Trigger warning: child loss
Besides the glass breakables, there’s only a handful of ornaments I claim as my own to put on the Christmas tree each year. There are the handprint Santas, the footprint snowmen, and the laminated stars my kids made during their time in preschool.
Then there is the silver ornament picturing my daughter at its center. As for this one, there’s no rush in putting it on the tree. I gently place it on branch after branch, step back to look at the tree as a whole, again and again, until I feel a nudge in my spirit which whispers to me kindly, just right.
This silver photo ornament I put on the tree each year is done so in memory of my daughter. I hang an ornament for her when I should be hanging one with her. There’s a picture on the tree of her and her gummy smile instead of a footprint snowman we made together. There are no Christmas presents like there should be, because they sit in honor of my baby under another’s tree.
All of these “should be’s” that won’t be.
On the most difficult nights when all falls silent, I glare at the twinkling lights, watching them morph into a slur of orbs as tears well up in my eyes. The wet trails stream down my cheeks, splashing against the collar of my sweater, and it makes me think of you, my fellow bereaved mother.
I wonder if you’re dreaming of a Christmas that’s out of your reach and beyond your control. Do you fake smiles during the holidays for your surviving children too?
If I were beside you, I’d wrap you up in the kind of hug only two grieving mothers can share. The kind that causes our hearts to become one, nearly clinging to each other like we’ve been friends for forever… all because of such a profound and unspoken knowing. But since I’m in my home while you’re in yours, scattered all throughout this big world we live in, I’ll settle with a promise to save some room for you in my heart instead.
Even when I can’t see you, I am with you, bereaved mother.
I am with you when the guilt weighs you down for grieving during a time that’s meant to be joyful. I am with you when you excuse yourself to the bathroom, staring blank-faced at glossy eyes in the mirror and willing yourself to stop the moaning of a mourning mother’s weeping. And I am with you the most when your fingers trace the embroidered name on the stocking, knowing full well this is the one that remains empty.
I am with you.
I am with you when the holiday-themed pregnancy announcements bring an unbearable pain. I am with you when sweet memories snatch your breath for all to see. I am with you as you trudge through family Christmas dinner with a forced, inauthentic smile. Throughout every tear, every disappointment, every milestone, every tradition, and everybody else’s misunderstanding, I am with you forever more.
I am you, and you are me. So tell me, how could I not stand beside you throughout every season of suffering?
The world mumbles through hushed breaths and behind our backs that we are doing “better,” and “dealing.” But we both know better. How could anyone judge us at a glance from such a shaky exterior?
I know there’s more inside of you than what you let those around you see. You wear shades to cover up your incomprehensible sadness, never letting the people know about the guilt, restlessness, and the need to scream, “Be easy on me! Can’t you see that I’m still grieving?!” which lies just beneath your surface.
Meanwhile, those around you ask if you can make it to family Christmas, and if you’re bringing a side dish. The thought of baking a casserole feels minuscule in the big picture of things. Christmas presents are trivial. Ever since your child died, the happenings of the world around you, even in this season, feel so … small.
Others have found their normal routine rather quickly. After all, as harsh as it may be, it’s not their child who’s missing. Life for even the closest family and friends evolves far faster than you ever wanted it to, while you stand with your hands to the heavens, completely folded into your grief.
To avoid sucking the magic out of Christmas, your grief is buried in fakeness so it can seem a little smaller. No judgment here, this bereaved mother does it too. Though I do wonder … what if we could understand that even with our many strengths, weaknesses and great grief, we are not that powerful?
We are simply grieving these holidays in the most non-simplistic way of all. I’ve saved a seat for you, my friend, and it’s one that happens to be right next to me.
From one bereaved mother to another, I am with you, and you are with me.