A Love Hate Relationship with the Holidays

A Love Hate Relationship with the Holidays | Duluth Moms Blog

It begins with Halloween, the costumes, the jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, witches, ghosts, and skeletons.  The pumpkins, leaves, pilgrims, cornucopias, and turkeys of Thanksgiving.  The numerous Christmas trees, stockings, holly berries, wreathes, nativity scenes, and mistletoe.  And the lights.  The never ending lights.  Orange and black lights, white lights, colored lights, icicle lights, lights, lights, lights!  I absolutely love to decorate for the holidays, a process that begins in September and ends around New Year’s Day.  But each year as I open the tote of decorations for each holiday, I am greeted by a sadness.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, providing an opportunity to engage one’s creative side and for one night you get to be whatever your soul desires.  I envisioned breaking out the sewing machine and serger to make the cutest costumes for my future children, something totally Pinterest-worthy (even before Pinterest existed!).  

Thanksgiving food always brings me comfort.  The smell is reminiscent of childhood days at home with family sharing in gratitude.  What is better than sitting around a table eating, laughing, and feeling the love of family?

And Christmas, as Andy Williams would say, “The most wonderful time of the year.”  A time to celebrate the birth of our Savior and demonstrate compassion and caring for family, friends, and even strangers.  The one time of year I sip hot cocoa and I wish for snow.

So why then do I feel sad each year during the holidays?  To understand that is to understand the loss of a child.  The loss of all hopes, dreams, and visions of what life would be like for that child.  Of how our family would create our own holiday traditions involving our child.  

I was 5.5 months pregnant on Halloween, 6.5 on Thanksgiving and 7.5 on Christmas.  During each holiday I would envision how we would spend the holiday the next year with our son.  I thought about his first Halloween costume, would he be a pumpkin or a pea pod?  I thought about introducing him to solid food on Thanksgiving – what kid wouldn’t like mashed potatoes smothered in gravy?  And above all, I thought about his first Christmas.  We have a tradition in my family of getting a new ornament each year, and I could not wait to get his “baby’s first Christmas” ornament.  

But God had other plans.  

Our angel was called home after only three short months on this earth.  And the holidays have never been the same.  For the first few years my husband and I turned off all of the lights and literally ran from our house on Halloween.  At Thanksgiving we are reminded that there is an empty chair at the table where our son should sit.  And each year when I hang the stockings (with care) I cry because there is not one with his name on it.  And don’t get me started on sending out family Christmas cards or I will be bawling uncontrollably.  Rather than take you on my emotional roller coaster, I’d like to give you some advice on how to help others who have experienced similar loss, love the holidays again.

Remember their child.  They do, so should you.  Pretending like any holiday is the same after the loss of the child is simply ludicrous.  There is an ache and a longing that needs to be recognized and all it takes is a simple gesture of remembrance.  Whether it be asking how they are coping with the holidays, addressing a card to the child, donating money to a cause in the child’s name or simply sending them an email or social media message letting them know you are thinking of them and the child this holiday season.  These small gestures can go a long way to bring comfort to the family.

A Love Hate Relationship with the Holidays | Duluth Moms Blog

Say the child’s name.  It’s like the elephant in the room, should you say the child’s name aloud?  Will it bring them to tears?  Yes, it just might.  And maybe not for the reason you think.  Hardly anyone, besides my immediate family and a handful of close friends, says Braden’s name.  Saying the child’s name affirms that his or her legacy is still alive and that someone besides yourself remembers that child’s precious life.  Will it be awkward to talk about?  It might be, but is it awkward for you or for the parent?  Most parents are more than willing to talk about a lost child because they rarely get to do so.  Especially around the holidays when people tend to be the most reminiscent about the past, it is a very appropriate time to talk about memories of their guardian angel.

Give them a pass.  It doesn’t matter if it has been a few months or years, parents who have lost a child get a pass during the holiday season.  Grief can hit you when you least expect it and you should not have to explain yourself to anyone.  The act of hanging stockings for me is overwhelming.  Our stockings were handmade and embroidered by my husband’s grandmother who has since passed away.  Each year when I open the tote that holds those precious stockings I am flooded by the wonderful memories of Grandma and her crafts and then the tears well up when I see that I have stockings for our dogs but not our children.  The most straightforward holiday activity can be unbearable to some parents.  When they excuse themselves or decline an invitation to something you think they should have been at, just give them a pass.

These few small acts of kindness and remembrance will go a long way to help a grieving parent learn to love the holidays again.  By reaching out and showing compassion you single handedly remind these parents that they are not alone.  I will probably always experience some type of grief during the holidays but knowing that my son is still in the hearts of others makes that grief much more bearable.  Holidays are a time for family, friends and angels.

14 Responses to A Love Hate Relationship with the Holidays

  1. Kathy December 8, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    Great blog Heather. I know your grief never ends and I think you did a good job of answering the question for those who have no experience with grief like this; should or should we not remember their loss with them?

    • Heather
      Heather December 8, 2016 at 10:13 am #

      Thank you Kathy, you always have the kindest things to say. And you are one of those who always thinks to remember Braden.

  2. Renee December 8, 2016 at 8:56 am #

    There is nothing that dampens the grief of a parent without a child – not time, not drugs, not therapy, not booze. The sadness lives within, and as the years go on you learn to balance the sweet with the bitter, and coexist in those two worlds at once. We lost our first two children shortly after they were born…and though it has been years, the holidays, still, are almost impossibly tough. For me, the tears come so much more frequently than they do during the rest of the year – I cry over Thanksgiving, or at something as mundane as a particular Christmas song. I bawl my eyes out every year when decorating the tree – hanging ornaments for my children who are gone, side by side with the children who are here, is almost more than I can handle.

    A candle will be lit in our house this year for your son, and you will be in my thoughts, strong and wonderful Mama.

    • Heather
      Heather December 8, 2016 at 10:16 am #

      Thank you Renee. I am tearing up reading about hanging ornaments. These are experiences that no parent should have to go through but sharing them with one another helps us know that we are not alone in our grief. I will be thinking about you and your family this holiday season as well.

  3. Deb December 8, 2016 at 9:37 am #

    Eloquent, true. Every word.
    I know, as a mom on the childloss journey myself.
    What a blessing to read, and the heart help is immeasurable.
    One never knows, when they’ll be the friend who walks alongside a mom, through this, each season in new ways…
    I pray those friends remain alongside…
    With love,
    Deb. Brian Moore’s mom

    • Heather
      Heather December 8, 2016 at 10:17 am #

      Hi Deb, thank you for your kind words. I am walking alongside you in spirit. I’ll keep you and Brian in my thoughts this holiday season.

  4. Jackie December 8, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    Beautifully written and an excellent reminder for those of us who haven’t experienced this loss.

    • Heather
      Heather December 8, 2016 at 10:18 am #

      Thank you Jackie. My hope is these words will help others support their friends and family during their time of need.

  5. Stacy and Matt December 8, 2016 at 10:41 am #

    No doubt here… love this post for so many thousand of reasons!!! Keep them coming dear. Merry Christmas!

    • Heather
      Heather December 8, 2016 at 10:46 am #

      Thank you Stacy and Matt! You two are an awesome support system and always remember Braden. Lot of love to you this Christmas!

  6. Melodee December 8, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    Great post. You did bring me to tears for the second time today because a few hours ago I put ornaments on the tree & Braden is front & center once more & each year it brings tears for you & John’s loss of your beautiful son. I always wonder how big he would be & what things he would like doing. I know he is watching over you & his sisters & wishing you a wonderful Christmas season. Prayers, love & hugs, Mom

    • Heather
      Heather December 9, 2016 at 11:12 am #

      Thank you Mom. You and Dad have always been an incredible support to John and I. You both continue to remember Braden year-round, not just on the holidays. Love you.

  7. Cherrie Moore December 8, 2016 at 10:28 pm #

    Thank you. I was able to share this with a grieving mama friend who needed these words. Each year is different for me and this one, 17 years after my Anneka, hits like a fist again. It is so unpredictable, the ebb and flow of grief, and sneaker waves still catch me by surprise occasionally. We have our rituals that bring her into our holiday-hanging her booties on the tree, stringing a strand of blue lights each year, somewhere. This writing is important. The lack of acknowledgement from others is wounding and even now, years later, it hurts that people set her aside, or so it feels. Thank you for this. And may God’s hope be especially near as we remember our little ones <3

    • Heather
      Heather December 9, 2016 at 11:10 am #

      Hi Cherrie,
      I am glad that my words can bring comfort to you and your friend. Sometimes the grief is just so lonely, especially around the holidays. I will be thinking of you and your Anneka this Christmas.