It has been just over 6 months since the loss of our first, and only, child. Not a day goes by that I do not think about her and wonder what she would be like today if she were still here. I imagine what we would be buying for her first Christmas presents, what her “baby’s first Christmas” outfit would look like and even how my husband and I would be coping with the still very new job of being parents. I still cry… a lot. But these days I usually manage not to have a total meltdown every time I begin to tear up. I allow myself to feel my emotions but they are beginning to feel more manageable as time goes on. My triggers come and go, usually without warning. Just last week as I was driving, every single song that came on the radio would conjure up images of a little red haired girl playing soccer or going to gymnastics practice. I could do little more than focus on the road ahead to keep from bursting into tears as the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach reminded me that the scenes pictured in my head were merely daydreams and memories stolen before they could even be made.
The holidays have been tough for my husband and I both. The support of family and friends helps in the healing process but it does not make seeing the children in our family and hearing the latest stories of them and how much they have grown any easier. I wanted to find a way to remember our daughter this Christmas, something simple and beautiful, something I could put time into and create, something that would make me happy to look at and that would instantly remind me of her. I began work on designing an ornament based on a letter and gift I received from a former student of mine soon after Ryann’s death. The student was from Zimbabwe and over her summer break she purchased a little handmade elephant for our daughter, not knowing that she had passed away. When my students all returned from the break and heard the news of our daughter’s death, the student brought me the elephant any way and wrote a beautiful letter with this quote at the end: “Just like the elephant never forgets, Evelyn Ryann will never be forgotten”. I tear up every time I think about this quote and so an elephant ornament just felt right.
I used felt and embroidery thread to create the final product and decided that I would make these for all of my immediate family for them to hang on their trees in honor and memory of our daughter. I know that creating traditions is important in the healing process, especially when trying to honor those we have lost while also giving thanks for the people in our lives that are most important. As our first holiday season without our daughter, we are doing things that we may not even yet realize will become cherished traditions in the future- for now the memories and emotions surrounding our daughters life and passing are still very raw and it can be hard to find joy when you are feeling such indescribable pain.
It may be difficult for me to give advice on surviving the holiday season, being that it is my first one since losing Ryann, but I can share how I am currently coping and what brings me peace in the midst of a roller coaster of emotions. Personally I have been focusing on the following:
Choosing to see the beauty in this world despite everything. This does NOT mean I can always manage to do so; some days the heavy black feelings of bitterness, sadness, despair and fear cannot easily be quelled and I accept that this is okay too. I am not perfect but I acknowledge that I do have a choice.
Making our daughter a part of the tradition. Creating my elephant ornaments helped me incorporate the memory of our daughter into the holiday season and into the holiday traditions of our families. It may not seem like much, but for me it’s just enough. What matters is that you do what feels right for you and your husband, wife, partner, family, etc. Maybe that includes an obvious memorial tradition, or maybe it is more subtle and something only you understand; either way, there will be beauty and love in any tradition you have.
Allowing myself to be a little selfish. Losing a child changes you, forever. It changes your life, your priorities, your ways of thinking, your outlook on the future, your thoughts on self worth and self love and so much more. You may need to take more time for yourself than you used to – time to think, to reflect, to search for understanding and to search for peace within yourself. You also may need to be more forgiving with yourself and begin practicing intentional self love and giving yourself permission to be a little selfish.
Overall, Be kind to yourself during this time, allow time for healing and love and surround yourself with the people that love and support you. Happy Holidays and Be Well.