Sunday, December 1, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: Day One

Surviving the Holidays: Rewriting Our Vocabulary & Finding a “Yes”

Two years ago, I sat at Thanksgiving dinner choking back tears. I pushed the barely touched food around my plate and wished I hadn't chosen a seat in the corner, where it was hard to leave and run for the bathroom to sob without making a scene. I don't remember what everyone else was doing or saying. All I know is that I wanted to die.

Four days before, I had birthed our baby girl. She was dead, dead before she was born, at 31 weeks. Cause of death was undetermined. I birthed her, we held her for a few brief hours, and said goodbye.

We named her Eve.

And then days later, Thanksgiving. A month more, Christmas.

One of the aspects of babyloss and bereavement that I continue to find the hardest, even two years out, is the passage of time. I was not ready to move forward, to leave my shortened pregnancy and the precious time we had spent with our daughter's body behind. But the days trudged forward mercilessly, dragging me through the gamut of holidays that I imagine rubs salt in the wounds of any griever, no matter the type of loss.

Because the holidays are a marker, more than any other day. They roll around annually, and try as we might we cannot avoid them, cannot hide from them. Gathering around the holiday dinner table highlights those who should have been there but aren't. Purchasing and exchanging presents reminds us of the presents that we long to buy but whose recipient is no longer living.

The holidays are hard for a griever, for a bereaved mother. Damn hard.

So how are we to survive?

My advice is to rewrite your vocabulary. There is nothing that a griever “should,” “need to,” or “have to” do during the holiday season, except get through it in one piece. Get rid of those words. Throw them away, and let no one try to tell you that you really should stop mentioning your baby during the festivities, or that you need to attend holiday dinner, or that you have to comply with the expectations.

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You don't have to go to dinner. You don't have to buy presents. You don't have to put on a good face.

You don't. Really.

There is only one person who decides what you are going to do this holiday season, and that person is you (perhaps with some loving and gentle input from a spouse or significant other). Continue old traditions or create new ones, or forgo all the holiday activities entirely – it is completely up to you.

That said, my other piece of advice is to consider showing up for the holidays. Consider going to that small gathering of sympathetic loved ones, or that religious service, or that tree lighting. Again, it is for you to decide; don't let those “should's” creep in. But also wisely select gentle ways you can show up for the holiday, because you may end up being pleasantly surprised.

I was surprised, that first Christmas after Eve's stillbirth. My husband and I planned to spend the day with his family. The night before, I had only the most pessimistic expectations for our holiday. But on Christmas morning, I woke up strangely energized. I threw together a group gift for my inlaws, drew a deep breath, and confirmed to my husband that I wanted to attend the small family gathering.

And – I was delightfully surprised. What I expected to be another holiday spent with the constant taste of my own tears in my mouth was instead a beautiful and gentle day. My family remembered Eve, which was an incredible gift, and I felt loved and held, and my pain was respected. I later described it on my blog as the best Christmas I had ever had, incredibly.

I encourage you to keep your eyes open for ways that you can say yes to the holidays this year. Be on the lookout for small gatherings that will be gentle on your heart, with people that will honor your grief and your loss. If possible, ask the people that you will be spending the holidays with beforehand to incorporate your baby into the celebrations in some way, such as hanging a special ornament on the tree or even simply mentioning his or her name to you.

The holidays, they can be an ordeal for the raw and grieving heart. Do what you need to do to survive.
Remove all “should's” from your vocabulary. And also try saying yes to gentle celebrations as you feel able. May your holiday season be gentle and surprising in only the most beautiful ways, and I hope that you feel your missing child's presence lingering close. 

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Beth Morey is the mixed media artist behind Epiphany Art Studio. Her soulful and whimsical creations are born out of the griefs, joys, and not-knowings of life. She is also the founder of Made, an online course exploring the intersection of faith and art, and the author of the creative healing workbook, Life After Eating Disorder. Beth loves meeting new friends through her blog, where she writes about loss, faith, and creativity. She lives in Montana with the Best Husband Ever, their rainbow son, and their three naughty dogs.



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