In five days’ time, Christmas will be here in all its holly, jolly glory. Meanwhile, tomorrow officially marks one and a half years since my daughter’s birth.
In retrospect, it really shouldn’t surprise me that navigating the holiday season this year has been more challenging than I expected it to be. Each new day brings with it a flurry of emotions, with highs that take me soaring up to the heavens, and lows that threaten to undo me at the seams.
To be sure, Christmas now finds me in a starkly different place from where I was this time last year. Still in the throes of fresh, raw grief, my husband and I made the executive decision to skip what would have been our first Christmas without Leah. Even though I had recently discovered that I was pregnant once again, my fear of losing another much-loved child made it impossible for me to look ahead to the future with anything resembling hope or optimism.
I can still recall the thoughts that ran through my head during our scenic road trip to Montreal that weekend, where we would spend Christmas day in a pet-friendly hotel with our dog, some of our favourite DVDs, and a number of overpriced room service meals. I remember telling myself that if this current pregnancy somehow resulted in the birth of a living child, I would not take a single moment of my first holiday season with them for granted. As painful as it would be to face another Christmas without my daughter, I resolved to choose gratitude over grief if I was fortunate enough to bring Leah’s sibling home.
Yet as the first December snowflakes fell several weeks ago and Christmas lights began to adorn my street, I found myself increasingly haunted by Leah’s absence—and equally frustrated by my lack of holiday cheer. After all, I was now living every loss parent’s best case scenario, and each time I glanced at my beautiful family with our tree twinkling in the background, I was reminded of just how much I have to be thankful for.
In theory, I should be ecstatic to celebrate the holidays with Callum, and I certainly do have many moments where I look at him and feel sheer awe that he is here, healthy and alive for his first Christmas. But this does not negate the tears that inevitably come each time I look at a photo of Leah and wonder what my life would look like now, 18 months later, if she was here for her second.
In this way, learning to honour my grief this holiday season has been an ongoing process. While I know in my heart that Callum’s presence cannot replace what was lost when Leah drew her final breaths, my inner pragmatist admonishes me each time I am unable to push my sadness aside and simply focus on the positive. And so, as I begin to seek out new traditions that incorporate Leah into my family’s Christmas season, I have to remind myself that it is both healthy and necessary to allow myself to feel the full range of emotions that come my way.
Accepting an invitation from Bereaved Families of Ontario to share Leah’s story at their annual Tree of Bright Stars service was helpful in this regard. It was incredibly healing to usher in the holiday season with a supportive community that understands how difficult this time of year can be for those who are grieving. As I hung Leah’s star on one of the memorial trees during the ceremony, I was similarly heartened by the thought of bringing Callum to this event each year as a way to honour the space that his sister will always hold in our family.
Likewise, surrounding myself with family and friends who continue to walk hand-in-hand with me through my grief journey has proven to be especially helpful. It never ceases to amaze me how even the simplest of gestures can set my heart aglow, reminding me that I am not the only one who loves and misses my precious girl. Hearing others mention her in casual conversation, seeing her name included in a family greeting, or catching a glance of her photo in someone’s home—all of these things carry that much more weight this holiday season, as do the moments where loved ones take pause from their own festive joy to be present for me in my pain, even for a little while.
Simply put, I have come to accept that the holiday season will be as bittersweet as my mothering journey so far, just as I am learning to extend kindness and patience to myself as I navigate the whirlwind of thoughts and feelings that it brings. In the meantime, I will continue to search for a version of Christmas that reflects my family’s messy yet beautiful reality—and, as always, I expect to find it somewhere between the peripheries of grief and gratitude.