After losing anyone, everyone always says it is the big events where you notice the missing presence of a loved one the most. Everyone also says that the first year is the hardest, as this is when you have to experience these big events for the first time. We recently had our first New Year and Christmas without Beatrice, just a short 3 months after her birth. Four days before that we had our first due date. Three big firsts all in the space of a fortnight.
For those who know me, or have read earlier blog posts, you’ll know that Christmas was one of my favourite times of the year. So to say that this Christmas just gone was different is a massive understatement. After desperately trying to stay upbeat and positive in early December, mid-December onwards I just couldn’t keep up with my own expectations. I stopped writing blog posts, I reduced my time on social media and instead spent a lot of time on my own making clay stars for fellow grieving families, reading and taking the dogs out on long walks.
This might not sound like such a bad thing and actually it was just what I needed, time to myself, away from the world to help me cope. This was because one of the best, and yet this year the hardest, part about Christmas time is that everyone gets involved. Everyone is getting excited, buying presents, going out with friends, getting ready to wind down and then celebrate, not to mention showcasing it all on social media. It’s all encompassing. But when all you want is your baby, getting ready for Christmas is actually one of the last things that you want to think about. I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry a lot in December, because I cried a hell of a lot. Luckily where I live is surrounded by country parks and farmer’s fields so you can safely walk the dogs and cry without bumping into many people.
For me, it turned out the build up to Christmas was much worse than the actual day itself. The build-up was filled with so much sadness of how much I missed and wanted Beatrice, and I was also brimming with the anxiety and worry of how much I would miss her on Christmas day and questioning how would I be able to cope with those feelings on the day itself. My biggest worry was that I just felt like I’d ruined Christmas for everybody, because it was my baby that died. I know this is so far from the truth, but when grief takes hold and you can’t shake that intense feeling of sadness, your mind doesn’t seem to work rationally and self-blame features a lot. But this was obviously one of the reasons why we knew we needed to be with our family, so that we didn’t alienate ourselves and make ourselves feel lonely.
Our original plan (earlier in the year) was obviously to have Christmas at our own home, but after losing Beatrice we decided to actually pack our things up and go spend time with our families so that we weren’t alone. This didn’t mean it was a magic fix for Christmas because we did have to leave the safety net of our own home and routine for a week, and to be honest it did feel a little claustrophobic to start with. But we stayed, because ultimately it meant we were surrounded by people who care about both us and Beatrice.
We’re actually very lucky that our home town is only a ten minute drive to the beach and so pretty much every day we went to the beach with various family members to clear our minds, let the dogs run wild and draw the letter B in the sand. Most people like to write the full name of their baby, but when you have two lurchers with you it’s hard enough to get the B drawn without one of them sprinting through it, never mind a full name. But there is something to be said for getting some fresh sea air into your lungs to help relax you and give you some mental clarity, and again watching the two gremlins run riot meant we couldn’t help but smile and laugh.
Beatrice’s due date was our second day of being up North. I know baby due dates are never set in stone, but the reality is that it’s another reminder that your baby is supposed to be on Earth with you, but yet they’re not, nor will they ever be. It’s a predicted date of excitement for most parents, and yet for us it was a predicted date of heartbreak. At this point, after so much crying the week before, I just felt numb to be honest. We received some lovely gifts and messages in memory of Beatrice (I’ll write about them in another post) and so we knew all our family and friends were thinking of us and her, but I just felt numb.
Christmas day was hard. We cried, of course we cried and we were heartbroken, but we also had a much better day than either of us thought possible. The main gifts we bought each other were of course related to Beatrice (again I’ll write about these in another post), we made little tree decorations with a B on for our families and we lit a candle for Beatrice in the morning and evening. Lighting a candle is something we do whenever we are missing her particularly hard, or whenever we just need to demonstrate our love for her. We had a glass of champagne in the morning, because even though we were sad, life still deserves to be celebrated.
We spent the morning with my mum, dad and Jamie’s mum. Needless to say Maggie ripped open everyone’s presents for them at my mum’s house and so this made us all laugh. Arthur was only allowed to take the rubbish into his bed after she had finished with it. Poor boy. We spent Christmas dinner and the afternoon round my dad’s house. Having dinner with my dad and his family is something that we’ve never actually done before, so it was good to spend time with that side of the family and thinking about it, it also meant we didn’t have anything to compare it to. Instead, it was as I imagine it is for most families – organised, well fed, chaos! We had a great time, we laughed with each other, at each other and enjoyed a delicious meal. We eventually left my dad’s house when everyone started to get a bit merry, because in the words of the little girl from the movie We Bought A Zoo; “Their fun was too loud”.
We actually did something similar on New Year’s Eve and just completed cancelled our plans to go out for a meal with friends. Opting instead for a takeaway and a movie.
Another rubbish effect of grief is that loud, busy places make you feel anxious, which in turn makes you more emotionally volatile, which means you’re more likely to be overly upset and cry. This is in our experience anyway. So rather than pressurising ourselves to have more fun, we decided to go back to my mums for a quiet night in front of the tele and see everyone the next day instead. Grief is tiring and exhausting, it’s also very different to each individual, so knowing how best to look after yourself and identifying when you need to take a step back is an important part of self-care. It doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate your family or friends, nor does it mean you’re not making enough progress. By leaving my dad’s earlier than we planned to, it meant that the time we spent celebrating Christmas was in fact a celebration and that we were able to see everyone again the next day, when our emotions weren’t so delicate. It was a win win for everyone. Not that I feel I have to justify this, but I just want anyone else who is grieving to see that even at what might feel like it should be a happy moment, it is normal to feel like you just need your own time and space. Even from your own family and friends. Maybe you even need it from your own partner? That’s fine. It’s normal.
So what I’ve learnt is that so far, yes, first times are hard. It is after all stepping into the unknown, what’s not scary about that? Eventually though it boiled down to the simple fact that like everything in life, the thought of it is worse than the actual doing of it. Our first Christmas day without Beatrice, whilst not the Christmas day we ever wanted, was just another day for us to get through. We now know that yes, Christmas will never be the same as it was before, but we can and we did make it through the day.
So for anyone experiencing a first after a loss, know that you will make it. No matter how impossible it may seem.