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Two Christmas Stockings: Coping With Christmas After the Loss of My Son

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Christmas is complicated. I love it, I always have. It means family, food and fellowship. Living in New Zealand, it also means barbecues in the sun, summer holidays, and loads of opportunities to just relax and forget about the year that was in the joyous time that is.

I also dread the lead-up to Christmas, the hurly burly in the malls and the pent up anxiety of the shoppers, with time running away as quickly as hard-earned dollars fly out of wallets and into clanging tills. The end-of-year stress at work as we push to the finish line before the summer shutdown — all the while counting down the days in eager anticipation of temporary paid freedom from work clothes and alarm clocks.

I can cope with hurly burly, though; I tend to avoid it as much as possible and attack shopping and baking with every inch of organizational prowess I posses. I can cope with work stress, and I can definitely cope with the thought of long, sun-filled days stretching out endlessly in front of me.

It’s the Christmas stockings that try to do me in. In particular, the sock that’s hidden away in the “Harry box” that weeps with me, taunting me, haunting me. Reminding me of what was, of what will not be, once again this Christmas.

Anniversaries and birthdays can always be hard in the aftermath of a big loss — unquestionably hard. For me, Christmas is in its own category, where hard often butts heads with impossible. When flashbacks seem to take on a life of their own and invade my dreams and my waking moments, like fingers curling around my arm, pulling me back into the black hole of grief — like tendrils of smoke suffocating me as I try to draw breath. Just breathe. Breathe.

Anniversaries and birthdays are days during which I give myself permission to totally lose myself in the memories and allow the flashbacks plenty of time and space. I sit on the couch as the fat tears escape my eyes again, and I remember, and remember, and never forget. Harry is my son, will always be my son. He will always be 18 years and 9 months old. Always.

With the passing of time, the anniversaries and birthdays have become more insular, more indulgent, more treasured. It hurts me to look out at the world; tears blur my eyes, knowing life is simply life for many of the people on the other side of my window. They don’t know what this day means to me, they don’t understand what I’ve lost, they cannot see that my broken heart is still beating, as I slowly patch it back together. It is just another day, nothing more.

And while all of that self-inflicted isolation on November 24 and February 24 is devastating, it is also strangely comforting. I know what those days mean; I can feel the weight in every tear. I understand the progress I have made to make it through another anniversary of the last time I held my sunshine boy as his ventilator was removed — and the very first time I ever held him in my arms, my wee miracle baby. I know what they mean, and in my bubble, there is comfort as I take the time to acknowledge those days and the precious, finite memories.

Christmas is different though. Everyone outside my window is edgy, frantic in the lead-up to the 25th — and I find it so hard in all that harsh, busy energy to simply be. To find my bubble to hide away in while I contemplate another fast-approaching celebration of the birth of Jesus and all the glorious wonderfulness about my family getting together, with our traditions and fun and smiles and sunshine. It’s all there for me, laid out on a comfortable, easy plate. All I need to do is get there. And breathe. Just breathe.

Christmas is wonderful, and in all of that wonderfulness, I still experience moments of absolute terror and pure, unadulterated, scream-to-the-heavens pain of loss. How can I throw myself into the frantic busyness leading up to the 25th when my coping mechanism (when grief snaps at me) is to hide away in my fat-salty-tears bubble?

How can I put out the Christmas stockings again, when I know that Harry’s sock is folded away neatly in one of the Harry boxes, which contain the limited physical proof that my boy used to live with me, here on Earth?

I do it because I have to, because Harry lived. He lived. Because I choose life; I choose to live every day, even though I occasionally escape away into my salty bubble.

Because a year after Harry died, when we were facing our second Christmas without him and I decided I had to revamp the Christmas decorations to be able to cope, my beautiful, amazing daughter anchored me in the now again. She didn’t want the new Christmas stocking I had brought for her. She didn’t want her old sock to be boxed away as a memory bubble. And she wanted me to keep the new sock. I could hang it up next to her one, and she would fill it with treats for me. Because that’s one of the things we do at Christmas, my wee family. We fill Christmas socks with goodies and wee presents and loads of love.

Even in the hurly burly, when I cannot escape away into my bubble, I can look at the two socks and remember how incredibly lucky I am to have been blessed with two amazing children. And while fat saltiness still falls freely from my face, my broken heart is mending, and it beats with an abiding love that death cannot steal.

My boy lived. Harry lived. And I know he’s smiling down at the gorgeous girl who is looking after the Christmas stockings.

Image via Contributor.

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Originally published: December 15, 2016
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