It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
That may be a common description of Christmastime, but honestly, from October-December 25 is my favorite time of year. Here in East Tennessee, October means mild days and cool nights, perfect weather for camping, hiking, and enjoying the majestic fall colors in the Smokies – in other words, family time. Thanksgiving is the one time of year we travel to visit my extended family, a very tight-knit group of about 70-80 folks crammed into my aunt’s Mississippi home, then another trip to my grandmother’s house in West Tennessee. And then of course Christmas, the season of goodwill and cheer. On Christmas Eve, my brothers and I still set out cookies and milk and spend the night at my parents’ house (now with all our spouses and kids in tow) to await Santa’s gifts in the morning. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever else, the holidays are all about family.
And that’s what also makes Christmas the most difficult time of year for many people. For those facing the recent loss of a loved one, the holidays hurt like hell. Even with all the laughter and food and people around the table, your eyes are always drawn to that empty seat and your thoughts to the person or people not present.
That was me last year. In 2014, I lost two babies to miscarriages within a few months of each other. I think it’s true what they say, that the first year is the hardest. Every milestone since those losses has burned in my heart, longing for the cheeks not kissed, the snuggles not given, the laughter not shared. My 4th baby (the first that I lost) would have been due in October 2014. While I spent much of that month outdoors with my three older kids, I constantly longed to be home in bed with a newborn. In November we traveled to see my family, only five people in the van instead of six, and I was devastated to be lacking a pregnant belly with a baby due in January. Christmas came, and I bought presents for only three kids, so desperate to have another stocking on that mantle.
The week before Christmas, I learned that I was pregnant again. I was excited – sure – scared out of my mind – of course – but honestly I was sad. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my 6th baby… I just wanted the 4th and 5th too. Maybe I wanted them more in that moment, because I so desperately longed to see them at that holiday table. Sure they’ll always be in my heart, but I wanted them in my arms. Because Christmas is all about family.
This year is my 2nd Christmas without my babies, and it’s the first with my 4-month-old son. We plan on baking cookies for our first responders, spending the night at my parents’ house, and asking Santa to bring diapers for the baby (hey, he really loves having a clean bum, so I think it’s a valid gift). We have six stockings hanging on our mantle, but we still have two holes in our hearts.
This year, though, we can say we’ve done it before. We have another year of healing, another year of living to honor the lives that we lost. We have another baby to snuggle, and to be honest, I think he gets 3x the lovins on account of his older siblings in heaven. We will light a candle for our children with whom we will spend eternity one day, and we will get through this. Because this is our second Christmas after our losses, and we have done this before.
If this is your first Christmas without someone you love, you are not alone. Give yourself permission to grieve however you need to. If you’re missing a little one in your arms, check out Project Gabriel for support for parents facing pregnancy and infant loss. Please tell your story – spend this holiday season remembering the good times with your loved one or the unspeakable love you had for your unborn child. Just get through this – next year will be better.