Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Thinking about Christmas

I was comparing notes about Christmas (and how to survive it) with several other childless bloggers/activists recently. And that got me thinking.

I love Christmas. It's always been my favourite holiday.  But I'll admit Christmas has not always been very joyful, these past 20 years. Those first couple of years after we lost our baby -- and gradually came to the realization there would be no others -- were very hard.

But I've never had the desire to run away from it. I've spent every Christmas of my life with my family, and I'm not about to try to make drastic changes now (especially now that FIL is gone, and my parents are close to 80). I always reasoned that dh's family could (& can) easily see us any other time of the year;  I want to be with MY family at Christmas -- and I'm grateful that's how things have always worked out. (I did secretly think that, perhaps, once dh & I had kids of our own, my parents & sister might come to be with US for a change. We all know how THAT worked out...!)

But even so, our Christmas celebrations have evolved and changed over the years as our family changed. Change is difficult for me -- but I've come to realize that it's inevitable (and not always bad, or as bad as I had feared).

Twenty years ago, I thought my family of origin was expanding. What actually happened: it began to shrink. I lost the baby I was expecting that November, and then my grandparents, one after another, within a year of each other, and eventually I had to face the harsh reality that there would be no new babies joining us, ever.

But at the same time, our chosen family has grown, and enriched our Christmases immeasurably. We've been incredibly fortunate to have Parents' Neighbours' Daughter (PND) spend at least part of every Christmas of her life with our family.  When she was an adorable baby & toddler (and dh & I were newlyweds), she relieved some of the pressure on us to produce a grandchild ASAP. As a young teenager, her cheerful presence helped alleviate some of the sadness of that first Christmas in 1998, when not only was there no baby for Christmas (as my mother rapturously exclaimed when I told her I was pregnant) but also no Grandpa, for the first time in my 37 years (and then the next year, no Grandma either). These days, now in her mid-30s, she's mom to the two Little Princesses, who continue to distract & entertain us and partly fill that grandchild gap.

As my parents have aged, we've continued to gather at their house, but my sister & I have taken on more of the responsibilities for shopping, decorating, and food prep (my sister has learned to make gravy as well as my mom, and I'm told she made the pastry for the butter tarts this year too!) & cleanup. We tend to be sticklers for tradition -- and yet, over the years, some traditions have evolved or been set aside, and new ones adopted. For example, there's a huge mugo pine tree in my parents' front yard that my dad used to decorate with strings and strings of coloured lights. Over the years, he had to start asking his neighbour, my sister's partner and PND's husband to help (teetering precariously on a tall ladder & using a contraption -- a hook on the end of a broom handle -- to maneuver the lights into place). It just got to be too much of a chore, so these days, the lights just frame the doors of the house and cover the shrubs.

As another example, my mother decided she's not decorating two trees this year. Over the past 25-30 years, she's had one upstairs in the living room, with our family's treasured old, traditional ornaments, and one in the family room downstairs that's more of a "designer" tree with mostly silver ornaments, supplemented by others that she received from her students while working at the local school as an aide. She & Dad recently got a big screen TV that takes up a lot of room in the basement;  also, the basement tends to be where the two Little Princesses like to run around.  I told her that while it's nice to have two trees, I'm not sentimentally attached to the downstairs one in the same way that I am with the upstairs one.

Our own tree at home has evolved over the years, too. In the years after we lost our Katie, we bought one ornament for her -- and then another -- and another. We attended the memorial candlelighting service run by our pregnancy loss support group ever year for about 12 years straight, I think, and at each one, we took home a pair of baby booties, handknit by volunteers. Our tree was covered in teddy bear angels, Classic Pooh ornaments from Hallmark, and little white baby booties, lol.  Then, three Christmases ago, we moved to a condo, and bought a slightly smaller tree to fit our smaller space. Not all the ornaments I used to put up fit on the new tree -- so now there's just one representative pair of baby booties instead of the full dozen. I'm not sure I'd have handled that very well 20 years ago, but I'm (mostly) OK with it today.

Once my parents are gone, I don't know what's going to happen to our Christmas celebrations. Will we still head west to be with my sister (assuming she gets a bigger house, because right now, her 600-square-foot house does not accommodate guests very readily)?  Will she come here? Will we try to nose our way into dh's family's celebrations, with BIL & SIL & the nephews and their family?  Will we run away to spend Christmas at a nice ski chalet somewhere (minus the skiing, lol), or try something completely different like a beach? (I absolutely cannot imagine Christmas without snow, but there's always a first time for everything...!)

We'll cross those bridges when we get there (hopefully not for a while yet). Meanwhile, I try to just appreciate what we have right now and help out my parents & sister as much as I can.

I guess if I had one piece of advice to offer, it would be to do whatever you feel inclined to do -- no more, no less. Some years can be better/worse/easier to handle/more difficult than others, when you're grieving your children (whether or not they were ever conceived) -- so don't feel you have to do everything you think you're supposed to be doing, or that others are telling you to do.  And don't feel you have to do the same things you did last year -- whether you did anything last year, or not. Losing Katie (with a November due date) -- plus the fact that November/December was always our busiest time of year at work (fiscal year end reporting) -- meant I had neither the time, nor the energy, nor (quite often, especially those first few years) the inclination to take part in many of the Christmas activities I wanted to immerse myself in -- or felt I *should* be doing. I had to take a good hard look at what was most important to me, and plan my Christmas season accordingly.  I've always enjoyed putting up a Christmas tree, sending cards (staying in touch with far-flung friends & relatives) and going home to see my family -- so I focus on that. Anything else that I have time or energy or inclination or money to do -- more elaborate decorations, baking, Christmas-related outings, parties, etc. -- is gravy. I have more time to do more now that I'm retired -- and the grief is not as intense as it was, 20 years ago -- but that still tends to be my philosophy today, lol.

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If you're looking for further reading on the subject of holiday survival, here are a few posts by some other bloggers/activists to get you started:

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My own past Christmas-related posts are now tagged "Christmas" -- but here are some of the main ones you might want to explore (from the most recent working back):


  1. Great post, Loribeth. I was going to add in all the links, but now you've saved me the trouble. Thanks!

    This year both my younger sister and I (and our DHs and Charlie) are heading back to spend Christmas with elder sister and her family (a niece lives close by). I'm really glad we're doing it, and I think so is our sister, as she probably thought that once our mother had died, she'd never see us at Christmas again. We've talked about having Christmas here together, or at younger sister's house in the north too. I think we'll make different decisions in the coming years, but we'll make a point of getting together every couple of years.

    I like escaping for Christmas too though, and hope to be able to do that again soon, as for years we've alternated between my family and DH's family (despite, as you say, the fact that his parents saw us every week of the year as it was). There's something about spending Christmas in exotic climes.

  2. I found your blog through Infertility Honesty. Thanks for this post about the holidays. We are 2.5 years post deciding to not keep trying, and this is the first set of holidays that I feel are as close to normal as possible. Shopping was easier, wrapping gifts was easier, events have been easier. But we still didn't attend the children's pageant at church, nor will we attend the children-centered Christmas Eve service. And that's okay, because we know where our boundaries are. Again, thanks for your post! I look forward to reading more.

    -Elizabeth @ merciespermile.wordpress.com

    1. Hi Elizabeth, thanks for reading & commenting! :) Glad to hear things have been easier this year, and I hope that continues for you. Boundaries are a good thing. :)