Last night, our little family sat on the couch. Tired after a long day/night, we enjoyed the quiet moments together. George was nuzzled between us, Hadley was asleep on my shoulder post-feeding. Max and I were trying to figure out the best way to move her into her Dock a Tot without waking her up. Suddenly his face lit up and he mouthed "she's smiling!" Then a series of coos and squeaks began. In those moments of sheer joy, memories flooded back of last year at this time. I was in such a dark place. I was grasping frantically for something to fill the void, but was missing it altogether. I wanted our Hudson so very badly, a life with him was all I could think about. I was lost, deeply sad at all times, and very broken. A year ago I didn't see hope. I didn't see happy again. I was just submerged in the sadness. I felt so isolated and alone most of the time. I can only imagine how hard I was to be around because I started to give up on camouflaging it with others. I had found my rock bottom of grief at this exact time last year.
Last night I had this precious baby girl on my chest with her sweet noises and sleep smiles. All of it filled me with emotion and I cried. Max thought I was tired and exhausted, he hugged me and told me to go get some sleep, he was going to take night duty. I looked at him and just said that I was emotional because of where I was a year ago, depressed and so unhappy, but now here we are, with her. Last year I struggled to find thankful, to be grateful. I found thanks that Hudson was ours, though not the way that we would have wanted, because we were without him. This year I'm not emotional because of what feels empty, I'm emotional because how full we feel. I have become accustomed to the piece of us that despite the fullness, feels like there is someone who will always be missing.
Last week the One Wing Foundation held its final fundraising event of the year, our Wine & Dine dinner. At that event, we had a representative from the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas speak. She did a beautiful job presenting on a difficult topic, grief. One thing that struck me is that the most common misinterpretation of grief is that the first year and its milestones are the hardest. As a grieving person, I knew we would grieve Hudson as long as we lived but I didn't think that it could be more difficult outside of that first year. What she's found is that the second year can be just as if not even more difficult. It hit me hard because for us, our second year has not been more difficult. As we prepared for Hadley, of course there were intense emotions and a wish that we would be introducing him to his little sister, however, we've found a healing and peace in this second year without our son. I know that's because of Hadley and what she has not only restored to our life but also the new pieces of life she's brought us. Not everyone has that. However, what I take from her talk was that people - both grievers and non-grievers alike - underestimate grief as a whole. We had a very hard first year but grief is never ending. It will be difficult at different times, for different people. Though this second year hasn't been as hard or harder for us, for others it very much may be. Though we aren't experiencing it right now, that doesn't mean we won't as time goes on. The grief is always looming and it may become more difficult at another time. When I went to bed last night, I was thinking about this and I found myself crying for Hudson and my wish to have both my son and daughter here with us this holiday season, a time of year that is centered around family. The looming grief found a vulnerable time to invade my heart and mind.
This morning as I was having time with Hadley, I thought about how two years ago we were pregnant with Hudson and we were trying to hide it from family on Thanksgiving. Next week when I go in to see my doctor for my six week check up, I thought how it will be the same week we went in for our first sonogram with him. We will celebrate our four year anniversary weekend this year by baptizing our sweet baby girl, when last year we were mourning not having our baby boy with us. I feel there are so many things that have come full circle throughout the last two years.
I had a conversation via text yesterday with a friend who is in a season of grief herself. We were discussing this holiday season and went back and forth about the platitudes offered and how most people cannot simply exist with another person in their grief. It is our nature to try to fix when most of the time, a grieving person wants someone to justify their feelings or have someone to just sit with them in it. We live in a grief illiterate society, but people do mean well and there are ways to "help fix" that are better than others.
This holiday season, you may know people in your life experiencing a Thanksgrieving or a Blue Christmas. If they have lost someone close to them whether it's been a few months or a few years, the holidays will be difficult. I challenge you that if you do have someone close to you in a season of grief, let them know you are there. Don't tell them things will get better, don't tell them anything that equates to what has happened is God's will or everything happens for a reason. Justify where they are with their emotions instead. Tell them this sucks. Tell them you hurt with them. Say their loved ones name. Share a memory of their loved one with them. Sit with them in their grief. It makes them feel like they are understood and someone else recognizes their pain. This can be more uplifting than any platitude or well wish.
As you prepare to send your holiday cards, if you know someone who has lost a loved one in the past year or seem very raw in their grief, don't send them the card everyone else will receive of your beaming family. It intensifies their pain and is like a fluorescent blinking arrow of what is missing in their life: a husband, a wife, a child, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister. Instead, when you are at the store, pick up a thinking of you card and send that instead. It's heartfelt, it's personal to them, it is so appreciated. For those who may be more removed from grief, that may not be necessary but I would definitely stay away from it if you can sense they pain is raw.
For the grieving family members, find a way to incorporate the loved one's memory into your holiday traditions. Maybe it is a stocking with their name, a family tree ornament representative of them in some way, a tradition surrounding the one who isn't there, or setting a place at the table to show they aren't forgotten. Maybe talk to those grieving hard - if they are parents of loss, a sibling of loss, a child of loss or spouse of loss - to ask them how they would like their loved one's memory portrayed in the family celebrations so you can know what they need.
To those grieving, create a plan for your holiday season. Know that you are not alone. Know that though it's hard sometimes, there is thanks and giving to be found and that there can be joy amidst pain. Do what you need to do to make it through this next month of watching the world go on around you when yours may feel halted. Practice self-care and whatever that means for you right now, during this season of grief.
For us personally, we needed different. Last year we had to host Thanksgiving to keep ourselves busy. It needed to be a different setting than what we did each year because I had already envisioned that setting with our son and it was too hard to do it without him. We needed a change up. Christmas was especially difficult, it was the time we had told our families the year before that we were expecting. Those memories were too glaring and the pain without him was too raw. I couldn't be around expecting family members while we were struggling to get pregnant after experiencing the death of our baby. It was too hard to be around other parents experiencing Christmas with their little ones. So we escaped. Travel is something that is special to us, it connects us on a deeper level being able to see and experience new things together. My husband needed snow because that represented the holidays to him, so we chose a Winter Wonderland in Montreal and Quebec City. It was what we needed to get through not having our son for Christmas.
We've all heard of the 5 love languages and you may or may not know your personal language style of giving and receiving love. If you don't, try this. Here are some ideas of ways to express that based on your personal love language.
- If your love language is through gifts, send them a thoughtful way to include their loved one in the holiday, like an ornament for their tree. Last year it meant so much to me to receive ornaments in Hudson's memory. Our Christmas tree tells our family story and now Hudson was able to be included in that. Etsy makes some wonderful remembrance ornaments, Pier One has these beautiful angel wings, LaurelBox makes these ornaments for grieving loss. If they do not celebrate Christmas or you would like to do something else meaningful, consider a donation in memory of their loved one to an organization that may mean something special to them. That simple gift helps a grieving person feel like their loved one lives on or has left a legacy, no matter how big or small.
- If your love language is through words, send them a text, an email, a card or call them. When people are deep in grief, many times they do not want to talk on the phone, but they will appreciate your attempt even if they don't answer or return the call. A text or email may illicit a response they are more comfortable with, but if they don't respond, know they are grateful to hear from you. You can say you wish (loved one's name) was here with them, too. You can simply say you wish them comfort today. It doesn't have to be profound or a novel. Sometimes the more simple the better.
- If your love language is through service, take them a meal, mow their lawn, offer to help them around the house, or grab them some essentials from the grocery store just because you were thinking about them. Many times, help is offered but a grieving person may not be able to or know how to accept help. Sometimes you just need to show up and do it, or proactively stay on top of them to say today I'm coming over to do x, y or z.
- If your love language is through time, like with service, stay on top of them and arrange time to spend together. Offer to take them to visit the resting place of their loved one with them, to go on a walk or another fitness activity they may be too inhibited by grief to try to do on their own, go to coffee or lunch, or have a movie marathon at their home.
- If your love language is through touch, never underestimate the power of a hug.
As a grieving person, you can also use the 5 love languages to express your grief in a way that honors your loved one.
- If your love language is through gifts, if your heart is ready, adopt an Angel from an Angel Tree who would be the same age as your loved one or hold a baking day with friends or family and take those baked goods to people as a gift. Last year I found a snowflake poem that made me think of Hudson. I found snowflake ornaments and gave those to others in Hudson's memory. This year we will adopt a 1 year old boy from the Angel Tree and as a family, we will honor Hudson by giving another little boy a special Christmas in Hudson's name.
- If your love language is through words, use writing as a form of expression. Write them a letter, story or narrative. You can scrapbook special things that makes you think of them. Connect with others on your path and go to coffee with them to talk about how you are feeling or text them when hurting most. I found myself writing and meeting with other loss moms a lot during the holidays last year and it was a great band aid for my heart to use my writing and conversation to help heal.
- If your love language is through service, use a volunteer opportunity to serve those in need at a food kitchen on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Create bags of food for families who can't afford to feed the mouths around the table. Organize toys at a local hospital or shelter for kids who don't have anything can bring healing to your heart. Maybe it is connecting with others walking your path through a support group care package or ornament exchange.
- If your love language is through time, surround yourself with family or special friends who make you happy. Plan out activities to fill your time when you think you may be sad. Spend time at a nursing home talking with someone who may not have anyone to visit them.
- If your love language is through touch, don't be afraid to ask for a hug or someone to hold your hand when you need it. Another way to fulfill that is to go to an animal shelter and cuddle those animals who don't have owners to love them yet.