Surviving the holidays

The holidays are a wonderful season as everyone celebrates and gives thanks for the year they’ve had, their friends and family. It’s a time to be happy, surrounded by the people you care about and show each other what you mean to one another. There are carols, presents, parties, and decorations… things to give thanks for.

This should have been a magical Christmas!

This should have been our first child, Alora’s, first Christmas; if everything had gone as expected. This holiday period we should have been celebrating, we should have been:

  • Watching her walk around the house and play with our dog Jasper
  • Dressing her up in a special Christmas outfit
  • Watching her marvel at the Christmas tree and lights
  • Walking around our neighbourhood showing her all the houses decorated for Christmas
  • Taking her for her first Santa photo
  • Teaching her new words like ‘Santa’
  • Making a wonderful Christmas lunch for all our families to celebrate with her
  • Wrapping presents for under the tree
  • Watching her unwrap presents (or play with the wrapping paper more likely)
  • And… being Santa for the very first time

Life however isn’t fair. Instead we lost her… Instead we face the holidays from here on out without her. From that day when her heart stopped our lives changed forever… From that day on there are tears behind every smile, an empty chair at our table and the days, especially holidays, are filled with what ifs. The most important person in our lives is missing from every event from here on out. Our lives will never be the same again… the holidays will always be hard!

The forgotten parents

13 months on from when Alora was born at 27 weeks the world around us has forgotten. People assume that grief has a limited shelf life, that we would have “moved on”. For the most part, to the world, our lives are great. People see us smile and laugh, have us at parties, change and excel at our jobs, renovate our house, play with our dog and live life. They see us go out to dinner, be there for struggling friends, etc and in turn think that we are great. Everyone assumes that we no longer grieve because to be grieving still is unhealthy they say! No one knows that she’s the first thing on my mind every morning, and the last thing every night. No one knows that I’ve cried more tears in my last year than my whole life, or that every time I smile and listen to you talk about how challenging your kids are… talking back, keeping you up, making you run around after them… I then hide in the bathroom and cry wishing I had the same problem. People make jokes like “clearly you don’t have kids” or “when you have kids you won’t be able to do that anymore” because my husband plays computer games or we go on weekends away together. People forget that Alora existed!

Could you imagine!

I pose this however… look over at your child, the one who you taught to walk and talk; now tell me that you could forget them if they died! Tell me that within a day, or a week or a month you could forget! No matter how old your child is, from stillborn to their 50s or 80s, you loved them from the day you knew they existed. I challenge you to imagine yourself in my shoes facing Christmas without my first born; knowing she’s no longer on this plane of existence… could you honestly say that you could forget your firstborn?

Picture what it’s like for us

Now that you realise that you couldn’t forget; picture what our holiday is like… can you understand why we run away together, why we have to escape pretending to be happy that it’s Christmas and she’s not here! Instead we escape to the country away from family and friends, away from the Christmas trees and big family celebrations, away from the lie. We take the opportunity to be real and raw and alone together as our own family where Alora is remembered. We don’t want to ruin your Christmas but we can’t pretend that we are OK to appease you at holidays.

The hardest part of this experience is the expectation. Not only do we suffer daily with the loss of our daughter but people expect us to pretend we are ok just to make them feel better! Expectation is crippling in the holidays and we can’t carry the weight of your needs while no one helps carry ours.

You might not agree with our choice or our life but please… respect it! Know that we don’t need you to understand our loss as much as we need you to respect our choices and listen to our needs. We don’t need fixing… just open ears and closed mouths! What you think is helpful often is detrimental… don’t try to “fix” us. As a bed for my heart says “How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great” so these holidays be grateful for what you have and remember and respect those who face an empty chair these holidays.

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