This is a post I wrote for the Still Life Canada blog.
This is our 2nd Christmas season without Toren. Because he was born in early January, this season is always tied in with his death and his birth. Last year at this time, we were busy preparing his memorial service, which was held on his first birthday. This year it’s been a bit difficult to figure out what we want to do, how we want to spend the day. Take a trip somewhere, or have friends over for cake? We’ve been asked if we “celebrate” his birthday. The truth is that celebration is still hard for me. I think of it as “marking” his birthday. Maybe one day it will feel like a celebration of his important life. Every child deserves to be celebrated. Right now, the grief is still so fresh almost 2 years on. I can’t really believe it’s been almost 2 years since he died, that we have lived like this for almost 2 years. I still feel the shock of that.
I will say that this year, the holiday season has been easier though I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe “easier” is not quite the right word. Different. I feel more able to participate in things. The grief can still take my breath away, but maybe I have learned better how to function through it. Or maybe I’ve learned to not try to function through it at all, but to just be still. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect and adjusted my expectations – subconsciously – remembering how it felt last year. Whatever the reason, or reasons, I feel grateful for it.
This year I have taken the expression “season of giving” much more to heart. Acts of kindness, donations, connecting with those who are having a tough time. Mindfulness. I do this for him, for myself, for others and especially for our living child, Toren’s sister, who is 5 now. I want her to understand that though this is a celebratory time of year, it can also be particularly difficult for some people. We miss Toren every single day, not just at special occasions, but the festiveness of the season is a harsh contrast to face. I want her to understand that not everyone is feeling merry, not every child gets presents and indeed, not everyone celebrates “Christmas”, either religiously or culturally. I want her to have a rich and honest context for her experiences, for her own benefit and for the benefit of others. At this time of year, we can dress up and go see the Nutcracker ballet, admire the beautiful costumes, enjoy the music and have a hot chocolate at intermission. We can also donate food to the food bank and talk about families who need it and the volunteers doing the work. There are many truths in the world, and sometimes they are jumbled on top of each other, joy and sadness, and sometimes it gets confusing and that’s ok. There is room for all of it.
We want to have a happy holiday season but we can’t fake it. We can’t put the holidays into a lovely glass snow globe and shut out the the rest of the world. We can’t ignore the fact that we’re sad that Toren is not here to open presents, marvel at Christmas lights, taste his first candy cane, hear the music of the season. This is not being “negative”, as bereaved parents are sometimes accused of being. We feel this sadness because we love him. There’s nothing negative about that.