Navigating the Holidays

Navigating the Holidays


The day before Thanksgiving, Ger made a comment to me that Thanksgiving was an “easy” holiday.  Unlike the anticipation of Christmas or the stigma of Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving was just a day to be grateful for what you have, in his mind.

I responded “But what about people who are hurting?”  I pointed out people that we know who are going through or newly divorced.  Families with tensions and forced interactions.  People spending a first holiday without a parent who passed away within the last year.  And of course, the countless families in our world who are spending the day missing a baby that died.

Later, he came back to me and said “You’re right, I did some reading online and it turns out this day is really hard for some people.”

Include me in “some people.”

Somehow, this was a revelation for Ger.  While he may have days that are hard, and days that remind him of our losses, the holidays aren’t among them.  He has never associated the bustle of this time of year with missing our babies more.  Just not his thing.

But I am sure anyone struggling with the holidays knows the tug-of-war between being grateful for what is had, while simultaneously missing whatever is not there – whether it be a loved one, a relationship, or a sense of inner peace.  Thankful has many, many mixed emotions.  I look at my sweet rainbow baby and I am thankful every day that she is here.  And also look at our Thanksgiving table, and know that we are missing a three-year-old.  Or a two-and-a-half year old.

And Thanksgiving is the kickoff to weeks of the same.  The weight, the pressure, surrounded by reminders of joy, togetherness, and festivities…

Over the past few years, I have developed ways to enfold Nelle and Iris into our celebrations, giving those days of heightened awareness a sense of focus.  I could let the day arrive, come and go, and miss them.  Or I could find a way to include them in part of our family celebrations.

  • Beginning with Thanksgiving and for every gathering through the holidays, two birds grace our dinner table.  The birds represent their places at our table, where they should have been joining us.
  • I have a tiny Christmas tree, just for them.  I have a mirrored tray in our master bedroom that holds their framed footprints, a Japanese Jizo statue, a framed copy of the poem “Beannacht (Blessing)” by John O’Donohue, and a box of things like ultrasound photos, cards, and other things that are meaningful to me.  The tree has two ornaments with their names and birthdates. I also put two tiny birds on top of the box and added a rocking horse – for the childhood they never had.
  • I make donations in their honor for Christmas gifts, choosing a meaningful charity.  In the past I have donated to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, so that families can have remembrance photos, or companies that promote education for girls in other countries.  I haven’t decided on a charity for this year yet – I am waiting to find the one that feels “right” for this season.

The holidays will continue to blur past and I do look at my family with so much love and gratitude.  We have a warm house, plenty of food, good jobs, our health, beautiful friends, and so many other things for which we can be grateful.  Yet for me it is a constant, slow path from the day that we lost Nelle in September until the day that we lost Iris in February.  A cycle every year of hitting on day.  After another.  Navigating those holidays and reminders until winter has passed.  And then the seasons begin again the following year.