New Airpods are great and all, but what if you really wanted something that couldn’t arrive with expedited shipping? It doesn’t have to be a baby. It could be a better relationship with a family member. Maybe closure after a divorce or falling out with a friend. Maybe you are walking through that first holiday after losing a parent, child or sibling and the loss feels so overwhelming you just want to crawl in bed, pull the sheets up, and never get out. I get it. I’ve been there. It reminds me of a line from one of my favorite movies “You’ve Got Mail” starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. If you haven’t seen it, please stop reading this blog and rent it immediately. Then come back and you’ll get the quote. The two are modern day pen pals via email. In one note, Meg Ryan’s character writes “I was decorating my Christmas tree, unwrapping funky ornaments made of Popsicle sticks and missing my mother so much I almost couldn't breathe." What is it about this time of year that magnifies loss?
I can remember the first Christmas season after we lost our second son Cooper at 36 weeks in the delivery room. That was March 18 and eight months later we were grieving another baby, this time lost at 11 weeks. It was early November so the most wonderful time of the year was kind of feeling like Nightmare Before Christmas. One particular incident sent me tumbling into a sea of tears. I opened a box delivered one afternoon not sure what was inside. Maybe those new ornaments I ordered? Or it could be the toy I was expecting for our then two-year-old. Nope. It was a monogrammed stocking for Cooper that had been backordered since the previous holiday. UGHHH. I vividly remember holding the stocking up, seeing his name written out, and the monumental grief I thought I had overcome, rushed back with a vengeance. I threw the stocking back in the box and proceeded to sob on the floor. I don’t remember what happened next but I definitely remember stuffing the box into the depths of a closet where it remained until months later when I felt brave enough to retrieve it.
A few years later, we were walking through our third year of secondary infertility. We had tried what seemed like everything. Ovulation apps. Meds. IUI. “Not trying” (which is still just trying because who can forget about something like that?? Not this girl.) Finally, IVF was the next step. Trust me when I say that is not an item you’ll find on an Oprah’s Favorite Things list. “And you get… months of shots, astronomical medical bills and the added bonus of constant worry! WOO HOO!” I hope you read that in an Oprah voice. I’ll wait while you go back and re-read if not. So December that year found us pregnant - hurray! Our first embryo transfer was a success and I was heading into the second trimester. Normally, most mamas would be working on the nursery and finalizing their registry. Not me. Because we lost Cooper basically at full term, there was no time when I felt “safe” during the pregnancy. And as my first trimester nausea subsided but those sweet baby kicks hadn’t kicked in (pun intended), I was left constantly worried. Checking the toilet paper each and every frequent trip to the bathroom. During that Christmas season people would expectantly ask “Are you excited? This time next year you’ll have another baby!” And I wanted to respond, “You can’t guarantee that. Now let me go back to waiting for the other shoe to drop while I watch The Holiday for the 8th time.” I was constantly reminded that I had zero control over this outcome.
You may be in a similar situation. You are walking into this holiday season carrying holiday grief over that loved one who won’t be sitting at your dinner table. They always cooked the fill-in-the-blank or you both would go holiday shopping or look at Christmas lights together. Maybe this is your first Christmas after the separation and you are trying to navigate your emotions, your kids and maybe even in-laws. Whatever this holiday season looks like for you, make sure to give yourself grace and patience if you are walking through loss. It doesn’t matter if your loss happened last month or last decade, grief hits us all differently and at different times.
I eventually got Cooper’s stocking out of the bowels of the closet and hung it up the following Christmas. It made me sad, but not in the same all-encompassing way it had the year prior. Same for year three and beyond.
The scar was there, but the wound had healed. It also helped that friends had taken the time to send me ornaments to honor his sweet life and his brother’s. They became cherished parts of our tree-decorating tradition each year.
Just last month, a good friend was strong enough to share with me that she’d miscarried their second baby at six weeks. No matter how far along you are, losing a baby wrecks you at any stage. I immediately ordered one of Laurelbox’s feather ornaments for her to honor the sweet but too-short life. When it arrived, she said she’d been wanting something exactly like it and was so grateful to have a keepsake year after year.
That’s how we can turn our grief, loss or waiting season into something meaningful. Use our hard thing to spark courage in someone else. Reaching out to the friend walking a similar path. Encouraging that co-worker or relative who is struggling with fill-in-the-blank. Those are the must-have sympathy gifts of the holiday season.
Lanna Britt was a national news producer in Washington DC for nearly a decade covering politics, breaking news and current events. She now lives with her husband and three children in Richmond VA. She has two sweet babies she’ll meet again in heaven.