How can you possibly go on after you lose a child? And how on earth, can you celebrate Christmas?
We were faced with that reality 17 days before Christmas in December 2015.
That day, I spent the afternoon Christmas shopping for my two kids. I was behind on everything that year! I had taken the afternoon off to catch up on shopping, baking, and decorating.
It was a pretty average day - until the police and coroner came to my door. Five days after that we had Katie's funeral and less than two weeks after that was Christmas.
At the time, my son was 15 years old and well past the Santa years, but it was important to me that he didn't feel like his life ended when Katie's did. I didn't want him to feel that we loved him any less or that we would stop being a family and doing the things that families did.
Looking back, it seems impossible that we made the 2-day journey to go snowboarding on Christmas Day. We had made plans prior to Katie's accident to spend the holiday with my brother and his wife in British Columbia, so that's what we did the first year. Less than two weeks after our daughter's funeral we somehow packed suitcases and a car full of gear and headed west. I'm still not sure how it happened, but I knew I couldn't be at home that year.
We marked the day with whatever had been bought before Dec 8. It was quiet and we spent the majority of the day on the slopes at SunPeaks and ended it in the hot tub looking at the stars. Katie's spirit was palpable everywhere.
This will be our fifth Christmas without Katie. I can hardly believe it. We continue to mark the day by spending time together and have drastically simplified everything we do. We only buy gifts for our closest family members and they are simple gifts. I am happy to buy a small amount of baking from a local baker and only decorate a Christmas tree. We plan out our season and limit the obligations as much as possible. Dec 8 is our day and we clear off the days before and after to lighten the pressures knowing how hard that day is for us. We don't commit to much but allow ourselves to partake in festivities as we are able. Sometimes going to a Christmas party can be a lot of fun - and Katie liked to have fun, so we feel like it is living to honour her.
The reason I continue to put up a Christmas tree is because Katie loved everything about Christmas and her friends all brought beautiful white, angel, and feather themed ornaments on her one-year angel anniversary. Now when I put up the Christmas tree, it is a really meaningful time as I reminisce about all the wonderful friends Katie had and how much she meant to them.
As we head into the holiday season, I recommend four things to maintain your sanity:
1. Plan ahead. Know the season will be hard. Stores will be crowded and carols will be playing incessantly everywhere you go. Plan to shop during quiet times when you can get in and get out of the stores quickly. Shop online or better yet buy gift cards if you feel compelled to do anything.
2. Establish healthy boundaries. Ensure that you always have a place to retreat to and a place to cry or be alone, or stay in bed if needed. Communicate your needs and plan with friends and family so they know and can support you and your wishes.
3. Find ways to include your child in the holidays. It can be aggravating when it seems that our child has been forgotten. Most likely they have not, but others don't know how to respectfully include them, so I suggest you set the tone and find a way to include them. You might set a place at the table or have their picture as part of the centrepiece. Let people know that you love to hear your child's name and to hear stories about them.
4. Create new traditions. It can be incredibly difficult to do the same thing you used to do now that your child is no longer with you. An incredible angel mom that I met early on my journey inspired me when she said "we still do Christmas, but it's different now. We do puzzles and have chilli now and we look at photo albums. I hurts too much to do the things that we used to do with our child, but we do new things"
5. Give yourself permission to opt-out. If it's just too much to fathom right now, then hit the pause button. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Book a massage and buy a good book, soak in the tub, and be gentle with yourself. Gently inform your friends and family. Let go of the idea you have to please everyone and hold your ground. People may be upset, but this is not about them.
Whether this is your first Christmas or your fifth or your fifteenth, it's an awful time. I created a document that outlines 3 special ways to honour your child over the holidays. It has helped me and I hope it helps you too. You can download it here: https://www.lisakboehm.com/3-ways-to-honour-your-child
Do Christmas and the holidays YOUR way this year.
Walking beside you today and always,