Today my daughter asked whether we would hang my son’s stocking for Christmas this year. Our first year without him.
My honest answer is, “I don’t want to.” I don’t want the reminder. I do better without the reminders, which makes me feel guilty. But then again, practically everything seems to cause Mom Guilt, so why should it be any different after the kid has died?
I’m dreading Christmas this year. A holiday I normally look forward to with child-like excitement. Of course, all the reasons I once looked forward to it are the exact reasons I dread it now. The decision about the stocking. All those homemade ornaments and decorations. I saved every single one, and once upon a time, it was like, well, Christmas when we pulled the storage bins out of the basement and eagerly sorted through, recalling the when, why, how of each one.
And then there are the ornaments I’ve been collecting for my children since they were born. A new one every year. I wrote their initials and the year it was purchased on the bottom. The plan was to give them each their own ornaments when they got married, so they’d already have a solid start on their first Christmas tree decorations (not my idea – I give my aunt full credit for this ingenious plan).
Now what do I do with the thirteen ornaments with the initials “BCL?” Maybe I’ll offer them to my daughter when she’s an adult, living on her own, with her own tree to decorate. Unlike me, she craves the reminders, the small items that used to be his. She’s clinging to the memories, whereas I just … can’t. They make me cry, and I’m so damn tired of crying. I’m not even sure I can put them on the tree this year. I guess we’ll see, next month. Most likely, I’ll follow her lead on this one. So far, when it comes to this whole grieving process, she’s been so much wiser than me.
(This year’s ornament – totally perfect for my daughter!)
Let’s not forget the personalized family ornaments. We have a few from before my daughter was born, when our family was three. Most, of course, are noting a family of four. And now we’re back to three. It’s the same as the family portrait dilemma: We haven’t had one done since 2012, yet it doesn’t feel right to ask a professional to snap pics of us now, because someone’s missing. I imagine I’ll skip the personalized family ornament this year.
In an effort to maintain my own sanity, I’ve discovered “new” traditions are the way to go. Every time we do something just like we always have, it makes me sad. When we do new things, try new adventures, I’m able to forget my reality, if only for a short while. I prefer it that way. The hardest part of this, though, is Christmas. It’s such a traditional holiday. And we created those traditions as a family, for a reason, and the idea of giving them up hurts my heart as much as reliving them minus one. I don’t know the right answer. So far, we’ve gone with the flow, let our daughter’s suggestions lead us.
For his birthday a few weeks ago, per her request, we invited the aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and we all met out at his gravesite. We brought balloons—fourteen blue balloons (his favorite color and the age he would have—should have—been), and we all sang “Happy Birthday” before releasing the balloons. Then everybody headed to our house where we ate and drank and were merry. It was nice. Peaceful, oddly cathartic. Truly, the best option, given the situation.
Despite my emotional state over them, there are a few traditions I cannot let go. This past summer was one of them. Gathering my dad, my siblings and their kids, and all of us spending a week hanging out at the lake. It was hard, because that was arguably my son’s favorite week all year, but it wasn’t fair to everyone else to try to change this tradition. Not to mention, it’s my happy place, too, even without my son.
The other is the annual Christmas morning family picture, although last year, it changed to Christmas Eve evening, because I’m vain and I don’t look pretty in the mornings anymore. Every year since we’ve been married, my husband and I have taken a pic together in front of the Christmas tree, wearing the pajamas Santa always manages to deliver early, on Christmas Eve. Every. Single. Year. Seventeen years. I can’t give that up, and I don’t think my daughter would want me to.
So we’ll do it this year. We’ll go to Christmas Eve church service and we’ll return home, and somehow Santa will have stopped by while we were away, leaving a gift for each of us. Always pajamas. And then we’ll change, put on the new jammies. My husband will start a fire. And we’ll take that pic. We will. There may be tears; they’ll no doubt be mine. But I’ll get through it.
And then we’ll cuddle together on the couch, flip on the television, and we’ll watch Christmas shows. Traditional ones, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A Charlie Brown Christmas. Oh, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
Then we’ll tuck our daughter into bed, tell her we love her, make sure she and the dog are settled for the night. And when we’re certain she’s asleep, we’ll whip out the presents, stuff the stockings, and … there will probably be more tears.
And then we’ll go to bed and we’ll wake up on Christmas morning, and we’ll revel in her joy, her excitement, all the love and fun that comes with that day, despite the trauma that happened in our lives. Because we’re still here, we’re still alive, and we deserve to carve a bit of happiness out of this life.