A year ago as our “First Christmas” without our son approached, I had to immediately search deeply for some ways to honor Mattie, while digging even deeper to find a way to create a meaningful experience for my family as well. I am mother to seven children, Mattie being my youngest, and as much as I might have liked to hide and pretend Christmas wasn’t coming, it was. Christmas has always been special to me. I love decorating, creating memories, giving and celebrating; but how on earth was I supposed to do that when Mattie was gone?
It wasn’t all smoothy and dreamy, there was a whole lot of messy, and a heap of tears, but I’d like to share a few of the things that allowed me to walk through the holiday season feeling like I had done both.
Mindfully Honoring Our Present Moment:
- Hold Fast to Traditions– Keeping traditions in place is so valuable during a time when everything else seems uprooted and unsettled. You may not “feel” like doing anything, but I encourage you to consider honoring important family traditions. Traditions ground us, they center us, they pull us into a space of safety for a moment. Your traditions can be a valuable anchor for you, your spouse, and your children. Traditions can also be bittersweet, but for the sake of wholeness and healing, I encourage you not to avoid them completely. For Thanksgiving, we went out to eat and spent the night at a hotel, for some of you this may be a good option, for some of us it was just sort of blah, and for others, it was a nightmare. I think I thought we could escape reality that way. It didn’t work. In hindsight, I wish we would have ordered a catered dinner for home. I missed the laziness of crashing all over the house with a turkey hang-over, naps, games and movies. For Christmas, we did travel, but the place we chose was peaceful and homey. We made a very intentional plan that was grounded in the hope that we would find peace and rest for our weary hearts. After kind of messing up Thanksgiving, I was very mindful about what would be healing for our family. I made sure that traditions came with us. Christmas Eve: potato soup, Christmas jammies, a new Christmas book, a new ornament for each child, and lots of yummy snacks. Christmas morning: cinnamon rolls, bulging stocking, and a modified dinner due to travel to make it a bit more simple. I asked each of the kids what needed to be on the menu to make it “feel like Christmas.” Our gift giving traditions also remained bedrock: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read (with one added category of “something to do”.)
- Shop Online- One of the wisest decisions I made was to do as much of my shopping on Amazon as was possible. Being in crowds with all the stimulation of the external was impossible. I knew it was a bad idea to hit the shopping malls. Amazon and I were tight friends, and the postal carrier was kept busy. I organized my “must go shop in public” items like a road map, and my husband drove me from shop to shop, where I would jump out, run in and buy the item on the list. I never ever went shopping alone.
- Ask for Help- I was blessed to have my beautiful daughter-in-love, Amy, come to me and ask how she could help me. She’s one of those beautifully intuitive people who seems to know what I need and how to help, as well as knowing how to ask the right questions. If no one has asked you how they can help, by all means go ask someone! Let them know you need help processing and prioritizing.
- Write It Down– One of the things I struggled the most with was memory loss and even the ability to process thought. Amy came with paper and pen, she asked questions, we made lists. I had notebooks, checklists, and folders. I cannot tell you how valuable this was. I had a list for gift giving, a list for food shopping (divided by store), and a list for packing (for our Christmas getaway).
- It’s Ok To Say No– It’s ok to set some boundaries for your heart. It’s ok to say no. You do not have to attend every event, party, or family affair. Practice saying this, “Thank you so much for inviting us, but we just aren’t able to attend this year.”
Mindfully Honoring Our Child:
- Memory Tree– We decorated a small tree (see photo above) that was set apart to honor Mattie. We tucked his favorite toys in the branches and under the tree. We hung pinwheels (our symbol for Mattie) on the branches. It was a safe place for my children to sit and express their grief. They placed pictures and drawings under the tree often throughout the month. Just like every year, we bought an annual ornament for Mattie and hung it on his tree. I plan to continue the tradition and get him an ornament every year.
- Stocking Full of Letters- I couldn’t bear to see Mattie’s empty stocking. We hung his stocking beside his special tree and asked family and friends to mail cards and letters with memories of Mattie written on them. Our plan was to open it sometime on Christmas Day, but to be honest it was months later that my heart was ready to open them.
- Ornaments- We made ornament to give to family and friends in honor of Mattie. We have plans for a new ornament this year.
- Photobooks- I started months in advance and made a photo album for each of our children and for my husband each personalized with photos of themselves and Mattie. We also made a special photo album for the grandparents.
- Memory Quilts- The issue surrounding a child’s clothing is a very sensitive one. I know parents who aren’t ready to touch their child’s clothing for years. I chose to take on this project earlier than most because I needed to have a tangible connection to Mattie, and for me his clothing told a precious love story. I didn’t want his clothing shut away in drawers or packed in boxes, I wanted to hold it and touch it. A dear friend worked lovingly and compassionately with me and created a quilt for my husband and I, as well as one of each of our children. It is one of the most mindful, healing things I have done for our family. These quilts lay across hurting hearts and have been a meaningful part of our grief journey.
- Jewlery- We also had bracelets designed for all of the older children in our family stamped with the title of a song they wrote for Mattie’s memorial service, “My Saint, My Son, My Brother”. There are many beautiful shops online that offer gorgeous jewelry if you are looking for a special gift, or even if you need a suggestion for a family member who is asking what you’d like for Christmas. I also purchased a piece of jewelry for Mattie’s daddy and myself that was wrapped as his gift to us.
- Sacred Moments- It was important for us to honor Mattie without allowing grief to rob our children of a loving Christmas experience. In order to honor their hearts and ours, we chose to take an hour or two on Christmas Eve Morning after breakfast as intentional time to invite his spirit into our holiday, and to allow for a mindful expression of grief. During this time, we presented the kids each with their memory gifts: quilts, photo books and jewelry. It was a safe place to talk, be silent, look at photos, cry and just rest with our feelings. I would encourage you to create a sacred moment, however that looks for you, apart from Christmas Day or any other traditional expressions, that is simply a time for allowing your heart to honor your child.
I want to acknowledge that my experience is not a one size fits all. My heart breaks for those of you facing this season with the loss of your first child. I hope that you will still be able to reach into your beautiful hearts and find something in my words that will help you create a mindful, healing time to honor your child and rest your hearts even briefly this holiday season. Be gently with yourselves.
You are all so deeply loved,
Two of Our Memory Quilts (on the left, one of our children’s quilts; and on the right Daddy and Mommy’s)
Mindful Christmas Shopping Ideas-
Our friends at Laurel Box have Christmas Ornaments, Jewelry, and other meaningful gifts. Please visit their site.
Uplift Contributor Jessi Snapp at Luminous Light Studio also has some beautiful art prints and offers custom work. Custom artwork must be ordered by November 25th. Here is a link to her Etsy site as well. Ornaments are available on her website.
Uplift Contributor Franchesca Cox offers stunning art prints, and also have a few gorgeous coloring pages on her Etsy site, “Handlettered Goodness”
Uplift Contributor Eileen Tully offers custom artwork, portrait sketches, at Little Winged Ones
Uplift Contributor Beth Morly, Mixed Media Healing Art at Epiphany Art Studios on Etsy
Stunning Jewlery at Rachelle-isms, special gifts for Moms, miscarriage and child loss pieces, custom work on Etsy
On Facebook or on Instagram, please find My Missing Piece
And Swell Forever for beautiful Memorial Blankets
I’d like to take a moment to welcome all new readers to From the Heart.
I have joined hearts and voices with a beautiful group of women who are offering love and support through a project called UPLIFT.
UPLIFT is a free collaborative series of conscious healing posts and activities for bereaved parents and hurting hearts this holiday season. The project will be full of inspiration to help lift your spirits over the next two months. All the details of the project can be found through this link: UPLIFT We welcome everyone to join the event on Facebook.