I have survived 10 Christmases without my daughter. I barely remember the first Christmas after her passing. She died just two months before the holiday and I was still learning to put one foot in front of the other at that time. Getting out of bed was about all I could do to commemorate Christmas Day. The second year after her death I remember a little more vividly, although it’s still fuzzy around the edges, like every day was back then. At that point, I was able to do normal things, such as take showers and make meals for my family (I have four other children), but we certainly weren’t celebrating the holidays like we did before our loss.
In fact, a decade has passed since our daughter died, and our holiday celebrations have never been the same as they once were. However, overtime, the holidays have become easier. I have found ways to look forward to Christmas again, as well as enjoy making memories and honour my daughter by moving forward — despite the bittersweet feeling that always creeps in. Here’s what works for me year after year. Maybe some of it will help you, too.
1. Be your own best friend. I remember my therapist telling me early on that grief was extremely isolating, so I needed to treat myself like I would a best friend who was going through the same thing. Her advice helped. Would I tell a best friend to suck it up and deal with every detail of Christmas, no matter how painful it was for her? Would I expect her to buy gifts for another baby girl after just losing her own? Of course not — and you wouldn’t either.
2. Surround yourself with supportive people. For us, holidays mean big celebrations with family and friends we don’t often see. Since losing our daughter these gatherings can be like walking into a minefield of questions and comments that may set me off or send me spiraling downward. So, I’ve learned to skip the big events and stick to small ones with people that I know are sensitive to our situation.
3. Identify triggers, and try to avoid them. Will there be a new baby at your aunt’s Christmas gathering that may set off your emotions? Is your worst time of the day the same time as the family’s big church service? Part of finding a way to get through the holidays is learning what your triggers are and figuring out ways to avoid them until your heart is a little stronger. Some day you might be able to handle these emotional situations but right now you need to do what’s best for you.
4. Do only what you feel like doing. It doesn’t matter how much your second cousin thinks you should participate in her Secret Santa exchange or how adamant your mother-in-law is that you make three types of dessert for Christmas dinner. You need to take care of yourself right now. Just getting out of bed and brushing your teeth might be all that you can manage and that needs to be okay for those who care about you.
5. Honour the memory of the child you lost. Part of creating a new normal after loss is finding a way to carry your child’s memory forward, whether you buy an ornament in the child’s honour each year, fill a stocking with items to donate to charity, or set an extra place at the table. These actions can help make the holidays feel less like you’re moving away from your child and more like you’re carrying her or him with you.
No matter how you get through this holiday season I hope it is a bit easier than you expect it to be. I hope you feel your child close when you need it most. I hope this road keeps getting easier for you until you are able to smile much more often than you need to cry. The warmest of holiday wishes from one loss mumma to another.
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