It's no secret that the holidays are hard. You never realize how kid focused this holiday is until you try to avoid everything kid focused. There are constant reminders each and every day of all that we are missing with Vivienne and our other children. I used to celebrate Christmas. Now, I try to survive it.
It has been very important to us to make Vivienne a part of our family Christmas. We don't brush our children aside on any other day of the year, and we certainly won't do it at Christmas. We started some traditions last year, and this year continued all of those while adding a few more.
First, there are her Christmas tree and her stocking. Last year, each member of our family bought a Christmas ornament for Vivienne that now hangs on her tree. It was one of the few peaceful moments we had this Christmas - taking out each ornament, remembering who bought it for her, and knowing how loved she is. There is an angel that lights the top of her tree, and her halo forms a reflective heart on our ceiling, which I love. Her Dad and I made the candles immediately next to her tree - 1 for Vivienne, and 1 for our other 3 babies. These were lit at every Christmas dinner, so our children were there with us. Her stocking hangs over our fireplace with our stockings. Each year, her Dad and I write a letter to her, which fills her stocking.
Our other tradition is to give our children gifts. We can't give the traditional gifts of toys and cute outfits. Instead, we give gifts to charities in their memory. This year, their gifts included a coat for Coats for Kids, a toy for Toys for Tots, and donations to Ronald McDonald House, the Sweet Pea Project, and our church. It's the only gift we can give.
This year, we were so touched to receive many gifts that honored our children. Two special gifts came from our parents - a snow globe/music box from Gordon's parents (the inscription inside reads "If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I'd walk right up to heaven and bring you home again.") and a Precious Moments figurine from my Mom (it shows a Mother handing her baby to an angel and is called "Mommy's Love Goes With You.").
My sister and niece also gave us touching gifts that honor all of our children. As I've mentioned before, each of our children has a symbol (Vivienne is a rainbow, Baby 2 is a sunshine, Baby 3 is a heart, and Baby 4 is a four leaf clover). Our niece made us a beautiful painting that honors all of them, and my sister gave us a very special ornament that hangs prominently on our tree.
And last but not least were gifts from some special friends who understand what Christmas is like after a loss. Ornaments and special sayings that will decorate our home at Christmas and year round.
There were countless other recognitions of our children this year. Some people wrote Vivienne's name in our card (which I really loved), there was a Poinsettia plant at Christmas Eve service in her name (and my Dad's), a secret Santa gift that included a V charm for my bracelet from a dear friend, ornaments for us to put our good wishes in for 2013, and a beautiful ornament from my husband.
All of the gifts are really wonderful. But knowing that people remember Vivienne and our children at this time of year is beyond priceless. Incorporating them into Christmas is really the only way for me to survive this holiday - remembering and honoring them the best I can. And knowing that other people do the same touches my heart in a way that I could never explain.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Friday, December 21, 2012
I’ve been writing this blog for a little over a year now. As I think back on what I’ve written about, it’s clear that this has not been a linear journey. You can’t start reading the blog a year ago and see me steadily get “better” over the course of the year. There have been times when I felt like I was getting there, and times when I felt like I was slipping back. And that journey continues.
Today is one of those slipping back days. Tomorrow was my scheduled due date – the date when my daughter should be turning 1. Christmas is right around the corner. And New Year’s and the hope of a new and kinder year is just a little over a week away. And here I sit, mired in a funk that I probably won’t come out of for days and that, despite a year of practice, I’m still not sure how to navigate.
I do a lot of thinking and introspection on my drive to and from work. This morning, all I could think was “will it ever really get any better?” Sixteen months have passed since Vivienne died, and today is one of those days where I feel like it will never get easier.
I feel frustrated because I’ve done everything I can to walk through the grief. I haven’t avoided it – I’ve confronted it at every stage. I have been to counseling, workshops, and support groups (in person and online). I have written (even more than in this blog) to get my feelings out. I have been honest and open about my grief, and I only plaster on the smile when I need to (mostly for social occasions and work). I have cried and screamed. I have been through bargaining, anger, acceptance, and all of the stages of grief multiple times. I have done what I’m supposed to do to get through this. And here I sit, 16 months later, unable to stop crying.
I’ve been told many times that losing a child takes a lifetime to get over – which is to say that it never actually happens. I knew this is what I was in for and set my expectations accordingly. And I don’t want to ever “get over” losing any of my children. What I do want is for it to stop hurting so bad.
This grief journey is like climbing the tallest mountain you can imagine. You make some progress on the climb, and even though you know you may never make it to the top, you still feel good about any progress that you’ve made. But then, sometimes out of nowhere and sometimes expected and anticipated, something comes along and knocks you back down to the base of the mountain. You feel all of your progress washed away and are forced to look at how much of a climb there is ahead. It’s overwhelming, daunting, and completely debilitating. You know you have to start the climb again, and you know that at some point, you will be knocked back to base camp. There is no real hope of making it to the top, but you climb anyway.
On days like this, I am at the base of the mountain again. At some point, I will have to take that first step and attempt the climb towards progress. But today all I can think is how tall this mountain is and how I know that I’ll never reach the top. I have no choice but to climb, but when you know that something will come along to knock you back, it’s hard to think about starting that climb again.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
I can’t tell you the number of times someone has told me “everything will work out” or “you will have a child someday.” I so appreciate the good intentions behind those words – it tells me how very much people want Gordon and I to become parents again, and this time with a child we get to raise. But, I have to admit, I really struggle with this sentiment.
It’s visible on my face when someone says it to me – I’m not projecting the hope and optimism that I’m supposed to. If only I could think more positively about it and see that this was in my future! But in the end, I don’t know that this is in my future. I never would have guessed 2 years ago that I would be sitting in the position I’m in now – 4 pregnancies, 4 losses. That makes it very difficult to see a future with a living child, hard as I may want to.
I know it’s hard for people to respond to me when I seem so hopeless. I wish that people could see that it isn’t lack of hope that causes my reaction to be the way it is – it’s hard doses of reality. I live in a world where I know first hand that a positive pregnancy test means nothing. That getting to a certain point in a pregnancy means nothing. That just because I have been through devastating losses does not mean that I am immune from more loss. It may seem like pessimism that I don’t whole heartedly nod and agree when I’m told that I’ll have another child, but it’s really just knowledge based on the education I have received.
I want to believe that you are right more than I could ever tell you. I want to believe in a world where the universe deems that some people have paid their dues and been through enough and now things can work out like they hope. But I can’t. I haven’t deserved a single one of my losses, so I know that there is no great scale of justice in the sky that will attempt to balance those out with the blessings of a successful pregnancy and healthy, living child. It’s not pessimism – it’s reality. Life isn’t fair. Babies die. Runners die of heart attacks. Non-smokers get lung cancer. It doesn’t all balance out, and it doesn’t always work out.
I know that it must sound harsh to say all of this, and I understand that it’s hard for people to accept. We want to be positive, believe that if you want something enough to work at it, that it will be yours, and that life gives us all what we so richly deserve. I want to believe that too, but I can see countless examples of how this isn’t the case. I know it’s hard to accept, because if we are forced to accept that life isn’t fair, then we are forced to accept that these tragedies can happen to any one of us. Hard work, diligence, hope, and optimism don’t make us immune from tragedy. Nothing does.
For some people, life just doesn’t work out like we’d hoped. There is no rhyme or reason why this happens and who it happens to – as my therapist likes to tell me “it’s just dumb luck.” Sometimes luck isn’t on our side. Sometimes that luck turns around, and sometimes it doesn’t. Just know that as much as I want to believe it, it's hard for me to get on board with the idea that things will work out for Gordon and I, and we will get our happy ending. Being dealt a year and a half of the worst possible luck will do that to a person. It’s not negativity – it’s learned response.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
In the months after Vivienne died, I found myself constantly thinking of the big milestones we would miss having with her – first birthdays, seeing her take her first steps, or going to her first day of school. I still have those moments, but they have been overtaken by thinking of all of the little things we will never get to experience with our little girl or our other children. Every day, there are thousands of things that remind me of what we are missing with them. Small, inconsequential, mundane moments that most people probably don’t notice with their kids – I’m aching for them.
I drive to work and think about what it would be like to have her in the back seat, babbling or fussing, as I drive her to Grandma’s house. I come home and think about what it would be like to see her face smiling back at me. I eat dinner and wonder what foods she would like and not like. I have a day off and I think about what it would be like to spend the day with her – doing some shopping, going to the zoo, hanging out and playing at home. Every day, a thousand little things cross my mind that I’m missing with my children.
I even have dreams about these everyday activities. Recently, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling sad and empty because of a dream I’d had. In it, I was buying baby clothes for Vivienne. That was it. I have dreams about the incredibly simple act of buying clothes for my daughter, and they wreck me.
We recently took a vacation, and while it was nice to get away, it also came with the thousands of reminders of what we will miss. We’ll never see our children light up with excitement at the prospect of swimming every day. We’ll never take them to the beach and build sandcastles. We’ll never see them get over-excited over an ordinary hotel room. We’ll never get to calm them during a meltdown over having to leave the pool. I know that those of you with kids cringe at that last one. I’d give anything for it.
The holidays come with this overwhelming mixture of big and little things.
For Halloween, I not only thought about how I would never take my kids trick or treating or take pictures of them in costume to show to everyone. I also thought about how we’ll never have the conversation “what do you want to be for Halloween this year?” We’ll never go shopping for the costume, and watch Vivienne proudly display it. We’ll never have those arguments over not being able to wear the costume all of the time or having to wear it even if it’s itchy or uncomfortable.
For Thanksgiving, it’s not just about not having her there for the big family meal. It’s about never doing the drive to our family’s with her, not getting to watch our family members hold her and play with her, and never seeing turkeys made from her handprints.
And Christmas isn’t just the loss of visits to Santa and opening presents on Christmas morning. We’ll never pick out a special Christmas outfit for her, see her in the Christmas play, sit down with the toy catalog and make a list for Santa, have the conversations about whether or not Santa is real, bake Christmas cookies with her, decorate the Christmas tree with her, have her join us for the annual girl's Christmas shopping day, or watch her play with the boxes and wrapping instead of her new toys. One holiday, thousands upon thousands of things to miss.
And so these become the latest things for me to grieve. Every day, a thousand things to mourn that I’ll never get to do with my children. Beyond the big milestones of birthdays and holidays, I’ll never buy toys or necessities for my children. I’ll never watch them play outside in the leaves and the snow. I’ll never have them running around the house playing, singing, and getting in the way. Everyday parenting moments stolen from us, and each one feels like another loss.