Becoming a mom brings so many new experiences – so many “firsts.” There was the first bath, first smile, first round of shots (ouch!), first babysitter… and for many, the most exciting first is that first holiday season. Holidays for me this year brought two firsts on opposite ends of the spectrum: my first with my darling baby girl, “Gracie”, and my first without my beloved husband, Ryan. Ryan passed away unexpectedly in August when Gracie was just eighteen days old.
Since the day I realized Gracie & I were now on our own, there has been a tug-of-war between feeling struggle and tears alongside experiencing joy and celebration. For while I never imagined being without the Daddy of our new family, I was still Mama to this brand new precious life – a little one that I had waited so long for – and I wanted Gracie to always be confident that she was special, loved and, yes, celebrated. I didn’t want her to miss out on any more than she already would.
From the beginning, my family & I knew we wouldn’t be inclined to spend Christmas in a traditional sense. We were offered the use of a home down in Florida as respite from familiar memories; what a comfort that was! Yet, in this battle with loss, I didn’t want to let go of everything that had been important and special to me – even before I ever knew Ryan. So, in many small ways this year, we improvised and made December a time to remember.
Did you know that December 6th is celebrated by many as the feast of St. Nicholas? Good old St Nick had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him – and because of this gift-giving, he later became the model for Santa Claus.
On December 6th this year, my Aunt Martha sent a wonderful package of stockings filled with treats (sound familiar?) for our little family – Gracie’s Uncle Ben, her grandparents (Nannie & Pops), and Mama all got our own beautiful handmade treat. In this same package, Gracie also received a fantastic holiday outfit that she donned with style and pizazz for her first Christmas party later in the month – I assure you, she was a major hit.
Gracie modeled another beautiful outfit for our Christmas card photo – it was even more important to me than usual this year to send out a greeting wishing loved ones a blessed new year and assure them we were doing alright. (Ok, so Gracie modeled a *lot* of adorable things throughout December! What’s more fun than buying clothes for a little girl?? She is a well-gifted baby, that’s for sure.)
Another simple way we celebrated the season was by hanging a few special ornaments. Ryan & I always had “collections” for our Christmas tree: Snowmen for him and Santas for me. This year, I’ve added a new set – Elephants for Gracie. I didn’t have it in me to go out to the tree farm this year and cut down on our own, but I found a gorgeous (and wonderfully scented) “Rosemary Bush” that stood in just fine. (We also took Gracie over to see a “real” tree at my Aunt Lucy’s house… she was fascinated with the beads and the lights.)
Then on Christmas Eve, we retreated. We took to the comfort of the beach and let our thoughts drift out with the waves. It was a welcome break from all the memories of home to have this special getaway.
Not celebrating Christmas this year with gift exchanges or lights, cookie baking or big trees, extravagance or commotion ended up being somewhat of a gift. For I was reminded that while Christmas is fun, it’s not the true “reason for the season.” Christmas can give us joy – and one day, we’ll experience the joy of our old traditions once more – but what is really important is hope. Gracie & I, along with our families, do have hope – hope that while we will always miss Ryan, we will still have good and full lives. Hope that there is still so much more to experience, so much more to celebrate.
I hope the holidays (be it Christmas or anything else you may celebrate) were filled with love and joy for each of you – maybe they were traditional or maybe it was something different this year. We just have to remember that there’s always something to hold on to – always something to feel gratitude for. And if you’re feeling a little low, especially hold on to hope.