If you are visiting for the first time, this post is part of the series “12 Days of Christmas With You in Heaven”. To learn more about this series, please click here. I am so thankful to have Brooke sharing how she will be including both of her daughters – in Heaven and on Earth – this Christmas.
The holidays are especially tricky for me because it was my December baby who died. 2010 shouldn’t have been Eliza’s first Christmas–she wasn’t due until January. But she arrived on December 6th–St. Nicholas’s Day–beautiful and still. The following weeks were a dark blur, and our already-lit Christmas tree sparkled away in the midst of the blackest days of sorrow and grief as I sat on the couch and my broken heart poured out in tears.
The following year, my husband and I decided we would have none of it. If I couldn’t have Eliza, I wouldn’t have Christmas either. No tree. No lights. No gifts. No music. Instead of going home to our families’ traditional Christmas celebrations, we flew the country. Escaped to Mexico, where the sunshine and ocean water felt healing in a way that the carols and evergreen couldn’t, simply because they had born witness to our grief the year before.
This year we are approaching the holidays with caution. We had another baby girl in June and on her first Christmas, our baby Caroline will be a bright-eyed, pink-cheeked six-month-old. She won’t remember this holiday, but we will. So this year we have to find a way to negotiate a space for the pain and sorrow of our loss among the joy and gratitude for all we have. One thing that is important to both of us is that we incorporate into the holiday festivities some quiet moments to remember and reflect and honor Eliza, this year, and in Christmases to come.
Each December in our community, there is a candlelight vigil held to honor the memory of children we have lost. It happens to occur on Eliza’s birthday each year, and we plan to do our best each year to set aside that evening to be together as a family, to remember our first baby girl, and to abide with those whose grief is fresh and overwhelming. It’s important to me that Caroline attend these events because I don’t think our sadness should be locked away. I want her to understand and respect the grief of others as well, and to see the public acknowledgement of loss as a positive, meaningful, and beautiful tradition.
As Caroline gets older, we will modify a tradition we had planned to do with our children before I ever got pregnant. We’ll participate in a toy drive for children in need, and each year one toy we give will be for a little girl who is the age Eliza would have been. When Caroline is old enough, we’ll let her choose the toy herself, and we’ll talk about her sister, whom we miss, and why we want to give to others in the spirit of the season.
At home when we decorate our tree, we include many ornaments that were personalized for Eliza. Trimming the tree is a holiday tradition that I love, as we collect ornaments that have special meaning for us, representing vacations we have taken or special milestones in our lives. We talk about each ornament and reminisce as we decorate. I look forward to this time as a way to talk lightly with Caroline about her sister. I want to be sure that the traditions that involve Eliza’s memory are not all somber moments.
Each year in Eliza’s honor, we make a substantial donation to a charity. Eventually, I want Caroline to help us choose which charity or charities we want to give to in a particular year. I think it will be a great opportunity to instill the important messages about helping others, but also to talk about how those we love live on after death in the good works we do in their name.
When Eliza was stillborn, I was afraid that in addition to losing my child, I’d also lost the joy of what had been my favorite time of year. I thought that Christmas would be forever ruined by its association with her death. It’s true that there will always be sadness intermingled with the sparkle of the season. There’s no way around that. But now I can also see that the meaning of Christmas for my family can be deepened, and maybe even sweetened, by her birth and our ongoing love for her. It is my hope that our understanding of how lucky we are, how much we have to give, and how much we stand to gain when we open our hearts to others will be Eliza’s ongoing gift to us and to her little sister.