The first Thanksgiving after my daughter died, my now ex-husband and I took the escape approach to the holidays. We didn’t normally visit family for Thanksgiving, so instead we took a week long hotel camping trip to west Texas and east New Mexico to see Big Bend, El Paso, Guadalupe Mountain, Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands. We spent Thanksgiving Day with a friend’s parents who were on their own, too, since the grown children lived in other cities. When we got about an hour outside of Austin, my ex broke down over the fact we were taking the trip without Rebecca. I tried to point out to him that if she had lived, we wouldn’t have taken the trip because there was no way I was taking a six month old on a float trip and caving, but my point was moot. His distress was just another part of grieving her absence. She wasn’t going to be with us no matter what we chose to do that Thanksgiving.
On Thanksgiving day, I got a positive pregnancy test. By Christmas, I was deep in the throes of all day sickness (falsely called morning sickness by some twisted soul). We also had two foster dogs in addition to our two canine family members; one of the foster dogs was very sick with what turned out to be distemper. The message that our families gave us that year was painfully clear: They didn’t want us to come visit them for Christmas. That was one of the hardest parts of the holiday. It felt like no one wanted to see us because it would have forced them to deal with their grief about our absent daughter. If we didn’t show up, they could pretend the whole thing never happened. The following year when our subsequent babies had safely arrived we were welcomed back in the fold. But that first year after her death, we were personnae non gratae. We were harbingers of death.
In years since then, we’ve done various observances to keep Rebecca’s memory alive and part of our family celebration. We have several Christmas ornaments given to us over the years by various friends that commemorate her life. We put an angel teddy bear on top of the tree. When the kids were young, we took Christmas pictures with an angel teddy bear (pictured above) in them, too, to symbolize her absence. We often adopt a child who is the same age she would have been the same age through a social relief organization to provide gifts in her memory.
Honestly, though, that first Christmas hurt like hell. There’s nothing that can stop that pain. All the remembrances help a slight bit, but there is nothing to fill the absence of a loved one. The only thing to do is feel the pain, grieve the loss, and know that one day things will be different. Each “first” is incredibly hard. One day, though, the pain will no longer feel so hellishly deep. There comes a point where if one does intense healing work, the memory of a loved one lost too soon can bring happiness rather than agony.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC