I'm such a planner so I had made plans for that first Christmas. Like thinking about the new baby's stocking and so on....maybe I'm not a planner but just an optimistic dreamer. At any rate, she was already a part of our Christmas celebrations in my head. So that first Christmas was so hard without her.
When you lose someone, whether sudden or expected, young or old, it's hard to know what to do. There's no manual on the right or the wrong things to do. Shortly after she passed, we started receiving newsletters from a local grief support group. (Which made me mad...but that's neither here nor there. I just hated that the mail man knew that my name was associated with loss.....) While I didn't appreciate the newsletters at first, there were some great ideas to see what others had done during the holidays, whether the first year or many years later.
One idea was to fill her stocking with good deeds written on strips of paper. Each person was to draw a good deed to do during the year, as a way to remember her. Since we couldn't give gifts to her, we could share God's love and peace for us with others. Some ideas were to donate school supplies to a local classroom, adopt an animal shelter and provide supplies or services to help them out, plant a tree, pick up trash, pay for the person behind you in line, visit a nursing home, spend time with your family during a special family night. We had our family members draw a deed to perform during the year. This wasn't as successful as I had hoped but it did give us a chance to fill that void a little bit. (There are some family members who continue to help out shelters in need, in her memory. And some who donate money in her name to children's funds of various kinds.)
Another way we remembered her was to decorate a tree at the grave. It was hard for me as her mom to imagine her all alone in that cemetery without some token of remembrance. At the time, there was a small tree next to her grave, so we decorated that. Grandparents/Great grandparents gave ornaments for the tree. Some of them were just too pretty to put on an outdoor tree. Last year, I bought a small artificial tree to decorate. It's pink and babyish and is dubbed our Addy tree. I love it! I framed a picture of her and I put it underneath. While I know that she's not actually with us, it makes me happy to be able to do something during the holidays to include her in a healthy way. I say healthy because the tree is happy and doesn't make me plummet into a deep depression to put it up. I'm able to celebrate her life and the joy that she gave me in her short little life. (Update: While I am still sensitive to the outdoor and biological matters of death, I no longer feel the need to dress up her grave. She is not there, she is not feeling cold or loneliness; and I can warm my home with her memories and fill my soul with the light and the joy that the Lord has provided us since her passing.)
(A couple of favorite ornaments besides all of them are the bell my dad bought ('Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings') (I sometimes ring it just for her!) There are several gorgeous angels on the tree. I love the letter A. I love the pink and the shimmery ornaments....I love the baby ornaments...and the ice skates.ok I just listed all of them!!)
**It occurred to me that this would be a great way to keep our soldiers close to us as well. Especially those daddies and mommies who are away. Decorating a tree in red, white and blue would help to remind his or her little ones that the reason they are away is for our country. Adding pictures of those soldiers would be a great way to keep them a part of the festivities...out of sight but not out of mind!!
Part of the hardest part of losing her was the loss of the dreams I had for her...watching her grow to be daddy's little princess, giving her a wedding, sending her to prom....just simply watching her make the world around her a more beautiful place. These are things that I will never get to experience, but I feel so strongly that she is still making my world a more beautiful place. I know she is dazzling as the Light of Heaven smiles down on her; no earthly prom or wedding could ever compare to the glory as she dances with her Creator on the streets of gold. Christmas is such a time of beauty and joy, I feel that as painful as it is, we're slowly finding that balance in life and death in our journey.
Since our loss, I have thought so much more about Mary, our sweet savior's mama. Christmas was his birthday which means in the years after his death (and I remember that his mom was a young one with many years of life to live), she endured many Christmases/Birthdays without her sweet boy. She has become an example to me. She was obedient to God's will, even knowing how much pain it would cause her and her family. She gave her son up to God and trusted that God would carry her through the hard times ahead. She was able to grieve the loss of her son, while also maintaining her faith in God. I can only assume that she went on to live well--she had other children to continue to live for and judging by the writings of James she taught her sons well. (This may be a gross assumption on my part.) In the beginning of our journey, I was so mad that God would allow me to carry and give birth..a painful experience, just to take her from me. Why not save me the physical and emotional anguish? But just like Mary, there are so many blessings in that bonding of pregnancy, birth and nursing. I still don't know why...but I guess I feel like I'm in the 'Mary, Mother of Jesus and Fellow Griever of A Child' support group. She perhaps had the same questions. Why did God allow her to lose her integrity with her family and community, and birth the Savior in a lonely and lowly way? Why not 'pad' the experience with a little comfort to even out the hurt? Maybe it's to maintain humility, maybe it's the effect of sin in the world. I don't expect answers to these questions...I only aim to verbalize questions that seem so wrong to ask.
I thank God that He is a caring and loving God. He doesn't condemn me for asking questions...I'm not questioning His will, per se. He asks only that I love him and follow Him with a willing and obedient heart. I have felt him close to me in my times of deep hurt and sorrow. I have seen His hand in our life and felt His joy in my soul. I thank Him for trusting me to walk this journey. I thank Him for His promises of eternity. I thank Him that He sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross. I thank Him for His grace.
It is my prayer that not one person who reads this blog, whether grieving or not, misses out on the grace and peace that is extended to them through our Lord. He came to Earth as a mere babe, to grow up to give His life for you. Please put your faith in Him. Don't deprive yourself of the unconditional love, peace and joy that is waiting in His outstretched arms. Ask Him to be your Savior! Thank Him for His love for you!