To my first daughter, on Christmas morning

 photo by  basheer tome

photo by basheer tome

This post mentions my living children.

Like any bereaved parent, it continues to be important to carry with me Lydia’s absolute place in our family, and the holiday season only intensifies this insatiable urge. Last Christmas, I waded through the heavy holiday with a tear-streaked face, just seven weeks removed from the day she died and from the day she was born. I was still very much crawling through the muddy crater of early and raw grief and honestly, remember very little of the holiday. But I do remember that we made sure that our daughter was represented in our photos and that she had a small gift just for her mixed up in the ribbon and bows under the tree.

We carried forward these hopeful-traditions to this year’s Christmas, where we were very fortunate to hang a third stocking above our fireplace for Lydia’s little sister born safely in October. But as we filled these stockings with big-boy scissors and first baby dolls, it was painfully hard not to notice the one stocking that lay empty.

So on Christmas Eve, along with her heart-shaped stone that I still carry in my pocket, I placed a folded note into the little white stocking of my first daughter:

Today will be a special day, Lydie. And today will be a horrible day.

Today, we will introduce your baby sister to the spectacle that is Christmas. Her blue eyes will glow with the reflection of bright lights strung around the tree, illuminating the ornaments of holidays past. Paper angels and school photos from your mother’s childhood, moose on skis, a tiny life jacket with a story, and a fat wooden tree that traces back to your Dutch roots. Newer ornaments too—ones that have just begun to tell the story of your siblings and cousins, others that continue to tell yours. Today will be a day with smiles charmed from your brother’s excitement of playing Santa Claus, his eagerness to help tear off the wrapping paper that covers the sprawl growing from under the tree. Today will be a day that your parents snap too many photos, trying our best to capture a moment that can be savored for years to come.

Today will be a sad day, my little girl. Today will be a day that, after all of the excitement, a small and lonely present will remain under the glittery tree, waiting for someone who isn’t there. Today will be a day that we look at our photos and painfully notice one always missing; an empty space where a little girl should be chasing her cousins and siblings, experiencing her second holiday through new eyes. Today will be a day where we whisper our love into a glowing candle and starry night sky instead of your tiny ear, where the edges we have worked so hard to soften become instantly jagged and jab at the hole in our hearts. Today will be a day where the moments we capture will always contain with them the ones that have slipped away.

These past months have been convincing, Lydie. And these past months have been uncertain.

I was recently asked how I was managing, having your sister at home, and I paused to fill my lungs with enough air to answer the question. Answering openly and honestly is important to me, but can often be weighed down by the need to protect you, our family and myself. My mind races each time to calculate the details of the current situation. A complex equation of intent, relationship, timing and knowledge—anever-changing set of variables that yield so many different responses to a seemingly simply question. It is so very lovely to bring Josephine home, to watch as her eyes begin to wake up and explore the world around her, to see her thrive, to be amazed how time can move so quickly as I stare at her long eyelashes or catch glimpses of her attempts to smile. It is so hopeful to envision a life for her, to be filled with the excitement of the wonderful events yet to come. But that same breath holds with it worry and uneasiness. It is a dark and sometimes shameful cloud that appears abruptly to steal moments away as I grapple with gathering gratitude; a storm of thoughts so massive that I sometimes need to run and hide as they pour down on me with disquiet. These are months that are filled with more questions than answers, and a longing that simply will never be satisfied.

This past year has brought happiness, Lydie. And this past year has brought so much sorrow.

This past year has been an unpredictable collection of moments and as I count them, it is hard to imagine that one year can hold so many. There have been moments of the purest joy as I hold your tiny sister safely in my arms and ones of amazement as I witness the growth of your big brother into an energetic and smart little boy. There have been moments where I am calmed as I feel the love of our family pulse through my veins. However, there have also been moments of deep despair that still arrive unannounced and press on my chest. Moments that fog my mind and blur my eyes, moments where I want nothing more than to have you physically here with us. These are moments that demand my attention, refuse any denial and leave me exhausted. And somewhere in between lay moments of bittersweet. Where we stand together with others that want to celebrate you, that speak and write your name, that help us to carry you with us. There have been moments of cake and balloons, moments of giving back and making a small difference, moments of looking up and feeling the warmth shining down from a distant sparkling star. There are so many moments, and you exist in each and every one.

This life will be a painful life, Lydie. There is just no denying that I will always ache to have you near, that every day that separates each Christmas from the last will be filled with the yearning to discard of the tragedy that have intruded on our family. That one day your brother and sister will learn to know you in a much richer, deeper and inevitably more difficult way.

This is a beautiful life, Lydie. It is a life where I have held you in my arms, if only for a few hours. It is a life that carries your name and your spirit. It is a life that holds unimaginable beauty in the warm smile of your brother, in the depths of your sister’s blue eyes, and from the immeasurable love for our Christmas baby—Lydia Joanne.

Merry Christmas, Lydie. You are loved.

—Dad

How were your holidays? How have the holidays changed for you year to year? What holiday traditions do you have to honor your child(ren)?