It’s the early morning of Christmas Eve. I should be enjoying another hour or so of sleep before my daughter Lucy wakes up, but I can’t. I should be excited for Christmas, but I’m not. I just don’t know how to celebrate this holiday anymore.
I used to adore Christmas. When I was little, my dad and I would decorate the tree on the day after Thanksgiving. My mom would hang the stockings and the wreaths. I counted down the days each year until December 25, and to be honest, I also counted the presents for me under the tree. I loved my family’s silly traditions – my parents and I always had Chinese for dinner on Christmas Eve. And, after dinner, each of us would open just one present – almost like a teaser – before I’d leave Santa his milk and cookies and go to bed. When I woke early on Christmas morning, I’d always be shocked to discover that Santa had indeed stopped by and filled the living room with presents. My mother made me empty my stocking first, and there always was a toothbrush, an orange, and a banana in it. I remember feeling so lucky and so loved by my family. It was my favorite time of year.
Even before my son Andy was born, I dreamed of his first Christmas. I couldn’t wait to hang a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament on the tree and see him toddle around beneath it. He was born in January 2009, so I just knew that by Christmas he’d be walking. I pictured helping him open his presents and laughing as he played with the boxes and wrapping paper. Again, I found myself counting the days to Christmas.
And, then in March 2009, he was diagnosed with SMA. He died in June. The countdown stopped. My dreams were shattered. His first Christmas never would occur.
It’s been 18 months since Andy returned to heaven, and I haven’t been able to put the pieces back together. This year, my husband and I once again decorated the tree, but we cried as we hung the ornaments that Andy never saw. There is a stocking missing on the mantel. There is a hole in our hearts. The one thing I want for Christmas – my son in my arms – is the one thing that I’ll never have.
In July 2010, we welcomed Andy’s little sister, Lucy, into the world. A healthy baby girl, she is a precious gift from heaven. Perhaps Christmas for me really came this summer. But, as perfect as she is, Lucy doesn’t replace her brother, and the pain doesn’t go away.
Still, I’m trying my hardest to make Lucy’s first Christmas special. I’m doing for her all the things I planned so long ago for her brother. I’m trying to recapture the magic that I once knew. The ornaments commemorating her first Christmas are on the tree, and her picture with Santa has been taken. Her presents are wrapped and waiting for her to open them – with a little help from Mom and Dad. When I see her smile on Christmas morning, I hope that my heart will heal a little more.
And, beginning this year, we will create new traditions for our little family. We will have to find a way to celebrate the season, while still recognizing that one of us isn’t here. We will focus on the real meaning of Christmas – faith, hope and love. I will continue to search for peace. But, I know in my heart that, for us, the holidays will be forever bittersweet.
While others may not understand, we will include Andy’s name on our Christmas card. There always will be a space for his stocking that never was. The dragonfly and angel ornaments will hang on our tree in his memory where his “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments should be. His little grave will be decorated with Christmas flowers, just as our house is. And, I know that he will be with us, and he’ll help us find the Christmas spirit again.
–Audra Perry Butler