I have conflicted feelings about Christmas.
I don't remember much about the eighteen days between Eliza's birthday and Christmas Eve of 2010. I know people sent cards and flowers and I know I blogged (entries I have no desire to go back and read). I think maybe I started e-mailing people who have since become some of my dearest friends, although really I think a lot of that didn't happen until January. I know I cried almost constantly and I was astonished at how many tears were inside me. I know how terrified I was to have David be apart from me for any length of time. I know that I had never endured grief like that. I know that I wished every day when I woke up that it had been me who died instead of Eliza.
I know that on December 23rd, we were going to our first counseling appointment with a therapist and we learned that David's friend and co-worker who shared my due date had just found out that her baby died, too. She would deliver that baby on Christmas Eve.
I know that I didn't want to acknowledge Christmas in any way whatsoever.
And here's the thing I feel weird about now. I didn't want to acknowledge Christmas because I didn't have anything to celebrate without Eliza there. What should have been my happiest Christmas to date--a holiday of nesting and shopping and decorating and baking and cleaning and organizing until my January due date--became my worst nightmare. I didn't want to celebrate Christmas. I didn't even want to wake up in the morning.
But a tiny part of me must have felt hopeful. Because a little part of the reason I didn't want to acknowledge Christmas was because I didn't want it to be ruined forever. I didn't want to associate my gut-wrenching, soul-sucking sadness with a holiday that had always brought me so much joy, and I guess I thought maybe somehow in the future I'd feel like celebrating it again, and how could I possibly do that if it was associated with so much grief?. David and I had talked about so many Christmas traditions we looked forward to sharing with Baby Duck and future ducklings. We had so many plans. I didn't want this time of year to become tainted with grief and sadness. It's like I thought if I just ignored Christmas and pretended it wasn't happening, then next year it would be okay again?
I ignored Christmas. It wasn't okay next year.
I remember my friend who was staying with me turned on the radio and had Christmas music softly playing and I hated it so much but I didn't have the energy to ask her to turn it off. I wanted to keep all the blinds closed. I wanted to wear only black. I didn't want to leave the house.
I remember a friend e-mailing me later and telling me that there's no good time of year to lose a baby, but that Christmas must be especially shitty, what with babies in mangers being everywhere you turn.
I remember getting other e-mails suggesting I could find comfort in the baby Jesus.
Too soon? In a word, yes.
Three years later, Christmas isn't exactly... ruined. We're doing Santa Claus and Christmas dresses and a tree lighting ceremony and gifts and decorations. But it's not what it once was. I can show up it, but I'm gritting my teeth.
After essentially ignoring it in my black hole of grief, then running away to Mexico, then struggling through the old traditions last year, we're doing something different this year. We're staying in St. Louis. My family is coming up. David's family is going to be spread out this year. It's going to be different. It's going to be sad. But I think it's going to be nice, too. Maybe even fun. It's hard not to have fun when Zuzu's around.
Christmas has changed for me in part because I see it so differently. I see expectations that can't be met. I see people who are hurting. I think about what Christmas means for couples who are struggling with infertility. I think about what Christmas feels like for children who are estranged from their parents. I think about Christmas for kids who are in foster care. I think about Christmas for people whose loved ones are overseas in the military. I think about what Christmas is like for someone who is newly divorced or orphaned or widowed. I think about what the holidays are like for anyone who has lost a child.
I think about the relentless messages of cheer and hope and how heartbreaking it can be when messages of hope, love, family, and togetherness are grief triggers for those of us who feel so far from hope and love and togetherness. The truth is that it was really hard to hear the message that a baby was born in a stable and turned out to be the messiah when my baby couldn't even be born alive. I think about the narrative of family and the way it refuses to acknowledge the ways in which families can be unsafe or abusive for some people, about the way it refuses to acknowledge that this world is also full of people who never got to have the families they had envisioned, the families that they deserved, whose version of Christmas has to be different from what they had once imagined.
I'm making a plan to survive December. I'm making some plans with friends and I'm leaving some days empty in case I need to sit on my couch and cry.
I ordered Christmas cards early, which is good because just like last year, my energy plunged and my grief rushed over me right about the time our family headed home after Thanksgiving weekend. I thought a lot about this year's card and how I wanted to include Eliza. I don't want it to seem morbid or as though we're dwelling in grief instead of celebrating the life we have, but the fact is that Eliza is our first baby girl and her death doesn't change that she is a part of us. I want people who get my Christmas card to know that we still love her and miss her and think about her every single day.
I bought a stocking for Eliza this year, after deciding last year I didn't want one. This year I do. I can't explain why. Grief keeps changing but the sadness stays the same. This year I bought a memorial light on a tree that's being lit in my hometown. They're putting a list of the names in the newspaper and I want Eliza's name printed there. I want people to know that we're still thinking of her and loving her and missing and wishing we could have known who she would be. This year I'm turning down some Christmas party invitations, but I'm accepting others. After three years of boycotting all festivities except for one dinner with friends last year, this feels like a big deal. I hope I can still handle it when the dates actually get closer. I'm canceling class on her birthday and spending the day at home. Because I already know there are some things I just can't handle.
On her birthday, I'll do something small to pay it forward in memory of Eliza, and we'll make a donation to a needy child this Christmas. Zuzu and I will do something fun to get out of the house and out of my head that day. David will come home from work early. We'll go stand outside in the freezing cold at the candlelight vigil. We'll count our blessings and love on Zuzu and feel grateful for the gift of family and friends and our home and our health.
And it will always feel like someone's missing.
Three years ago I didn't know it would be still be so hard to miss her, this baby I never got to know on the outside. I couldn't have imagined that the tears would still come so easily, that my heart and soul would ache so much even now for the family we might have had, the people we might have been, the holiday we might have celebrated if Eliza were here.
I also didn't know how easy it would be to miss her, how easily I think of her and carry her with me and even talk about her without dissolving into tears. Until Zuzu was born, I didn't know how deeply I would recognize the family we might not have had if Eliza were here. I didn't realize that Eliza would become part of traditions that I treasure even though they break my heart.