The fireplace holds five stockings, but only four people live in my house. 5 years ago we celebrated our son’s first Christmas. I spent the days crafting while he napped as I hoped for and imagined what future years would bring. I could not bear to only make one stocking when I was the mother of two. It felt equally wrong as right to make a stocking for my daughter who had died of year prior, but I sewed two stockings that year; one for Ruthie Lou, the other for Reid.
The dark nights of winter were so long and quiet and empty with only one baby in the house. I spent a lot of time imagining what it would it would be like if she were there still. I wondered what it would be like to mother two living children. My heart broke even more watching my son hit all the milestones that my daughter never would. The juxtaposition was exhausting, the joy of watching him grow and the emptiness of living without my daughter.
We had to make awful decisions that year, decisions that no parent should have to consider:
Do we include her name on holiday cards?
How do we include her in family photos?
How do we honor her during the holidays?
Do I make her a stocking?
What do we do with a stocking that hangs empty?
Each year we’ve had to face the same or similar decisions. We reflect on what we’ve done for Ruthie Lou in year’s past, and typically decide to do the same as we move forward.
We sign her name on holiday card.
We always include something of hers in our family photos.
Her stocking is hung on the mantle next to her brothers.
We adopt a girl the same age she would be to buy Christmas gifts in her memory.
It may not make sense to others, but I feel comfortable with the traditions we’ve created and yet (more than anything) I wish this wasn’t the reality of our life.
As we enter into the deepest part of the holiday season, I think of all the moms who this is their first Christmas without their son or daughter. I want to encourage you to reach out to someone who is grieving. Send a text, pick up the phone, stop by for a quick visit and hug. Show that you will always remember their child and that you are holding them close in your thoughts.
And if you are the one missing your child this holiday season (and every day, really), be gentle with yourself.
Listen to your heart.
Don’t over schedule your time.
Take breaks when you need.
Honor old traditions only if they feel good.
Making new traditions if that feels better.
There is no right and there is no wrong during this year.
Each year is a little less harsh than the one before, but the missing never really gets easier. I wish I had some way to lighten that pain for myself and for others. But the only thing I can offer, is to follow what feels right and not question what others might think because thankfully, they don’t have to face this hardship. But if truth be told, 6 years later I still don’t know what to do with that damn stocking. So, there it hangs with the rest of the family because our daughter will always be the heart of our family.
The county in which I live has suffered a devastating catastrophe, a wildfire that intruded our cities.
Early Monday morning, I was awakened to the doorbell and pounding at the front door. Because I was alone with my children, I didn't answer it immediately, instead letting my dog to scope it out. When his barking stopped, I realized it was someone we knew at the front door so I ran to open it.
Outside was as active as the middle of the day, only it was pitch black instead of light. We didn't know what was happening, but could smell the smoke and feel the fear. Neighbors were loading their cars, their trailers and RV's with their most prized possessions. I frantically moved throughout the house trying to decide what was worthy of fitting into my medium sized car should we never return to this house we call home.
Those moments were one of the scariest of my life, while the next week continued to be exhausting, worrisome and stressful. The days were long as we were glued to the news, the radio and social media for updates. We watched in horror as loved ones homes were burned to the ground. The fires continued to spread for days as the wind moved it in different directions. Our lives were on hold as we waited for the weather to shift in our favor.
Our entire community is grieving the loss of lives, homes and businesses as a result of these fires. While our hearts are healing and bodies needing the strength and stamina to move forward, I found myself remembering the survival skills from the early days of grief after my daughter died.
Here are my recommendations for simple steps when grieving:
Take Care of Your Needs
Make sure to be well fed, even if you don't feel well rested. Drink ample fluids and make sure you are always nourished. Tea became my lifeline. I wasn't hungry but tea soothed my parched soul. Teamotions tea offers adaptogen herbs for emotional well being. Taking a moment to breathe and taste a cup of warm tea can offer a much needed rest. To find out more about Teamotions tea, click HERE.
Tend to Your Heart
Take a break from the trauma. As much as you're able and as often as you can, be sure to tend to your heart. For me, that means writing. I journaled about my feelings and wrote about my experience at Still Standing (HERE). as a way to process my emotions on paper. Writing may not be your thing, or maybe you don't have a "thing" yet. To give you some ideas and support, I have compiled 100+ ways to tend to your heart HERE.
Days before the fire, my friend and fellow loss mom Kristi from Lilla Rose, sent me a Flexi Clip for my hair. It was such a nice treat to get this in the mail and was especially useful last week when we were left without power and gas. Because I was unable to shower, I would dry shampoo my hair and clip it up with the Flexi Clip. Wearing that clip in my hair made me feel that although I was in a state of chaos, at least I didn't look like it...entirely! I used it near every day and brought it everywhere I went. Give yourself permission to be treated in any way that makes you feel good, especially when you're grieving. As a gift, Kristi has offered to giveaway one Flexi Clip! To enter, click HERE.
11 days later, the fires are nearly contained and most evacuation orders have been lifted. Many families are returning home or learning that their home is no longer standing. It's just going to be a long haul to rebuild both emotionally and physically. But, my community is #sonomastrong and we will get there, It's just going to take time. In the meantime, make sure to take care of your needs, tend to your heart and treat yourself.
For five weeks out of the year, I am no good. In my mind, I fail at being a wife, a mom, a friend, or employee because, for those five weeks, I live a parallel life. I stand here straddling with one foot here and the other in 2011 wishing I was still there.
I would relive even the most heartbreaking, soul crushing moments if it meant I could run my fingers through her hair again, kiss her puckered lips, smell her baby skin and feel her 6 lb body against my chest. What I would give for those 33 days again.
After being discharged from the hospital less than 12 hours after delivering our baby, I replayed her labor over and over again. Her heart never decelerated. She showed no signs of injury. We had every reason to believe she would recover from whatever plagued her. We drove 2 hours convincing ourselves of this fact.
I didn't know babies died.
And then, I did.
Five weeks later, she died.
A lot has happened in the middle of those 5 weeks. A lot of hope, praying and pleading. A lot of love, snuggles and kisses. A lot of crying, crying and more crying.
And then I woke, on the day that I knew would be her last. The day that happened to be my first day of life. My 31st birthday.
When I woke she was breathing.
I held my daughter alive on my birthday, no gift will ever compare.
And then, she left.
I haven't celebrated a birthday since.
I just can't.
So for five weeks, I check out. I'm here, but I'm only half paying attention. I have obligations that I must tend to during these days, important ones even- teaching a new school year and my son's birthday, being top of the list.
So, I plan birthday parties and English lessons.
And my days are full.
But my arms feel empty still. Even holding my 2 sons, I will always be missing one of my 3 babies.
So, if you catch me during Ruthie Lou's month and I'm “off”, I promise it'll pass. Just don't count on it being this month.
Come find me after September.
Don't miss Amie Lands' next book!
OUR ONLY TIME: STORIES OF PREGNANCY/INFANT LOSS
WITH STRATEGIES FOR HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
COMING THIS FALL!
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I am mama of three beautiful babes; two sons whom I have the privilege of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.