Every year when Christmas rolls around, it's like I'm on a zipline that's about to go off the cliff. I'm deathly afraid of heights, so it's not something I would do willingly. But that's just it, Christmas comes every year and every year I face the traumas around my daughter's death one week before Christmas. So here I am, strapped to this zipline at the top of the cliff and Time pushes me off and all I can do is close my eyes, hang on with all my might, and wait for it to be over. And just like every year, when it is over, I open my eyes to a mess of Christmas decorations that I get to tear down with all the bitterness of my heart.
Believe it or not, Christmas used to be my favorite. I couldn't wait for Christmas to come. I decked my halls with a lot more than holly! Red and green colors would burst from every corner of the house. But the grieving journey has other plans for me. For whatever cosmic reason, I decided to change my color scheme that year to blue and white. The Christmas tree hung tons of blue and white balls and it was beautiful. It was one week before Christmas, we were at my mom's house putting together Christmas baskets with goodies. My daughter Sarah died during her nap in my mom's room that afternoon. After we got back from the hospital, without her, I spent the whole week in that very room, breathing in what was left of her spirit. The day after Christmas, we finally came home for the first time. Sarah's nickname was "blueberry" because of the blue hemangioma on her nose and our tree with all it's blue balled ornaments, looked like a blueberry bush. At that moment, I saw it as this beautiful message that "Sarah was still among us for Christmas." That was my beautiful reminder. For years, I would put all those blue ornaments on the tree, faithfully bringing her message back to us. It was comforting.
But then something switched in me. I got really sick and extra sensitive to everything around me. I stopped celebrating her birthday the way I normal would. All the things I did over the years to help me cope with Sarah's absence were now incredibly hurtful. I had needed those things during those years, and now I didn't. I needed something else now. I'm still sorting through certain triggers around Christmas, but a big one this year were those damn blue ball ornaments on my tree that no longer made me feel her, they made me feel her absence all the more. They took me back to that awful day when we came home for the very first time with empty empty arms. Those balls reminded me now of my emptiness, that hole that no God can ever fill until I see her again.
So after talking with my wonderful therapist, I decided to not only take them off of my tree, but to destroy them. Just me and my husband set out to destroy this awful trigger. I stood at the tree and bagged up all the blue balled ornaments of that awful day and started towards the back door. But I was stopped by my 12 year old son Isaiah. The only child that was actually here when we lost her.
"What are you doing with those?" He asked me, staring me down.
"I'm taking them down and getting rid of them this year." I tried to be delicate with my voice.
"No! No! No! Put them back! Put them back!" tears were welling up in his eyes. The desperateness in his voice broke my heart and I started crying with him.
I didn't even think about his feelings with these. "I'm sorry sweetie, but I have to do this. They are too painful to keep. This is something I have to do."
"Put them back, please, put them back!" He just kept repeating it through his tears. After that I took him to a private place so we could talk and it was decided, after both of us bawling, that we would put a mini tree up in his room and he can keep one single ball from the bag. As a mother who understands that he has his own unique journey of grief, I had to compromise in this.
So with my heart now torn to shreds, I went to the garage with my husband who had a tarp down and ready and we smashed the shit out of those ornaments. They were not easy to break either, because they were plastic. Especially the ones that we more solid plastic. It made us angry that they weren't glass that would break easily. But that's just it, isn't it? It's not easy removing triggers from your life. I can smash these ornaments, but the traumatic memories they triggered will always be there. I felt like this was our ceremony of trying to "take back Christmas." This time of year will always be hard, but I want to love Christmas again. I can't promise that this will do it, but it will definitely help. And it's already easier to breathe without staring at those ornaments all day, every day.
My encouragement to you, if you struggle with grief this holiday season, is don't let traditions prevail if they start hurting you. My husband even added, "Well, it's like we always kept putting those ornaments up for tradition so we don't offend ourselves." Allow things to change as you change. It's okay to give yourself permission to do so. Life changes us so much as we continue to grow and experience new things, new trials, and new victories. Let these traditions change with you as you need them to, in order to cope the only way you know how.
~Love yourself enough to prove it.