes to grief people often clam up and do not know how to react or interact with the parents. It is ok to be sad during the holidays.

  7. I know this comment is a few years late but anyway...something just struck a chord with me there....When you said the aunt said "who in the world is Kathleen".
    I will never forget the first time someone said to me: "Who is Patrick?". I mentioned that our son, who died aged 22 months of SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood), had had his fair share of ear infections until he got his grommets in.

    That is a blow that takes your breath away and you wonder...how long until people just forget he even existed... :(