‘Tis the season of a thousand emotional triggers, particularly for those who have suffered a recent loss, or are remembering a loss at this time of year. For me, this past weekend found me remembering eleven years ago, the excitement of telling my mother I was pregnant for the second time. My sister had recently given her a grandmother necklace, featuring charms of little jeweled people for all her current grandchildren. I was a little annoyed, considering I had full intentions of giving her more. So I thought the perfect way to deliver the good news was with a birthstone angel pin of the new baby’s anticipated birthstone – peridot for August, just like Daddy’s. I gave it to her when she came to babysit Ethan for my work Christmas party, explaining the significance. And the very next Saturday, I was telling her the bad news that I was no longer pregnant. There would be no August baby; Angel’s ‘birth’ stone would now be turquoise, for December, the only month we had her/him at all.
The holidays are hard. Sometimes we expect them to be hard; sometimes the hard times sneak up on us when we think we’re doing fine. Those of us living with grief must do the best we can to be kind and caring to ourselves, not to expect too much from ourselves. Easier said than done at this chaotic time of year, especially if we have other children. I want to share some ideas with you that have helped members of our group get through the holidays.
At Empty Arms, we make a yearly memorial ornament for our members to hang on their trees. The first meeting I ever attended happened to be a December meeting. Our ornaments that year were extra special, featuring the birthstones of our babies. Brooke Egloff had made them all, about 200 at the time, even making one for each loss for those of us who had more than one. My three ornaments hang in my kitchen window all year long, to be taken down and hung on the tree in December. Our Empty Arms ornaments are a special part of our holiday decorations, a way to honor those who are not here.
Decorating the tree is particularly hard for me, since that’s what I was doing when I had my first miscarriage. One thing I’ve learned over time is that when something triggers such strong emotions, and someone can do something to help me deal with those emotions, I need to tell them, and be willing to ask them for that help. Chris used to set up the tree and then sort of wander off and do other things while I did most of the decorating, but that left me feeling alone with my sadness. It took me a couple of years of this before I discovered the obvious solution–tell him how I felt and ask him to be present for this tradition. It seems so silly now that I didn’t do so sooner. Much as our partners love us, even though they know us better than anyone else, they don’t always know how we’re feeling unless we tell them. If you need something to get through the holidays, be it help with the tree, some quiet time away, or just an extra hug, please, tell those who love you. Don’t suffer more than necessary just because you think they should know without being told.
Sometimes our loved ones don’t understand that we’re grieving as much as we are. Our loss is alien to many who have not been through the same thing. Don’t be afraid to tell those closest to you how you’re feeling. If people aren’t supportive, try to limit your contact with them as much as possible. It’s okay to break with tradition, or to shorten some holiday activities you feel you can’t avoid. Sometimes the best way to encourage others to understand is to allow tangible reminders of your grief. The year my Dad died, Mom decided we would just acknowledge we were having a blue Christmas. We decorated the tree with all blue lights and ornaments, we cried freely when we felt like it. We embraced our feelings, instead of trying to put on a brave face. We changed our usual routine enough that we didn’t spend every moment thinking about who was missing, but at the same time didn’t pretend that he wasn’t missing. Jennifer Abbott, who lost her daughter Jillian to SIDS, puts up a special tree for her daughter every year. Rather than keeping her feelings for Jillian hidden and contained, she makes them a concrete, treasured part of the holiday. As her younger children grow, Jillian will be part of their traditions, something to look forward to, instead of something that isn’t talked about. What a beautiful way to include our babies in a special family time!
Some of our members donate to charities at this time of year in honor of their babies. Some have given gifts to needy children who are the age their child would have been. Some participate in Operation Christmas Child by filling a shoebox with small gifts to be sent to children in poverty-stricken countries. It’s hard not being able to fill stockings for our missing babies, but filling one for a child who has little can make the holiday less lonely and more meaningful.
In our family, we celebrate Yule, the Winter Solstice. This is the celebration of the longest night of the year, the most hours of darkness. The Solstice marks the day before the days begin once again to get longer. As we celebrate this time when we are halfway out of the dark, my wish for you is that you always remember, even at your darkest times, that the light will one day return. The darkness does not last forever.