I think it’s nice to start out a new year with some resolutions. I don’t know that I’ve ever really set any official ones, and I definitely won’t be this year, but I do like the idea of January 1st being a time to reflect back and to set some intentions for the year ahead. With grief as a constant and unpredictable companion, though, resolving to do much of anything can lead to a lot of disappointment. Grief has its own ideas and it’s a skill to learn to just roll with it. Which is why I’m reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned over this holiday season and thinking about how I might do better in the year ahead with my buddy grief.
Christmas was hard. Harder than we had anticipated.
I’ve said it before (and I still believe it’s true) that anticipation of a thing is often harder than the thing itself. I thought I had a plan for making Christmas feel okay, but it just didn’t go the way I had imagined it would. Somehow I thought this year (our second without Odin) would be easier than last year and it just wasn’t. In some ways it was harder.
Typically, I’m pretty good at articulating my feelings. Which usually means I can talk relatively freely about what I need. For some reason this Christmas I sort of clammed up. The plan I mentioned in my last post to light a candle and bring Kornflake for my niece and nephew to play with sort of just didn’t happen. My niece had the barfs so I didn’t want to bring Kornflake out and, for some reason, I sort of just snuck Odin’s picture and candle onto the piano when no one was looking. I didn’t say anything and I’m not even sure who noticed it was there. I have no idea why I did it that way. Maybe in part because it’s so sad to have a memorial set up when Christmas is meant to be a happy celebration? Maybe I felt guilty about bringing people down? Maybe I was hoping someone else would do the work of saying something?
The Christmas routine unfolded as per usual with the high-volume chaos that accompanies 8 grown-ups and 2 kids under 6 opening a million gifts. When it was all over I just couldn’t contain it anymore and I retreated to the bedroom to sob and spent a couple of hours avoiding brunch and feeling sadder than I had felt in a long time.
I should have said something. I should have asked for what I needed. It’s all over and we didn’t talk about Odin at all. I’m so sorry, baby boy. I miss you.
There were a couple of bright spots to the morning, though, and ones I’m grateful for. N’s brother and wife slipped him a card after the gifts were opened and I was hiding away that read, “In loving memory of Odin we’ve made a donation to the High Park Nature Centre. Love Uncle M and Auntie T”. Which was very sweet and thoughtful of them to do. Also, my SIL had two wrapped gifts and a card for Odin (something she did for us last year that was so incredibly important for us). This year it was a little grey sweatshirt that would have fit his nearly two-year-old frame that says Odin in gold letters. (The note suggested that Baby Girl could wear it in a couple of years.) She also gave us a board book about fish that was a favourite of her kids when they were two (and is extra special in a family full of fishermen). Having this ritual of opening gifts for him is the saddest but most heart-warming part of my Christmas (in addition to having an Odin-ornament-only Christmas tree). The fact that he is remembered and thought of in this really tangible way helps so much.
I regret, though, that we opened these gifts in private. Each year we open SIL’s gifts away from everyone else because, inevitably, we break down into crying messes thinking about how things should be so different. I think that next year I would like to open them with all the other “normal” gifts. Bearing witness to our grief — even years down the road — I think is important for our families to see and be a part of. I hope that well in advance of Christmas next year I will be able to communicate that we need to talk about Odin. That we’d like to start a ritual where we all light a candle together or that we’d like everyone to do an act of kindness in his name. Or maybe we’ll do a stocking with notes to him. Something. Anything, really. I’ll admit that I sort of resent having to tell people what to do or to ask people to be thoughtful, but I’ve realized that what to do for grieving infant loss parents is a huge blindspot for people in general. Without articulating what you need, (except in rare and very special cases) you just won’t get it.
Next Christmas, it will be even more important for us to be vocal about what we need.
The routines of the holiday are already distracting enough but we will (fingers crossed, hopes high) have a nearly one-year-old who I’m sure will be keeping us busy. And the feelings of joy at having her there will be complicated by missing Odin. I can’t even imagine what that will feel like, but hopefully I’ll be able to talk and be open about it.