‘Tis the season for holiday cheer… or is it?
With November comes the wave of Christmas and holiday, well everything. No matter where you go from now until December 25th, the barrage of music, Target decorations, and Black Friday store ads can be overwhelming for any person. Especially when a person is grieving the loss of their child. I can already feel the pressure of being cheery for the snow to settle and to count my blessings for Thanksgiving day.
Here’s the thing, I’m not excited to make snow angels or say what I’m thankful for around the dinner table. I don’t want to see children my son’s age opening up their Christmas presents and sitting on Santa’s lap. On the other hand, I don’t want to feel like the Grinch stole this holiday season away from me honoring my son and how far I’ve come in my grief journey.
I’d like to share with you some activities I did in my first year of surviving the holidays that really helped me. Last year I shared this article about how to honor your child during Thanksgiving, but I wanted to branch out on how to make the most out of an extremely difficult season of grieving.
Reach Out for Support Online or in Person
Okay, I know this one is pretty much for all year around, but it is so crucial during this time of year.
Last year, I can remember feeling so bad when I would tell someone I was feeling down when they were so happy. I didn’t want to bring them down so I kept quiet. There were a lot of tears last year, but I eventually did let my family and friends know how I needed to be supported during this time. I also found online support and talking to other loss parents during this time beneficial in knowing my actions or thoughts weren’t ‘crazy.’
Share your child’s name during this time, let people know how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to reach out. You’re doing the best you can.
Journal Your Thoughts and Feelings Throughout the Holidays
Not all of us are writers or artists, I get that; you would too if you saw me try to draw. In my experience, I get all these negative thoughts and emotions stuck in my head. Writing or creating something has helped give me an outlet to clear my mind. A journal can be one where you write or one where you paint or do something artistic. Even if it’s just an angry scribble or random words you write over and over again, they’re going somewhere other than your head. Believe me, I know the weight of grief during the holidays. It needs to be out.
Don’t know what to write or create? There are many journal prompts on Pinterest and groups on Facebook or Instagram. Courageous Mothers is also providing a prompt a day through their program ‘Grief Journaling through the Holidays.’ The prompts began the first of November, but you can join through anytime. They also have a group on Facebook where you can share your thoughts on the daily prompts or just to go there for extra support during this time. Make sure to check it out and see if you would be interested.
Go to a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Holiday Gathering
I am always amazed when I go to Pregnancy and Infant Loss events. The amount of people that attend can be so… heartbreaking, but each individual there provides so much hope and support. Last year, I was able to attended two events. Both were completely different and just as healing. The one was an outside event by the Angel of Hope in Stow, Ohio. Here parents, families, and support people were invited to light a candle throughout the ceremony. During this time, poems were read and a speaker talked about holiday grief. We were also allowed to present flowers to the angel or place them on the child’s brick, while being able to say their names. I blogged about this night on this post. For my parents who went with me, they really enjoyed being able to celebrate Jensen there and felt connected to our community. It was healing for them and me, which is so important.
The other event I went to last year, was inside and more formal. It was in a huge church. They had a program and showed pictures of children gone too soon. The speaker there last year was absolutely amazing. It was a father whose son died from SIDS at daycare and just hearing him talk about his soon was heartwarming. He shared how tough the holidays are, but how they are able to honor him throughout them and their everyday life. I also blogged about this event, here.
Events like these are individual to where a person lives. If you’re involved in a local loss in-person support group, they might be able to point you to gatherings near you.
Join an Ornament Swap
Before last year, I had never participated in an ornament swap; unless you count the ones in elementary school. I’m not really sure how I was introduced to the one I joined last year, but I am SO glad I was. Pretty much, you sign up for a swap, which deadlines are coming up soon, and you give what you would like to have in an ornament. Of course you give details about your child, what holiday you celebrate (religious or not), and how you decorate during the holiday season. Oh! The most important thing is every ornament in the swap is handmade. A few days later, you’ll get who you’re making an ornament for and learn about their child. It’s so healing to be able to connect with a person and their child that you’ve never met before. You are presenting them a way to heal and honor their child. That’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone who is grieving. Your child is also being honored and remember by another family.
You don’t have to be super crafty to participate, just do the best you can do. This year and last year, I requested the ornament to be made with whatever came to them. It’s my belief that Jensen will work his magic in getting the perfect ornament for him. I also blogged about this experience and what happened when Jensen’s ornament arrived home, here.
Want to join an ornament swap, but don’t know where to go? Check these two out:
Include Your Child in Holiday Cards
When I was a child, we rarely sent out Christmas cards. I only did a few times when I worked at a retail store and gave them to my coworkers. Instead of taking one with my whole family, I took pictures of me with my dog (who still lives at my parents). I always wanted to be able to send cards when I had a family of my own. When the first holidays came, I wanted to do something to honor Jensen and I. No, I didn’t send them out to family and friends, but I did share on here and social media. It was so healing to represent my little family and be apart of a holiday tradition I always had planned on.
If you do take holiday pictures, feel free include your child. You can do this by holding their picture or Molly bear during your picture. If you don’t feel comfortable with those things, I have seen loss families add a certain symbol to all their pictures such as a butterfly or bird. When you sign from your family, add their name too. They are as much as a family member as anyone.
Donate a Gift in Your Child’s Name
I was pregnant with Jensen during Christmas time. That year, I was constantly in and out of the mall buying gifts for my family and of course, Jensen. Every time I would go to shop, I would pass a giving tree and he would start kicking. Eventually, I took a tag off the tree and decided to donate a gift in Jensen’s name to a child who wouldn’t be getting the Christmas I was always used to. So, that began my tradition of honoring him. Of course, I didn’t know that it would be a way I could honor him then, but I continued my tradition last year.
It felt really nice to be able to help someone in Jensen’s name. That’s what I try to do everyday. Knowing he is making someone smile after all the pain and heartbreak death caused, helps me keep going.
You can find giving trees in local malls or you can even donate to churches or homeless shelters in your child’s name. Some Pregnancy and Infant Loss holiday events even take presents and clothes to children’s hospitals that you donate too.
Make a New Holiday Tradition
After loss, life completely changes. The way you do things or see the world is altered in ways you didn’t think was possible before. This most definitely includes the holidays.
You and your family might have done a tradition since you were born and you don’t want to participate this year. Guess what? That’s perfectly okay. You are allowed to make your own new traditions. This means you might not feel up to going to certain holiday gatherings or putting up a tree. Instead of eating turkey for Thanksgiving, order pizza. No matter what you do, you’re doing what is best for your heart. That’s all you can ask from yourself. Don’t feel like you’re letting your child down or even your family members.
Some examples of new traditions I did last year and maybe they’ll change again this year is making an ornament for Jensen (I didn’t want to buy one and go into the mall), setting an empty plate for holiday dinners, putting up a tree that represents your child, decorating their headstone or special place in your home, and writing their name in the snow.
No matter how you decide to survive the holidays, know that there is a whole community ready to support and help you along the way. You are never alone in this journey.
Yesterday I wasn’t able to post for Capture Your Grief. My mother was released from the hospital and I was able to get her settled back home. It has been a tiring four days. It’s taught me lessons I didn’t know existed and calmed worries I thought I would have forever. I honestly thought for the rest of my life if someone was in the hospital for a dire reason, they would die. That’s my past experience. Although my mom was/is in pain, she’s here. I’m so thankful for that.
During our stay, Jensen did really shine. I wore my pregnancy and infant loss awareness pin and people were asking what it represented. There was also a ton of comments on his footprint tattoo. I felt so proud to tell anyone who asked about him and felt like I was the lighthouse opening up the conversation on his life and this month.
Jensen will always shine.
This prompt has also got me thinking towards the Wave of Light happening on Sunday. Last year I felt so connected to the community and throughout the world. It lets all our babies shine collectively. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be doing. There’s an event in Ohio that I’m thinking about driving to, but it depends on how my mom feels. I might also be speaking on Still Standing’s Facebook page, I’ll make sure to share if I do. If you’re unaware of what the Wave of Light is, in short, it’s on October 15 and whatever your time zone is, you light a candle for your baby/ies at 7pm. There will be a continuous wave of light light that spreads across the world as a result. Make sure to share your pictures on social media.
Also, a big thanks to Kerstin, Mathilda’s mom, for creating this beautiful graphic for Jensen and I. This community constantly warms my heart and gives me hope.
I didn’t deserve him. My body failed him. I am alone. Love didn’t save him. I’m not enough.
These thoughts have crossed my mind more than a few times during the last eighteen months. They lead to self-doubt about my motherhood and grief journey. I wonder what Jensen would tell me if he knew I had these thoughts. What would I tell my mother if she had said these things to me?
When I saw today’s Capture Your Grief prompt, I wondered what I needed to let go? My space, my home, is pretty much where I need it to be. I don’t feel cluttered here. Yet, sometimes I feel trapped. I remembered this weekend and feeling anxious on the day of the walk. There were times Saturday where I felt all of those statements. That’s when I knew my mind needed to let go of the negative and clear space for the positive.
Today I held a little cleansing fire, on my dining room table. It’s raining out so it really wouldn’t have worked out there. I took the risk. On a piece of paper, I wrote down every negative thought that came to mind about me, my motherhood, and this grief journey. It was a longer list than I wanted.
I read them all, out loud. Each word stung and my tears felt cold on my cheek. It felt like I needed to feel what I thought they meant; yet they felt strange as I heard them. I crumbled the paper up as forcefully as I could then put it in my makeshift fire pit. Then I lit my match, watched the fire take over the words, and the smoke cleared them out. As I watched the paper burn, I felt those words leave my head. I was able to clear and let go.
I did deserve him. My body didn’t fail, it grew a perfect little boy for thirty-eight weeks. I’m never alone. Love keeps his memory alive. I am more than enough.
Although I wouldn’t suggest doing a fire cleanse on your dining room table, the fire is such a healing element. Every few months I have a fire in my backyard and burn letters to Jensen so the smoke delivers it to him. I would suggest anyone to try doing this, it has felt like a weight has been lifted since I did this morning.
Another month is here without him. One more that I never thought I would survive, yet here I am trying to be strong. The anticipation of each month change has not gotten easier since the very first one. I feel its weight in my bones trying to make me crumble.
This past month has been one of the hardest. Two weeks ago my second child’s lifeless body was taken straight from my womb. The grief of losing him or her ontop of what I feel for Jensen and his loss has been complex. Most of the time I don’t know how to describe what’s going on in my brain. Maybe this extra weight has made this month change so much worse.
I went into his room today. Sometimes I have this strong pulling to just sit in there, more than my everyday look.
Every time I step in there, it’s like I’m transported to another reality. I see his room what it would be like if he was here. Not at infancy, but right now running and testing his limits three months after his birthday. Toys are scattered along his rug and there’s clothes to be put away. There are projects we have done on the wall and all his books are on the shelves. I see this scene and him in there. Somehow I wish I could describe it better than just being transported to another reality, it’s literally like I step through another veil and there he sits. That’s how I picture Jensen and I’s heaven.
After snapping out of the world I want to be living in, I saw things I hadn’t paid attention to in awhile. The little details that I love that wouldn’t be exactly there if he was here. On his changing table lies a little racecar and my favorite sign I bought before he was born. ‘Just be awesome.’ There wasn’t any pressure on him to be something, just as long as he was happy and growing up to be a good boy. Then there’s the books I actually have in his room. Stuffed away with a lot of his things is his whole library, many of those books from the book drive we did during the baby shower. The ones in his room are my favorite though. Sometimes I pull them out on special days and read out loud for him to hear. I know he’s listening and sometimes Leo comes to listen too.
Yes, I accidentally bought two of the same J’s…. oops.
Fifteen months have gone by since I last physically felt Jensen. In that time I’ve picked up most of the pieces, dropped them multiple times again, and kept trying to place them back to a new normal. I’ve felt the biggest heartbreak, twice, but I’ve also learned how to love so deeply.
To feel everything so deeply.
I wish this wasn’t my reality, but I’m surviving and doing my best to thrive. Even if I knew what was going to happen, I’d still choose my little, blond hair boy born fifteen months ago.
It has been such a crazy week of vacation that I’m glad to be back to the peace that is my little house. Not writing for this whole time has been strange. I’ve felt all these words and emotions built up. I plan on expanding on some of them in the next few weeks, but today is a little catch up.
Tuesday has quickly snuck up on me this week as I figured it would. Thirty-seven whole weeks have passed since Jensen’s silence birth. Even though I had the past few days to relax, I woke up with great anxiety again. I’m missing him so very much. Walking into my house last night, I was glad, but my heart was so heavy knowing I wasn’t coming home to him. I wouldn’t be seeing his excited face as I went to pick him up after a week of not seeing him. Grief didn’t take a vacation as I did. I can’t say it welcomed me home, but it changed and felt different while I was gone and came back.
Today has felt even faster for me. I woke up late and had to start getting things done around the house. My mailbox was full of beautiful Christmas cards from other loss mamas, two new ornaments for Jensen and our tree, and of course bills. It was such a happy welcome home. Each card that was sent to me warmed my heart and the ornaments, they were so perfect. I kept thinking about their warm wishes and the comments and messages I received while I was gone. My tribe of mamas are always showing me they care and Jensen will forever be remembered.
Along with my vacation, I wanted to update you all with all the angel names I wrote on the beach. Well, my phone didn’t take the trip very well. Not to go into great detail, but I wrote all the names and took the pictures in the first few days. Then, all of a sudden, my phone had deleted ALL my pictures from December and eventually factory reset the last day. Frantically, I had my mom and dad help me with all the baby names. I wrote and wrote and wrote as my mom took the pictures and my dad checked them off the list. It was such a rush, but I am 99.9% sure I have all the names as I did before. The pictures are on my mom’s phone and I am going to download them tomorrow and hopefully will have everything on Jensen’s page by Friday.
With all the names, I am going to post about my experience with others while I wrote them. It was an interesting process and there were a lot of reactions from others. There was nobody that came and said they had lost their child, which I am thankful for. But there was a lot of people who went and said your children’s names out loud as they walked across the beach. I said them with them proudly each time. They were very taken care of and the waves washed their names peacefully away.
I just want to again, thank you all for trusting me with their names so I could write them along with Jensen’s.
Since there’s only five days left till Christmas, I wanted to share a very special ornament I received today. Especially since I’ve been slacking off on sharing all the ornaments I wanted to with you, I blame vacation. This ornament is from Lachlan’s mommy and my very best friend, Melissa.
This beautiful blue and orange sparkly ornament has Jensen’s name on the front and 2016 on the back. It’s personalized just for him and holds so much meaning in my heart. Lachlan and Jensen were born just days apart in April. They should both be eight months old and getting spoiled during their first Christmas. I hate the way Melissa and I met, but I am so thankful for our friendship and to know Lachlan and his family. Friendship in the midst of grief is hard to come by, but here we are finding some kind hope and walking with each other in this unknown future.
Although I haven’t told Melissa yet, when I opened her Christmas care package today on Jensen’s thirty-seventh week in heaven, I broke down in tears. It’s not only an ornament for me to remember him by, it’s one that he would’ve absolutely loved. He would have been amazed that the blue and orange that decorates him room would be on our tree. I see it as a little present for my son, the first I have received for him during Christmas. My heart is truly touched.
Thank you, again, Melissa for this beautiful ornament. It will be one of my favorites to put up every single year. You have been such a great support system for me and I will never be able to thank you enough. Although I know we both would have rather this holiday season to be so much different, I’m glad we’re able to be here for each other.
Jensen Grey, I love you so very much. Happy thirty-seven weeks in heaven. You are the light of my life. Thank you for protecting your whole family through our travels and vacation. I felt your presence as I wrote your friends’ names on the beach. My mind let me know how much you loved playing on the beach and watching the waves come in and out. You give me more strength than I ever though possible. I miss you. I love you.
Today I cannot talk about my nitty-gritty unspoken encounters and thoughts I’ve had the past six months. My heart is already heavy with longing and sadness. I think most people would be surprised to know there are a lot of things I haven’t talked about here. Seems crazy to think that since I’ve tried to be completely honest about everything.
Somethings are secret between Jensen and I.
Somethings I whisper in the morning to help make me through the day.
Somethings I’m not ready to talk about.
And somethings, I just want to be selfish about.
I’ve never been one to wish away time.
Even when I was super pregnant with Jensen and my feet were so swollen. I happily waddled around and was so blissfully happy that everything seemed so perfect. Honestly, I didn’t even have a countdown for his arrival. His due date, April seventeenth, was always in the back of my mind, but each day was so special with him.
For the first time in my life, I wished time away. I wished September would have ended two weeks ago. It’s been a month full of pain and change. There were many days I just sat and thought of loss and death. I’ve had my darkest thoughts this past month; times I wanted to literally rip the skin off my body to feel some relief. Tears fell so freely and there were only bits of relief. As bad as this month was, no month, from forever on, will ever compare to April, but this September comes in second.
At the beginning of the month, I posted a blog: The Promise of September. I wish I would have listened to my gut instincts that I had on that day. The words I wrote even doubted good things to come. They were full of fear for the future. It’s like I knew deep down that this month would be another month that would change my life, just in all the ways I never thought.
“The promise of change scares the living hell out of me.”
Those words are ringing in my ear. September kept its promise of change and I’ve felt that living hell each day.
But I’m going to let you all in on a secret, no matter what happens to me in the months to come, nothing will compare to the pain of losing Jensen. I am a survivor. No matter how hard it is to be left or hurt or beat down, if my heart can still beat after Jensen’s stopped, I can take everything else. Death has creeped inside of me and stolen away the one person who I would have given the whole entire world. If I could survive that, I can survive whatever else this cruel life has to throw at me.
Once another beautiful mother told me, us loss mommas were like phoenixes. I might have posted about this before, but it holds true during these bad days and months. My soul and insides have caught on fire and burned out, just leaving ashes behind. But I’m rising from those ashes. For Jensen, for me, and for our story, I will rise and wish away the remaining hours of September to be stronger for October.
Just another reminder that tomorrow is the beginning of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month! I will be posting every single day with the prompts from Capture Your Grief. Hopefully, you all can follow along and share your stories as well.
Happy twenty-second birthday. This birthday will bring you joy and hope for the future. It will be busy going to a football game, spending time with your most loved ones, and choosing baby names. Today you found out you are carrying the most precious gift in the whole entire universe. At that second it turned positive, you knew this year for you would be completely different from any before. You would start counting down the days to important pregnancy milestones and planning for the rest of your life. Soak in this happiness, this will be your last birthday that you will be able to freely smile with meaning.
This year you will grow and not just your belly getting bigger and bigger. Your love will grow and be greater than anything you thought was possible. The pride you have for you family and son will burst from the seams. There will be a light in your life that grows with every single beat of Jensen’s heart. He will grow and as you watch him dance across that screen, your smile will grow at each visit. Your little house will have a ceiling and walls up, even a nursery. Instead of your mind focusing in on a single person’s house, it will grow suitable for a small family. Everything around you will be nurtured for the future you came up with, as you woke up on your twenty-second birthday.
November will be the happiest month of your year. You find out the little baby in your belly is a boy, your Jensen. He sits there just like Dad does on the couch. He isn’t shy about being a boy and you’ll soon find out he cooperates for everyone when you ask him to. Even when he’s being the most stubborn little boy for the nurses, when you ask him to move he does. The love you have for each other is unbreakable. You find out his heart is strong and he has hair; the only two things you asked for when you found out you were going to have a baby. Even though you didn’t think you would see Jensen twice a week while you were pregnant, you will be so thankful for that time with him.
There will be so much happiness and love in this year, you will be on the greatest high in your life. Collect those moments as they come and never let them go. You will have bumps while you’re pregnant that you’ll never think you can get over. They are not important. You would’ve got through the, but you didn’t think anything worse could happen. You could never have imagined the alternative. Instead of listening to almost everyone around you, you’ll fight for Jensen. Just as any mother would. No matter the challenges placed in front of you, you will always do what’s best for Jensen and you.
Then comes April. At this point in the year, it’s gone so perfectly. You will be so ready for his arrival, just getting a few more things the weekend before. In the second day of this month, you will joke how you feel like Jensen won’t wait to come out for very much longer. You will be surrounded by Anthony and your family. Love will pour in that weekend. Everything will feel just like it has, until you walk in the doctor’s office on Monday, April the fourth. This is when everything changes. The joy and happiness that you felt on your birthday, this day one year ago, will vanish. Your hopes and dreams will go away and you have to say goodbye to the one, little person that brought you so much light.
On April fifth he is born. You find out he did in fact have hair, looked exactly like you, and never once brought you pain. He’s a perfect baby at seven pounds one ounce and nineteen and three-quarter inches long. All ten fingers and all ten toes are there for you to count. His big cheeks and button nose would have scrunched up to boast a big smile. You made him with love and he looked so peaceful. The day will be static, even as your twenty-third birthday comes. I can’t tell you when that day comes back clear. It hasn’t yet, there’s a chance it never will.
I’ll be honest with you, Danielle. The days, weeks, and months that follow his birth are hard. You’ll plan your son’s funeral, tears come more freely than smiles, and the light is impossible to see. It will hurt to breathe and nothing will scare you anymore. I wish you never had to meet death this year. This isn’t what you wished for as you blew out the candle on top of your sundae. You’ll wish to go back in time, something you never did before. Depression will creep up, self-doubt will happen, and all you will be able to do is survive. There will be people who don’t understand this and you’ll feel alone. A loneliness and emptiness will eat away at your everyday. There will be darkness.
Somehow, you will keep surviving.
Jensen, even in death, is your light. He and all the memories you have with him will keep you going. There’s not a lot of smiles in the last few months of your twenty-second year, but when you do, it’s when you remember him. Many will tell you to find some light in your life and somedays it’s just a flicker. Jensen’s light is so strong, but sometimes grief is pitch black. When you feel like giving up, search deep down. You’ll see his light. No matter how pitch black it is, Jensen’s light never goes out. He never hurt you when he was here and he would never leave you in the dark.
I want you to know that grief does not get lighter, we become stronger. This pain and darkness does not go away. You just learn how to live with it. There will always be an absence in your life, but his presence was so great. Through this year, soak up all the light and happiness you can. Even now, as this year is coming to its close, I would never wish it away. I would never want to forget all this love and each day Jensen was with us. I can say that even through this darkness and pain.
This year you will become a mother of all mothers. One who does not hold her son in her arms, but in her heart. Forever.
Danielle at almost twenty-three.