I work really hard to be a kind person, live beyond my pain, and celebrate everyone's triumphs. I truly wish happiness for everyone I know, but there's something about the happy Christmas photos that punches me in the gut...and it seems to hurt more each year.
Is it just me?
Surviving child loss is a complicate storm of emotions. It's about figuring how to live a broken and unfair life and putting the pieces of your life and family back together in a new way that is never the same. We all have a gaping hole in our lives and nothing will ever replace what or who is missing.
I do my very best to live with gratitude. I am truly thankful for my husband and son who continue to walk this path with me. I am grateful for my friends, neighbours, co-workers and my family. I work on my grief recovery every day and take care of my body, mind, and spirit the best I can.
These innocent, smiling photos of perfection make me want to tear them up and throw them away instantly. It's another reminder that my family photo isn't like that anymore. My family photo has someone missing permanently and often includes a photo of my dead daughter in an attempt to fill in her empty spot.
There are only two times in the year that this really bothers me - Christmas and graduation. These are the two times of the year that my daughter Katie was most excited for and will never get to celebrate again. It's a time when all my jealousy and bitterness bubbles to the surface despite all the work I do in an effort to not be that way.
My dear daughter will always be a member of our family and I will do my best to makes sure she is a part of our family photos, to help fill that void.
I can't stop the photos from coming at Christmas, but I can change my thoughts. I can be grateful that friends, family, and neighbours continue to think of us. I can be thankful that these people don't know the pain of having a child in heaven. And I can double down on my self-care and all that I do to honour my daughter.
Here's what I do to manage the holidays and those 'happy family' cards:
1. I put those cards away, immediately. I don't stew or put them on the fridge. I just put them away and sometimes away is in the garbage. (A sincere apology to my dear friends and family).
2. I put extra pictures of Katie up around the house. I stick them on the fridge, rotate her framed photos and make sure that we include her in everything we do.
3. I buy white roses to mark the years that Katie has been in heaven.
4. I do my best to ignore the world around me. I shop online, order my groceries online, and avoid the stores and their incessant Christmas carols.
5. I avoid Christmas conversations and questions about kids coming home for Christmas. My son will be coming home from college but my daughter never will come home again...
6. I journal, blog, and write, write, write. I try to purge those feelings of bitterness and jealousy because I know they do not serve me at all. Christmas will soon ease into the New Year and it will all be behind us for another year and the 'joy and happiness' will recede into the background eventually.
7. perhaps the most helpful thing I do though, is focus on myself. And I mean that. It sounds selfish, but it isn't. I drink copious amounts...of water, not boozy Christmas drinks. I get outside very single day for quiet time in the fresh air. And I meditate. I need to get my head in the right place and most importantly, I need to keep my head above the water.
Christmas without our kids sucks. It really does so be kind to yourself and feel free to rip those 'happy family' photos up or at least file them away.
Take care of yourself, Mama.