This past year without Winter has been the most difficult of my life.
Yet when I look back at this past year I realise that I survived, and at times even flourished, in the most poignant annual celebrations; Birthdays, Mother’s Day… and Christmas. And so, as we arrive upon our second Christmas without our little boy, I have composed a list to remind myself of all the thoughts and rituals that helped me through.
I have refrained from making this a ‘to-do list’ and instead felt it best to share what I do myself, in hope that it could inspire others in a similar situation without forcing upon them ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’.
And so here is my self-survival guide to embracing the festive season after losing our baby boy.
*Christmas is coming, there is no stopping its arrival. The first step is to accept that and realise that I can’t hide away for a whole festive season. It’s not practical, it’s not possible and it would be a ridiculous and miserable month.
*I imagine swapping places with Winter. If I was gone and Winter was here, would I wish for him and my family to miss out on the joys of Christmas? If I was no longer a live participant, would I sit amongst my family in spirit and will them to have a miserable Christmas, or would I wish for them to embrace the magic as much as possible, with me in their thoughts? Easy answer.
*To begin with, just dip your toe into the festive pool. Maybe just spend some time imagining Christmas, watching the adverts, seeing its slow descent into the stores. Instead of dread and panic, just sit with the feeling of festive acceptance. Notice that it is beginning, trust that we are stepping onto a sturdy boat and the river will be gentle with our journey.
*Put up your tree. I feel like it’s hard to resist the magical pull of Christmas with little twinkling lights dancing in the corner of my lounge.
*Fill the tree with remembrance decorations. We often call our little boy our snowflake baby, because we named him Winter and his life resembled a snowflake in so many ways, beautiful and unique, swift and impermanent. So, we blanket the tree in snowflakes alongside name baubles, angel wings, and a photograph of his peachy face tucked into the star that is perched on the very tip top.
*We also decorate the whole house with him in our mind. A mini tree in his nursery, twinkling lights to brighten up his photographs, a Christmas candle flickering next to his footprint. With every embellishment, I hold him in my thoughts and decorate for him, with him.
*Christmas is about love, family and a sense of togetherness. It’s a difficult concept to invest in when we feel a loved one’s absence so strongly, but it is also an opportunity to celebrate those around us, those who have helped us on our journey and those who grieve alongside us. Winters sudden death reminded me that nothing in life is guaranteed and loved ones can vanish so swiftly, and so we can take Christmas as a chance to cherish those around us with greater gusto than ever.
*We can remember the lessons our babies taught us; that material possessions bear much less significance than the loved ones we cannot replace, and we can thank our babes for the gift of this understanding, by wrapping friends and family up in love on this special day.
*Above all, remove any expectations. This is a new style of Christmas, it is different from previous years and different from our imagined family gatherings, but very little in life goes to plan and nothing in life ever stays the same. We can just relieve our pressure of how we ‘should be’ and accept the experience, tears and all. Take each day, each moment as it comes.
*Give yourself space and time to remember your baby on the day. I will be sitting in Winters nursery in the morning, we will be visiting his memorial with flowers and festive wreaths. There will be tears, at times the day will hurt like hell, and it’s ok to not be ok. Allow yourself to have your special moments with you baby and wish them a happy heavenly Christmas.
*As much as possible, surround yourself with loved ones and those who are understanding of your journey and holding you up on this wibbly wobbly path.
*Christmas can feel like an enormous hurdle, almost like an obstacle in our grief. We can feel such strong aversion to it, like we want to swipe it off the calendar altogether. But Christmas is essentially a title for a celebration of love, and therefore it is an opportunity to honour our babies in another new way. By including our loved ones in the day at every opportunity, we can transform what feels like an unwanted event into another way to express our love for our angels; We have lost our babies, but we have not lost our love for them. We will be raising a glass to Winter during Christmas dinner, collecting donations for the hospital and dishing out gifts for the nurses who worked so valiantly to try and save his little life.
*Remember that Christmas is simply a time of year. I mean that in the sense that I will love and miss my baby in the Spring, Summer and Autumn too. I miss him on December 25th and I miss him on August 25th, because every day is a day with empty arms. For me, this disempowers the looming date, it is simply another day without my son. Of course, during the holidays our emotions are intensified, but that is a direct reflection of the heightened love we feel for our loved ones at Christmas. We feel greater pain, because over Christmas we discover that we love them in so many new ways. And that is something else to celebrate.
*We hang a stocking up for Winter, but I can’t bear to see it empty, so I fill with little heavenly homemade gifts from Winter to hand out to his family. It does actually break my heart to think I will never experience a Christmas with my little boy here and never watch over him as he excitedly tears open gifts. Passing out presents in his memory is the next best thing, it keeps his memory alive and both giver and receiver can feel his love living on.
*And you know, buy your baby a gift if you like. Maybe a new memory box, a sentimental keepsake, or even clothes that would fit them now that you would like to hold close and let reality escape you for a moment. Nothing is considered weird when you’ve stepped into this wild world of baby loss. If it suits your grief and doesn’t harm others, then just do it.
*And finally, I would just say, give yourself lots of self-compassion. Christmas is hard when we lose a loved one, and particularly I think if you have lost a child. Give yourself a break. I had several tearful moments last year, and I expect the same again. At times, the pain of infant loss in unbearable, a searing burn that demands attention. If something is too difficult, then just let it pass you by, do whatever you have to do. I won’t be suppressing any feelings, if I want to hide in bed for a whole day then I will, but also if I feel strong enough to experience the festive season in whatever way it appears to me, then I will be brave and just think of my son the whole time.
Winter didn’t experience a single Christmas, he was robbed of that experience. But here I am, experiencing what he will forever miss out on. I know Winter would have loved Christmas, so I will love it for him.
If you can’t have Christmas WITH your baby, have Christmas FOR your baby.