Last weekend, after much pestering from the children, we got all of the Christmas decorations down from the loft, up went the tree, out came the tinsel and Christmas officially hit the Dove household. And don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, always have, but occasions like these are always so bittersweet. Every year, with the appearance of the advent calendars, the Christmas tree, the ten thousand tons of glitter that adorns our house, there is always that constant reminder that one of our family is missing. And this year marks a momentous ten years without him.
I always thought that the first Christmas would be the hardest. Everyone was full of sympathetic advice, told me that the “firsts” are always the worst and, at the time, I truly believed that. Just five months after Joseph left us we were faced with the over-whelming task of blindly groping our way through Christmas with a two year old who still very much wanted to celebrate. And it was heart breaking, the indescribable feeling of grief, of walking around the shops with “My first Christmas” novelty gifts at every turn, surrounded by babies and expectant mothers, happy faces who knew nothing of our inner turmoil. I’m not sure how we managed to find the strength to put on a happy face for Lewis, to sit down and eat a Christmas dinner that I couldn’t swallow past the lump in my throat, the churning pain of grief in my stomach, the hope that the day would soon be over so that I could go to bed and sob into my pillow for my baby boy who would never see a Christmas.
When the second Christmas came around I was optimistic that it would be easier. Our first Christmas in a new house, a new start, the hope of a new baby. And I had been shocked to find that it was equally as hard, that although the pain was not quite as raw as it had been previously, I struggled massively with the fact that another year had passed, that time had flown by so fast, that my baby boy seemed even further away than the previous year.
And by our third Christmas it was just Lewis and I. A whole new level of devastation, of heartbreak, of failure. Sitting at the dinner table looking around at the remnants of my family, I had wondered how we would ever enjoy Christmas again?
Our fourth Christmas saw me having to share Lewis with his Dad for the very first time and it had broken my heart to wave him off after dinner, to watch him excitedly run down the driveway and into his Dads arms. And I had sat at home, fighting off double pneumonia and pleurisy, on my own with neither of my children to hold, feeling like the magic of Christmas had been lost forever.
But by the fifth Christmas Gaz had arrived on the scene, by the sixth we were expecting Eva, the seventh Megan and the eighth Harry.
And by the ninth Christmas, our very first as a family of six, I told myself that we were finally complete, that from now on Christmas would be nothing but happy, fun, chaotic times for us all and I reminded myself just how lucky we were. And yet again I found myself surprised to discover that yes I can laugh, I can smile, I can genuinely enjoy every moment of it, and yet a part of me will forever be thinking, “One of us is missing”.
And it’s not just about the obvious things, the empty place around the dinner table, one less stocking hanging on the fire place, one less present (or more like twenty!) under the tree. It’s all of the little things. Like how we never got the chance to take him to Father Christmas, to see the look of amazement on his face, to tell him, “Say cheese!” as we captured the perfect moment.
It’s how he was robbed of playing his name sake in the school nativity, how we never got the chance to watch him, with a tea towel on his head, shyly singing along as I cried on the front row. It’s how we never got the chance to tuck him into bed on Christmas Eve, to kiss him goodnight and tell him that Father Christmas was on his way.
It’s about looking round on Christmas morning and seeing my children tearing open their presents, a flurry of wrapping paper, the manic sound of squeals and laughter as they hold up their presents and tell us, “Look what I got!!”, the kisses and the cuddles as they shower us with “Thank you!”, “I love you” and, “OPEN THIS!!”. It’s about the excitement, the mayhem, the indescribable feeling of joy and yet its the reminder that one of them is missing, that one of them will never know the happiness of Christmas morning.
I think that is possibly the saddest part about stillbirth, the fact that our babies were robbed of all of these special occasions, of birthdays and Christmas, and of knowing just how loved and special they are to our family. There will never be a time when we can say, “But remember Josephs first Christmas?”, when we can pour over photos of him tearing open his presents, laugh at his expression as we had propped him up in a novelty Rudolph Babygro or a miniature Santa suit. There will never be a time when we can reflect on those amazing memories together, when we can comfort eachother with the knowledge that we made his short life as wonderful as we could possibly make it. Because there was nothing, nothing at all.
Instead, there are flowers. There are Christmas novelty planters, little pot Santas and Rudolphs and cherry red poinsettas that will die at the first touch of frost. There are baubles, Christmas decorations specially picked out by the children, hanging in pride of place on our tree. There are moments, on Christmas morning, when the madness has subsided and the children are busy with their new toys, that are just mine and Josephs. Where I take a minute, in the shower or sat quietly in the bedroom, and I cry for the Christmas’s that we never got the chance to have.
I am hopeful that this year, after ten long years without him, that I will finally find some peace, that I will finally come to realise that just like the star that sits on the top of our tree, our own shining star will forever be a part of our Christmas.
Because just like I tell the children about Father Christmas, just because we can’t see him doesn’t mean that he isn’t there.