Monday, December 9, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: Day Nine

Written by Eileen Tully

The first Christmas after my daughters died, I felt like I was being torn in two.

After having three healthy boys, we lost our identical twin girls in the spring and summer of 2011. They were born in May – Fiona, stillborn and Brigid, twelve weeks too early. Brigid died of an infection in the NICU at the end of June, just a few days shy of seven weeks old.   

There were times that I felt my young boys – who were 5, 3, and 1 at the time – were the only thing that kept me going. Their hugs and smiles and laughter are what got me out of bed every day. But at the same time their demands and neediness, which were normal for children their ages, also made it very hard to find the time to process what had happened. Sometimes I just needed to sit and “be.” Be still, be quiet, be crying. But I didn’t have that opportunity. 

Some days, I’d cry all day, but I still had to get things done – laundry, dishes, groceries, meals. Usually, though, my morning shower was my crying place, and as soon as they went to bed at night, I’d start again.  Whether it was one hour or ten hours, I’d cry every day. My eyes were permanently burning and bloodshot and swollen. This was not how I’d envisioned going into the Christmas season. That year, there were supposed to be pink things in among the items under the tree. There was supposed to be a pretty stocking – two, actually - next to the boys’ truck and train ones. That year, things were supposed to have been so very different.
For the boys, it was just another Christmas. Sure, they knew that their sisters had died, and they’d grieved their loss.  But they had moved on, as they should have, and were ready to celebrate. And I had to try to keep up the magic and excitement for them when I really just did not have it in me. I think that was the hardest thing about that first Christmas: shopping and decorating and baking and crafts, and trying to put on a happy face for them, when my heart was utterly broken. If getting through the months after their death was hard, the Christmas season felt nearly impossible. It was a time when the boys’ enthusiasm was at a peak and the loss of my girls felt even more profound. My heart was torn between my living children and the ones that I’d lost, and the feelings couldn’t have been more different.

That year, we did no visiting. For me, relationships with family members were strained after our losses. They weren’t great before, truthfully, but they couldn’t withstand the incredible strain of the situation. We were never so needy as we were when our girls were dying and we were trying to care for our boys while I was on bed rest for months, and the relationships just did not flow in that direction. It was difficult, but in some ways, it was actually a relief not to have to go and interact with them. We stayed together as a family and just soaked up all the time together we could doing simple things– driving around with hot chocolate to look at lights, baking cookies from pre-made dough, and ordering an easy Christmas dinner from a local grocery store that we picked up the day before. There was no schedule. No one was expecting us anywhere. We did things in our own time and only when and if we felt up to it. I really never knew which day was going to be the one that I cried nonstop from morning to night. The one that sideswiped me and left me unfocused and struggling just to put one foot in front of the other. 

So if you find yourself facing family gatherings for your first Christmas, even if you have really supportive family members, you might want to just ask people from the start not to have any expectations of you.  Please find someone else to make the pies. Ask another person to coordinate the cookie exchange. Just try to release yourself from any responsibilities so that you can take each day as it comes. And sure, you might feel up for baking or going out one day, but give yourself the freedom to see how you feel first.

To incorporate our girls into the season, I bought two beautiful angel ornaments and wrote their names on them. 

It was special to me that they were pretty, and it was special that their names were on them so that we thought of our beautiful girls every time we saw them. I think anything that has their names on it is a treasure - ornaments or jewelry or a little picture - if you can find a way to incorporate their names into your every day, it means so much. I felt like they were – and are – still a part of our family’s Christmas because their angels are on our tree. For some reason, though, I couldn’t bring myself to include their names on our Christmas card. I just wasn’t there in my heart. I’m still not, and that’s okay. Do whatever feels right to you in those cases.  There is no right or wrong way.

This is the third Christmas since our girls died.  Since then, I have been writing about life after our loss and making memorial sketches for other families who have lost a baby at Little Winged Ones.  I find writing out my thoughts and experiences and helping others who have lost their babies to be very healing, but I still feel a bit melancholy around the holidays. I still struggle, especially, with the need to be “on” for my living children, who are still young and so very happy during what is the most exciting time of year for them, when there are days that my heart is just overwhelmed with sadness. But if I can take a little time for myself – to just have some alone time to process and grieve and cry if I need to – that helps me to stay focused, when I’m with them, on making it as fun and exciting as it can be. If you have other children who are looking to you to make this Christmas fun for them when your heart is broken, don’t worry if it is different this year. They will understand and adjust – they’re remarkably adaptable. Any little thing you do with them is special to them, so find simple things to do. 

Not every Christmas will feel as difficult as this first one does. Be gentle with yourself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Read Eileen's blog HERE, find her Still Standing articles HERE, and connect with her on Facebook HERE.


Anonymous said...

xxxx thanks for letting me know im not on my own and that it's 'ok' to still be 'sad', this is our first Christmas and I also have three young(ish) children that I need to keep things 'normal' for. People seem to think I should be over it all by now and 'getting on with my life' and some times I wonder if I ever will ..... so thank you hun and merry Christmas to you and yours xxx

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