Saturday, December 7, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: Day Seven

Written by MaryJo Carlson, a babyloss grandmother

Today is December 7th. 

The number 7 is very important to me as Samuel is my 7th grandchild. As a matter of fact he is the 7th grandchild on both sides of his family.  He is our daughter RaeAnne and her husband Bryan's first child. 

When our daughter was 13 weeks along we heard the terrible news, "something is wrong”.  I wept with them and for them. At 15 weeks we found out his condition was called Posterior Urethral Valves and were told it was fatal. I wept even deeper with them and for them and I pleaded with God to heal him.  Our daughter carried Samuel with so much love and faith and we celebrated each and every moment we had with him here on earth.  That first Christmas was emotional as the doctors had prepared us that she could lose him at any time.  This started the journey of waiting with Samuel while enjoying him each and every day. Samuel was born April 14, 2012 and went to be with Jesus after 4 hours.  I have wept with them and for them ever since.

I can confidently say I will never be the same.

The first Christmas after Samuel left us was such an overwhelming time of emotions for me. I have always loved Christmas.  It was my favorite holiday.  If I could have had my way I'd have a "Christmas room" that always stayed decorated so I could go in, shut the door behind me and have Christmas any time I felt like it.  We had already gone through the Christmas before with not knowing whether at any given moment our daughter would call and say Samuel was gone.  Now that he was no longer with us it changed even more how we do Christmas. We now were facing Christmas without him.  Our daughter had told us they couldn't bring themselves to have any kind of get together as a family.  We totally understood.  I was with her.  I would just as soon climb into bed and sleep through the entire holiday myself! 

One day I got it into my head that we would put up lots of lights outside to shine up to heaven for Samuel to know we were missing him.  So that is what we did.  We decorated the outside of our home for Samuel. 

Come Christmas day we just quietly made it through the day wishing things were far different. There were lots of tears because we so wanted to have our little Samuel to shop for, to swoon over, to hug and play with as he enjoyed his new toys.  I had connected with another grandma who had to say goodbye to her grandson that same year and we exchanged gifts.  She sent the most meaningful gifts without even knowing me.  I cherish the joy they brought to my grieving heart and the knowledge that someone out there was missing her grandson as well.

This second year is a little gentler, but grief has its way of sneaking up and grabbing a hold of my heart.  

Shopping is especially hard, I want to buy Samuel lots of special things.  I try make the best of this sad situation by purchasing remembrance items for us and our daughter.  I will never ever have the chance to buy him gifts for holidays, I will never get the chance to buy him just for fun gifts because he is spending time at grama's, I will never be able to help pay for his education or get him that just special graduation or wedding gift and so in place of it we try to honor his memory by helping other people in need.  This year we bought gifts and filled Christmas boxes for Operation Christmas Child in Samuel's memory.  We have looked for ways we can help others by being more generous with our finances and time, all in Samuel's name.  We have little cards that we give to people to let them know about Samuel and All That Love Can Do and that we are helping because of him. We ask them to pay it forward when they have a chance to make a difference in someone else's life. All That Love Can Do (that we can do) is done in Samuel's name.

Our church holds a ceremony each Christmas season called The Empty Chair; it is a time of remembrance for everyone who has a place at their table during the holiday's that should be occupied by someone in the family that has died. I really liked the concept so we have incorporated it at our house as a regular part of life.

The Empty Chair  at Grama and Grampa’s house
We have an empty chair at our house; it will always stay that way.
You see someone is missing; Samuel is his name.

Last year the chair was grama's highchair waiting for our little 8 month old guy.  We would have given anything for him to fill it with his smiling face and hear him banging his cup on the tray.  Not only did his chair go unfilled, but so did the chairs of our daughter and son-in-law as their sadness and grief found no place for holiday gatherings. We totally understood.

How do you celebrate holidays after the tragic loss of a grandbaby that was so loved and so wanted?  First of all please let your child, the parent of the baby  gone way-too-soon, make the decision as to what they attend or how much involvement they want in the holiday.  This is not a time to create hard feelings or add to their pain. I would also affirm to the fact that is there is no time frame on how long they get to choose. There is no time frame on grief. Everyone grieves differently and our job is to allow our grief to be how we need to grieve the loss of our grandchild and allow our child to grieve how they need to grieve the loss of their child.  There is a book Grandparents Cry Twice and that is exactly true.  We grieve the loss of our grandchild and also we grieve over the horrendous pain our child is going through over the loss of their child. I can’t say it enough: let them be in control of their grief and how they do holidays for as long as they need. 

Secondly, for me, losing Samuel changed how I view holidays. Last year Christmas was full of deep sadness and emotional meltdowns. I struggled to find a place that felt safe. I had to create that space and keep myself removed from any traditional celebrations because it was just too painful for me. Losing Samuel redefine for me what truly matters in life and what doesn’t. This holiday season I treasure finding time each day to think about Samuel and remember the time we were given with him in a more calm and peaceful manner. I still have times when grief grips me.I stop, let the tears flow, and allow myself to work through the emotions surrounding his life and death.

The Empty Chair is one way for us to celebrate Samuel’s life and remember him.  It is a way for us to include him in our holidays.  It is a way for us to keep his life important and to learn to naturally talk about him.  As Samuel’s age changes so does the chair.  He will graduate into a booster chair.  He will graduate into regular chair.  And what will go with him at each chair is a place card for his memory.  It is a placeholder that allows our grief to have a place in our holidays. It is an opportunity to once again be thankful for his life and to remember the joy that he brought us with each little wiggle and kick our daughter told us about as she so lovingly carried him to term.  It is a reminder of the beauty of gazing at his precious and oh so beautiful little face as we spent time with him after he was born.  It is a demonstration that we as a family take seriously keeping his memory alive in our family. Samuel will always be our 7th grandchild.  No one gets to take his place.  Samuel will always be our daughter and son-in-law’s firstborn child, their first son.  He gets the privilege of that place. Samuel deserves to have us honor him with The Empty Chair at each and every family gathering. 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

MaryJo Carlson and her husband David are parents to 5 children.  Their oldest daughter is RaeAnne Fredrickson who created and runs All That Love Can Do in memory of their son Samuel.  MaryJo administrates All That Love Can Do for grandparents; a private online support group for those who have lost a grandchild and need a place to get support from others who understand as they travel through their journey of grief.  They are also grandparents to 8 grandchildren, 7 here on earth and Samuel Evan who they can't wait to be reunited with in heaven.


Unknown said...

Beautiful. Brought me to tears. Thank you fir sharing. I very much needed this read today.

Jenn @Treasuring Lifes Blessings said...

Wow this brought me to tears! Your daughter & son-in-law are SO blessed to have had you share in their grief so deeply. And to see the way you still include your grandson, wow. We've not had either of those things with either of our families. I wish we would. . .

Anonymous said...

I love how you include Samuel into your Christmas season and throughout your everyday lives, wonderful, meaningful ways!

Anonymous said...

Jenn, I am so sorry you have not had the kind of support you needed :-( I remember Noah with you today. I bet he and Samuel are having so much fun together in heaven. We miss them so very much don't we <3 Hugs from this grama who understands! MaryJo

butterfly843 said...

Such a beautiful article and it had me in tears. So amazing the support you give to your daughter and son in law and the ways you remember your grandson

Unknown said...

If....if the internet had been around in 1975, I could let my mother and my mother-in-law read this. Then they would know from your voice & RaeAnne's voice what it was like for me. It wasn't around then & I was so alone. I am forever grateful that RaeAnne & Bryan have your support in their grief. I am also glad that you, Mary Jo, found a friend online that you could share your grief as a grandparent. I love you both so much for your contribution to the baby loss world. Gale

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