But when our pastor recently asked, “What was the best Christmas gift you ever received?” I didn’t have to think hard at all.
It was my daughter, Fiona.
She wasn’t bornONChristmas but a week before-today is her birthday-and I was oh, so glad to finally hold that tiny bundle in my arms instead of in my belly.
My first successful pregnancy (I’d miscarried a year before) was a long, hard and difficult one. I never achieved that “glow” so many women enjoy while hormones guaranteeing baby’s health and safety surged through my system.
Instead I was desperately ill for the first four months as I wrapped up my college degree. (In hindsight, taking biology at six in the morning was a bad choice.) I spent many of those days in close communion with the toilet or a bowl when I couldn’t muster the energy to get to the bathroom.
I had a few short golden weeks before my body revolted once again and I developed a serious case of preeclampsia. Now my doctor visits were weekly and included fetal monitoring.
Back then there were few interventions for this condition so it was wait and see, wait and see all the while I counted days and weeks until I could reach the magic “thirty-four week” mark of likely viability.
Thankfully, we made it!
But then that little Miss decided to assert her personality and refuse to make an entrance.
So…finally…I was scheduled to deliver ten full days after her due date of December 8th.
It was a long day of pitocin, contractions, no progress and a swift trip to the OR for what ended up being an emergency C-section. Drama all the way!
She was here, safe and sound, in my arms at last.
There are lots of things I don’t remember in detail about that day or even the week that followed but I remember this: I knew in my bones that life would never be the same. This precious child made me a mama and my heart would forever be wrapped around hers.
I’m so very thankful I had the blessing of three more little ones after that.
I’m grateful for the lives they’ve lived and the ones they are living now.
I miss my third-born, Dominic. His birth story is woven just as firmly into the fabric of my being as Fiona’s and that of her other brothers.
I can’t pick out his threads without unraveling the whole cloth.
And I don’t want to.
I celebrate today the gift of motherhood and the gift of children.
Even when one of them leaves too soon.
Love is always costly, but love is always worth the price.
When I was a little girl I never thought about how the holidays impacted the adults around me. I figured it was all about ME. Or at most, me plus my brother and Santa Claus.
I was blissfully unaware of budgets and baggage.
Now I know better.
The holidays require us to wrap more than presents. They force us to wrap all the pain and expectation and hope and heartache in a giant package and serve it up hot and ripe for dissension and disappointment.
It’s relatively easy to figure out what to put under the tree (or give for the nights of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa). It’s much harder to figure out what to bring to the dinner table or the family gathering or the we’re-doing-something-different-this-year NON-gathering.
I’ve written a lot about the holidays in previous years and I will be sharing those posts again because there is always someone who hasn’t read them or who is just now in need of them. But I wanted to add something to the canon this year-on the ninth set of holidays with one child in Heaven.
It’s not easier just because I’ve had practice.
We have yet to settle into a system that makes space for all the feelings and changes that time brings to lives and loves and hearts and homes.
I’m just as jealous TODAY of whole families as I was the first Christmas without Dominic. I’m just as likely to sit for hours wondering what, exactly, I should cart down from the attic, what I should set up in the living room, how I should honor him without making him a “saint” and when tears are appropriate or distracting and indulgent.
I don’t want to discourage anyone.
I have developed many more coping skills and ways to make it through the season than I had that first awful Christmas when every song, every memory, every EVERYTHING stung like driving snow on frozen faces.
I’m just being honest which is the first and most important commitment I made when I started sharing in this space. And I don’t want any heart who still struggles to think he or she is unusual or defective or weak or “less than” the hearts that declare unmitigated victory over grief and sorrow.
Life is life.
It’s not less treacherous because I’ve developed bigger emotional biceps as a result of child loss.
There is, in fact, a greater gap between what I expect from myself and what I find I’m able to give.
But I keep trying.
I’ll buy the presents, deck the halls, make the meals and cherish every moment I’m with the ones I love.
Because I’m oh, so aware that this Christmas may be the LASTChristmas.
Even if I could erase loss from our family’s story, we’d still be muddling through the holidays trying to meet needs, expectations and holiday hopes all while juggling schedules and unwanted surprises.
Add child loss and sibling loss to the mix and there’s potential for a real mess!
So one of the things I’ve learned on this journey is I have to ask-and ask again-what my surviving children want and need for the holidays.
And then I have to LISTEN well.
We certainly haven’t managed holidays since Dom left us with grace and aplomb. In fact, some have been downright awful.
But we are still trying to make space and give grace so they are less stressful and more joy-filled.
I have never wanted to make my life journey with blinders on. I realized young that MY perspective is not the only one. I understand that more clearly now.
So I try hard to think about, acknowledge and accommodate the feelings and needs of others.
But it’s especially challenging since Dominic left us. And doubly so this time of year when every sight, smell and song screams, “It’s the holidays andHE IS NOT HERE!“
I may not be as thoughtful to some in my circle as want to be, but I will expend every ounce of energy and effort I can muster to make space for my living children’s needs during this season.
If you know someone whose heart carries great grief-and child loss is not the only hard journey hearts are making–offer to listen.
Give up a few minutes to hear how they are really doing, what is really hard, what they really need to say but may be afraid to speak aloud. Leave spaces in conversation so a heart can work up the courage to share.Don’t be quick to offer platitudes that shut down deep discussion.
It often takes many, many repetitions of traumatic events for a heart to begin to heal.