The holidays were hard. Really hard. Every single minute of it. And it was so much more difficult than last year.
You know a newborn sleeps through Christmas. Their only memory is the pictures we take and the stories we tell. But a one year old? They start to see the magic. Their eyes light up when they see Christmas lights. They either smile, or scream and cry, at Santa. They get to dress up as little angels for the Nativity play and show off their adorable Christmas jammies at the end of the night. They let their big brother open all of their gifts and they fall asleep in your lap because they are just too exhausted from all the fun they had with their dozens and dozens of cousins. So as much as my heart was aching that she missed her newborn Christmas, it aches all the more for her one year old Christmas.
One afternoon before Christmas, Ted and I went to the mall to return something. We stopped at the play area so he could get some energy out. I was sitting in the corner watching him play and my eyes started to scan the play area. I don't know why I do this, because it always leads to tears. I can see little ones who are just starting to toddle and walk and I know they are Lily's age. I just sat there with the tears flowing down my cheeks knowing for the first time in that moment, I'm not just missing Lily in my arms...I am missing her from my life. She would have been 13 months old around Christmas. Maybe walking, maybe not, but either way, she wouldn't just be in my arms. She would be out with Ted, following him around, trying to keep up with her big brother. When I try really hard I can see her right next to him. I see her staring up at him, smiling and laughing at him. Right then and there it really hit me...I didn't just lose my baby, I lost my daughter.
This was really just the beginning of how hard the holidays were for us. Every single, sweet moment with Ted was sprinkled with heartache missing Lily. It took me all of Advent to get around to decorating her tree. I don't know why, but I just couldn't do it. Maybe it's because that's it. That's all I get. A stupid tree to decorate for her. I don't get to buy her baby dolls or her first Pottery Barn chair, I get a tree. A stupid, fake, tree to decorate for my daughter. I hate thinking that and I really hate saying it out loud. We have been gifted with some beautiful decorations for Lily's tree from family and friends and I really do love them. But when you really think about it, how much does it just suck that that's all I get with my daughter? I just get to decorate a tree for her...
oh, and her grave. Which leads me to my other self-pity Christmas story. When we were buying decorations for her birthday, I saw a lot of Christmas stuff and I started planning in my head what I wanted to do for Christmas for her grave. I finally got around to buying it and when I went back to the store, everything I had wanted to buy was gone. All of it. I didn't know what to do. I felt so helpless and so broken in that moment. I just stood in the middle of the aisle and started crying. Big, ugly, fat crying tears and I couldn't stop. All I could think about was how unfair all of this is. How I shouldn't be buying grave decorations at all, I should be buying her first baby doll and stroller. But instead I'm faced with this nightmare of a reality. My daughter is dead. My son doesn't get to have Christmas with his sister. My arms are empty. I miss my daughter.
(Side note: if you really want to be humbled about what really matters at Christmas, go visit the infant section of a cemetery during Christmas. I've never seen so many decorations for so many little loves who are missed all year long, but especially during the holidays.)
It was all just so much more than I ever imagined. And I usually LOVE Christmas. It is one of my favorite times of the year. I have a big, wonderful, loving family in Iowa that loves to celebrate and I just couldn't face them this year. I couldn't really face anyone but Jason and Ted. I couldn't fake a smile when I felt like I was dying inside. And I couldn't celebrate a big, wonderful family Christmas without Lily.
So we stayed here and made the most of it. We decorated our house...very slowly. We took the whole season of Advent to decorate each room of our house. I actually loved that part. I could savor the simplicity and I could recognize what this season is all about - finding ourselves ready and preparing for the true gift of Christmas. I finally got around to decorating Lily's tree and it was so beautiful, I couldn't take it down until this past week (just before Lent!). We took Ted to see all the Christmas lights and he loved it! We celebrated Christmas Eve with just us. We went to Mass and we watched with delight as Ted opened his gifts on Christmas morning.
And I smiled and cried and cried and smiled. I smiled that Ted was in awe of the season. And cried missing my daughter. I cried that Ted woke up by himself on Christmas morning instead of with his sister. And I smiled knowing that Lily knows the true meaning of this season better than anyone because she isn't awaiting her King...she's dancing with Him.
Such is this life, smiles and tears, smiles and tears, somewhere between Heaven and Earth.