Christmas and Regret: Did I give him enough?

Christmas WreathThe Christmas tree has been packed away. The lights have been stowed. Stockings no longer hang and wreaths have been taken down for another year. Christmas is well and truly over and I am a little sad. Not the usual Yuletide  hangover, but regret that Christmas wasn’t as magical as I could have made it. We had sickness and birthday parties, beach holidays and projects that all encroached upon the season. Christmas cookies were hurriedly baked on Christmas Eve. The school carols were rained out and we didn’t get a chance to go to another. I didn’t go to a Christmas Eve mass, as I was so very tired and unwell. Hand made Christmas presents went unmade. We didn’t take the train one evening to see the big Christmas tree in town.

I didn’t make Xavier a decoration this year and I didn’t place a Christmas tree beside his grave. His little Christmas area was necessarily condensed due to the reach of a curious toddler.  I didn’t get a chance to write Xavier a letter. Out of everything, these things sadden me the most. Sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans. And I feel like he was forgotten – not by family and friends, but by me. That he didn’t have the Christmas he deserved.  Continue reading

Christmas when one is missing: Ideas to get through it

IMG_8571As we come into the Christmas season, my thoughts turn to those who are navigating their first Christmas after loss.

The first Christmas with out Xavier was a challenge. I spent a great deal of time making things for him, thinking about him and desperately, desperately missing him. I put on a brave face and tried to make Christmas as magical as I could for my living son, but a large part of me spent Christmas in a different place. The second Christmas was different, and whilst the ache was still there, it was no longer raw and weeping. I had Xavier’s little brother in my arms and a new sense of hope and purpose.

IMG_8577This year, with baby Elijah old enough to join in a little more, I am really looking forward to Christmas.  Life has taken off again for us.  I still think of Xavier all the time, but no longer with a deep sense of yearning. He is simply a part of our lives in the form we know him best now: a soul, a guiding light, the sunshine’s rays, the one we thank when little things go our way, the butterflies that fly too close to be anyone else.

I wanted to put together a list of Christmas ideas both for bereaved families, and those that support them. I hope that they may offer some comfort.

Christmas ideas for the bereaved:

  • Every year I either make or create (or both) a christmas ornament for Xavier.  It is a beautiful way to keep him close and to remember him at Christmas time.
  • I hang a stocking for Xavier each year.IMG_3761
  • When the boys write their lists to Santa, I write a letter to Xavier and place it in his stocking.
  • I have baubles with each of my boys names on them.  It is one of the only places I can see them all together and it makes me smile.
  • Whether it’s your first or fifteenth Christmas, be gentle with yourself. I think as bereaved parents we expect so much from ourselves. Just be gentle with your expectations – it is a difficult time of year.
  • Every year I attend a service dedicated to child loss – it is a beautiful Christmas tradition.
  • Each year I have bought a gift for a child the same age as Xavier and placed it underneath the Kmart wishing tree.
  • I haven’t as of yet, but one year I intend to make a special memory box in Xavier’s name to give to another bereaved family who are just starting their journey.
  • The simple act of going into a church, lighting a candle and saying a prayer allows me to centre myself and find some peace in a season that can be anything but.
  • You might find yourself smiling at a department store santa or humming along to a carol.   Equally, those things could leave you in devastated tears. Either reaction is okay. Allow yourself happiness and allow yourself  sadness. Be kind to yourself.

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Christmas ideas for the friends and family supporting the bereaved:

  • Both sides of our family remember Xavier at Christmas time.  There are baubles for him on my parent’s tree and my sister in law’s tree.  It means so much to see him remembered and treasured.IMG_4176
  • If you want to, buy a little present for or in the name of the child no longer here. A donation to their favourite charity would be a lovely gesture.
  • Be sensitive and be forgiving – it is a really hard time of year.
  • Particularly, if it’s their first Christmas, give them space. It may feel like they aren’t really engaging in Christmas. They may not want to participate in family traditions. They may not want to celebrate Christmas at all. Allow them the time and space they need and try not feel hurt.
  • Attend a service with them
  • Visit their child’s grave or special place and leave something – not out of obligation to your family member or friend but because you miss their baby too.
  • Address Christmas cards to the whole family, including the ones gone too soon.

Wishing you peace this season.

When the hurting eases

There have been times in my grief that I have been jealous of the way others are grieving.  People who could forget for that split second before they fully woke that their lives had been shattered.  That little tiny window of innocent bliss.  That has never been my experience.  I would wake, every morning, fully aware of Xavier’s absence.  My dreams bereft of his presence.  There was no sharp blow each morning, there was a dull and continuing ache.   And then one morning I awoke, maybe two or three months after his death, and I felt nothing.   I probed at memories, like a child wiggling a tooth, coaxing the tears and the emotion back.  Nothing.  Not even an emptiness.  Just a complete absence of emotion.  I was perplexed.  Was this it?  Was I “over” my grief?  Was I “better”?   It was not until a few weeks later, after the tide of grief had pulled me back in, that I realised this was my mind giving my heart a rest.  Grief is incredibly exhausting, hard, tiring work.  It leaves little energy for other things and eventually, my body claimed the rest it so craved.  At the time, I couldn’t conceive how my intense grief had simply disappeared.  And it made me uncomfortable.  The tie to my son severed.  Yet another thing taken from me – another silent thief in the night. I found myself jealous of those who were clearly in the dark depths of pain.  I knew how bitterly that hurt, but at least it kept my son close.   I was not okay with this version of okay.

Now, I find myself in an entirely different phase of my relationship with Xavier.  And, surprisingly, it is okay.  It’s never going to be what I want it to be – but that goes without saying.  But, I can genuinely smile and laugh, without guilt.  Increasingly, I feel Xavier in the love and laughter of my family.  He has become one with that love – woven tightly into its fabric.   Christmas Day, my husband and I visited Xavier’s grave.  I waited for the inevitable rush of emotion.  Being thrown back to the day we buried him.  Wanting to hurl myself into the earth to be with my son.  That emotion didn’t come.  And as I stood, tinsel around tiny graves glistening in the sunshine, relentless heat searing the little christmas trees, I realised, Xavier was no longer there.   Xavier was back with my family.  He was around the Christmas tree.  He was the joy in the season. He was the hope in shiny, little eyes.  He was the promise in chubby little hands tearing at wrapping paper.

Is this healing?  Is this the resolution of grief?  Can I close a chapter or wrap everything up with a big, shiny bow?  I think it is healing – I think it is a changing relationship with my son and I think that’s a positive thing.  But I worry – how is that perceived?  Do people think I am okay with the fact my son died?  Do people think that I am stoic and brave?  I am okay.  But I am not sure if I am okay with being okay.  I am not okay with how being okay might be perceived.

We wade through grief, waiting desperately for the day when peace will be restored to our hearts.  But are we ever prepared to give up what might lead to that peace?

Little Xavier, as I think of you this Christmas season, I feel your comfort around our family.  I try not to think of you, eighteen months old, tumbling around the Christmas tree.  For that is not you.  That memory belongs to someone else’s child and motherhood.  To think of you that way is to invite pain.  Instead, I catch glimpses of you in the twinkling lights, in the shining eyes of your brothers, in the embraces of family and friends and the very essence of Christmas that I once thought was lost forever.  Merry Christmas little one.

And so this is Christmas….

Against all odds, it is December.  Mid-December at that.  The post that I had wanted to write since December first has been sitting on a shelf in my mind – perhaps accompanied by that ubiquitous little elf – whilst the world has spun around me.  The season of festivity.  The season of good will.  The season of busy, busy, busy.

Last year Christmas felt quiet.  There were things that we had previously done each and every year that were left undone.   Things were done that will probably only belong to Christmas 2012.  Each day, I did some small thing for Xavier.  An advent calendar in his memory.  Each day of December I spent time with memories, time with my cherished son.  I dedicated myself to him, to keeping his memory alive.  It seemed the only way I would live through Christmas.

This year is so different.  As if trying to make up for the traditions lost last year, we have immersed ourselves in Christmas.  There has been carolling and Christmas lights.   Decoration and present making.  There has been Christmas shopping at the actual shops (last year it was mostly done online).  There have been Santa photos taken.  Our house is full of singing.  The christmas tree seems more joyful.  Even the place in our house dedicated to Xavier seems a little brighter than last year.

And Xavier himself seems a little further away.   I do not want to repeat the latter months of 2012 – sometimes it is only in reflection that I can appreciate how truly dark those months were.  But, that pain did serve as a connection to Xavier.   The wound was open and weeping and he was there in such a visceral way.  He is still here, but his presence is quieter.  Perhaps overshadowed by the hustle and bustle.  He is in no way forgotten, but at times it feels like in leaving my pain behind, I have left him also.   There are times I imagine a tiny “mummy, what about me?” as I laugh with Elijah on my lap at Isaac singing carols at the top of his lungs.    And I have to remind myself, that Xavier is there – in Elijah’s smiles and Isaac’s giggles.

This Christmas I think of those facing their first December after loss.  It is truly one of the hardest times of the year.  The world around you so seemingly happy and you so sad and lonely.  Those that put on a brave face and continue in Christmas traditions for the sake of their living children – when all they want to do is hide and wake up in January.  Those that said good-bye to their only baby, confused and hurt, looking at “My First Christmas” onesies with tears in their eyes.  Those that have years of memories of Christmases with their child taken too soon – who feel their world shatter once again with each toy ad, every Christmas card, every department store Santa.

My first Christmas without Xavier was tear-stained but connected to him in a way that no other Christmas will be.  Even without him physically here, it truly was Xavier’s first Christmas.   It perhaps belonged to Xavier more than any of us.   If last year was almost exclusively about Xavier, this year is about our family.  Our three boys and each of their places in Christmas traditions.

For Christmas is a time of year when we can reflect on our loved ones – here and far away.   Each Christmas card I have received has acknowledged Xavier and the ones I (eventually!) write in return will also bear his name.  There are three stockings hung in our house – one for each son.  There are baubles and decorations for each of my babies hanging on the tree.  It is not a dedication to Xavier this year, but rather a family Christmas.  And Xavier is and always will be a part of our family.

Some of the ways I remembered Xavier last year.

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