Four Christmases. That’s how many we’ve celebrated without our sweet Miss Elliott at home in our arms. She remains now, only in our hearts and memories. A life remembered becomes a culmination of ever changing milestones from the moment your loved one passed.
In church yesterday our class leader asked the group about their sense of time, and how they measure it. Nearly everyone gave examples of moments like x amount of time since graduation, x amount of time since we were married, x amount of time since my children were born, etc. I remained silent, but in my head I whispered to myself; four years and ten months since our daughter died.
I whispered this in my heard for several reasons. One, the more time that goes by people seem to know your answers to questions like these before you speak them. They already know you’re the lady whose daughter died. Furthermore, they don’t like to be reminded about it. Second, it’s also so solemn that I wind up not wanting to bring down the group, so-to-speak. And third, I worry that when I speak these things aloud people will think I’m looking for sympathy, which I am not. You learn over time, that outsiders don’t understand your loss or grief and you tend to keep it closer and closer to heart.
Our society does not want to grief to be something brought out of the shadows that they have to face. They’re much more comfortable knowing, somewhere in the recesses of their mind that although it does exist, for others, they do not what to come any closer to its unpleasantness.
Milestones of any kind for those who’ve experienced a loss can be overwhelmingly emotional. The holidays tend to amplify these for many people. We developed our own new traditions to incorporate Miss Elliott’s memory into our holiday routines. Things that made us feel happy and were right for our family. A way to honor the fact that we are still very much a family of four, even if Miss Elliott isn’t physically present with us.
One of these new traditions was to set up our Miss Elliott Tree. A little white tree, lit with white lights, covered in pink and purple ornaments. Miss Elliott’s favorite color was pink. Thought she would eventually become blind, lose her mental and cognitive abilities, and never spoke a single word due to being born with Tay-Sachs disease we knew it was her favorite because her older sister, Skylar, five or six years old at the time assigned it to her.
For the last four Christmases we’ve made a point to purchase new ornaments for the tree each year, and Skylar has even taken to setting it up in her room. We would carefully unwrap each of these special decorations and hang them thinking about how they represented Miss Elliott and her memory.
This year, after Thanksgiving we finished up our traditional tree in the living room, a tree trimmed entirely by Skylar for the first time this year.
“Let me do it. I think I know where you want the ornaments and how you like them,” she told me.
Now in seventh grade and on the verge of teenagehood Skylar has watched me carefully place each of the perfectly color coordinated and themed ornaments over the years and wanted to try her hand – on her own. I agreed, and she did so with perfect execution. It’s wondrous watching her grow and evolve into her own autonomous being. A touch of myself, a touch of Loren, and wholly her own person.
“What about the Miss Elliott tree,” she asked?
“You know, I just wasn’t going to put it up this year,” told her.
“Oh. Are you just done with it, then?”
“I think I am. How do you feel about that?”
“I feel done with it too.”
We told Loren about our decision, and he agreed. That was that. None of us felt the need or desire to set up the tree any longer. It had served its purpose for us during those first few difficult years after losing Miss Elliott. I don’t really see it as any sort of advancement through grief with this fifth impending Christmas since her passing. I don’t like that kind of terminology because it denotes that one day we will stop grieving her loss. As if grief over losing your child were something to move past. That there is some sort of end point to it. Rather, like most things our ideas and feelings about it have changed over time, and continue to evolve year after year.
Miss Elliott still holds the same place within our hearts that she has since she was conceived. And her memory is still cradled just as softly there as when she passed. We honor her life in so many ways, but we no longer felt beholden to this tradition to do so. The little white tree decked out in pink and purple isn’t something I needed to utilize in order to celebrate anymore, and that’s ok. I still continue to hang four stockings over the fireplace. To me, it’s a reminder that we are, and always will be a family of four. I cherish this thought and it makes me happy when I look up and see the four of them hanging there together. In a very small way, it gives me a sense of peace.
If you are grieving a loss this year I hope that wherever you are on your journey you find traditions that are right for you and your family. Ones that help you have a little peace in your heart and add joy to your holidays. Whether that mean keeping up time honored traditions, putting them to rest, or discovering new ones altogether; there are no wrong ways to celebrate your loved one.