They sorted through the bags looking for the tags, checking the numbers. This year they can read the numbers on our Advent calendar themselves.
22 . . . 19 . . . 18 . . .12 . . .9 . . . 11 . . . 8 . . . 6
Even before the book is out of the cloth bag, jolly with gingerbread men, they start exclaiming, the little one peering over the big one’s shoulder.
“Oh, I LOVE that book!”
“Me too! I luv it”
And then “Can we read it now?”
I sit on the couch and snuggle in on either side of me, a red head resting on one side, the a blond one on the other. I melt into that middle.
“On Christmas eve, many years ago,” I begin.
My big girl half shivers next to me, anticipating the rest of the story, and leans in a little closer. I smile and keep reading.
I heard the bell for many years, but then nothing. I worried that I’d never hear it again, that Christmas would be quiet and dim in our house.
Even though this month is still full of shadows, light has returned—the gentle glow of the Christmas tree, the warming light of the fire, the dancing excitement in my girls’ eyes.
They run around the house sometimes singing “Jingle Bells” and shaking the bracelets they made with tiny bells pipe cleaners. It’s a tinny sound, but in that enthusiasm, I can almost hear the richer, magical tones of that other bell.
When I’m done reading, we sit for a minute in the warmth and light and quiet before, I prompt them, “Time to get ready.”
The sky, and with it the room, has brightened. The bus will be here soon. In the bright kitchen, I stir oatmeal and call out to the girls to get dressed, but throughout the day there is that moment of peace and warm light and maybe a little magic.
Do you hear the bell at Christmas?
In the comments, share something that gives you comfort or joy this time of year.
Three kids went home sick from my daughter’s class yesterday. One threw up at school. I’m obsessively washing my hands, reminding the kids to wash theirs, and trying to remember not to eat scraps off their plate.
Still, this morning, my stomach felt off. I don’t know if I’m on the verge of something or if I’m just fearful of getting a stomach bug.
I’ve been thinking about fear and the trepidation with which I approach December every year, and wondering if some of that is just habit.
December pulls me hard between dark and light, joy and sorrow, birth and death. All year I hold these things together, but in December, the tension is strong.
Next week I will celebrate my older daughter’s birthday. A few days later, her little sister will blow out her own candles.
And on the 17th, we mark the day Henry died.
I still feel trepidation when this month rolls around. My body tenses as we move into December, wrapping tighter as we move closer to that day.I feel the pressure of birthdays and holidays on either side of Henry’s day. I feel that weight sinking in the center between them.
I have slowly reclaimed this month. I moved from having no tree to putting up a mini tree to telling my girls the stories of the ornaments as we hang them together on a big tree. I’ve slowly reintroduced traditions like baking cookies and making ornaments. I’ve added new traditions like our Christmas story advent calendar.
Along the way, I’ve found light again and joy. My girls have helped a lot with that, their enthusiasm and excitement lighting my way. I want to follow their light, bask in it’s glow.
I want to let go of the trepidation this month brings.The weight, the darkness, the sorrow may come—surely will—but I don’t want to give it extra time.
The past few Decembers have been about building—adding in traditions and celebrations. This year, I want to start to let go of anxiety and anticipation, so even more light can come in.
What can you let go of this December? What can you make room for?
Maybe you’ll let go of a tradition you never liked or an event you grumble about every year to make room for a new tradition that brings you peace or joy.
Maybe you’ll let go of getting “perfect” gift and enjoy spending time with loved ones instead.
Maybe you’ll cull your Christmas card list and write a note to a few friends.
Maybe you’ll throw out the to do list and sit by the fire and sip your eggnog.
Not sure? Try journaling about what you love most about the holidays.
Whatever you do, I hope you find more joy and peace and light in this season.
Share in the comments what you want to make room for this month and one thing you can let go of to get there.
The summer after my son died, I got a massage. I was naked on the table ready to begin and Courtney asked me to do a brief visualization before we got started.
“Imagine all your fears and worries and sadness are a bunch of balloons. Put the balloons outside the door. Tie them up. They’ll be right there when you come out, but leave them out there for now.”
I began to cry lightly. I’m not sure why. Was I afraid to let go of the fears and sadness? Was I relieved to put them down for a while? Did it feel that strange to even try to leave them briefly?
I knew grief was a long, convoluted process, but it took me a while to learn that letting go is a multi-step process too.
I let go of my expectations.
I let go of Henry’s spirit and then his body.
I let go of stuff he used and stuff he never did.
I let of the need to remind people that I’m sad and hurting.
And I learned that sometimes letting go is really just loosening your grip a little.
When Courtney is done with the massage, I moved slowly. I felt lighter and looser, but drained. And when we stepped out the door, she was right, my fears and sorrows were right there waiting for me.
I thought how good it would feel to take them outside and let go of the string, watch them float up into the sky away from me. Hard to imagine they float at all. But I held tight to the string, not ready to loosen my grasp, somehow reluctant to release the anxiety fully, afraid of losing the joy and the love that might be tangled up in it.
Since that day, I’ve loosened my grasp, let go of more, found that what I want to hold onto isn’t so easily lost. Still, I see those balloons hovering ahead of me in the darkness of mid-December and I wonder what else I can let go of.
What have you let go of? What would you like to let go of? What stops you?
Like my son Henry, Empty Arms was born in May 2007. Since then Carol McMurrich has expanded the reach and offerings of Empty Arms Bereavement Services. I am so grateful for this organization and Carol’s friendship.
This November, the group’s blog features stories from community members. I believe that telling our stories can help us heal—and can help others too. Certainly the stories of other parents whose baby had died helped me get through the early years of my grief.
Today, I’m sharing a piece of my story—one about an opening somebody made for me to tell about my baby.
What story do you need to tell?
Silence is early morning—rosy gold peeking through gray, snores and shifting bodies upstairs. Silence is no interruption to my thoughts or actions. If the coffee grows cold, it’s my own fault.
I love the silence of early morning that isn’t really silence. The furnace hums (more and more often these days), the coffee maker sputters and drips and hisses, and some days the birds outside are downright raucous.
Is it ever really silent?
The house grows quiet when the power goes off, all the underlying hum we don’t notice until it is gone stops.
A house goes silent, beyond quiet, when somebody has died. Even when the furnace and the coffee pot and the birds keep doing their thing, whether or not the power is on. A silence envelops you. Nothing really fills it. You can turn on music or a TV, talk to people, fill up the house, but still a silence lingers. Even when the person missing is a baby who slept a lot.
It is perhaps an absence of energy, not noise.
I had to learn to love quiet again after my son died, because for a long time I remembered that empty silence. These days, I settle into quiet again, even seek it out, because as much as I love the noise and life and exuberance, I need the quiet too.
Today, I woke to singing in the next room. With the time change they are up before me. I miss my morning quiet, when the silence is broken only by snores and shifting bodies upstairs, the sputter-hiss of the coffee maker and the hum of the heat turning on. We’ll settle into new rhythms, and I’ll sit comfortably in that silence again.
What about you? Do you love silence or are you always trying to fill it?
Usually for Write with Me Wednesday, I share a prompt related to whatever I’ve written.
This week, I was stuck. I was staring at the blank page, wanting to just dig back into my past writing rather than write something new, so I looked for a prompt myself, something to get me started. This one is from Old Friend from Far Away:
Tell me about silence.
Some people waste away when under stress or grieving.
When my son was in the hospital, I ate cookies and candy because I had them, big, heavy restaurant-sized meals. I ate whatever plate or dinner people brought me. It didn’t matter how hungry I was or if it was what I wanted (don’t get me wrong, people brought us good stuff); I just ate.
But after he died, when I was home, I cooked.
I made soups and stews, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, chicken pot pie. I sautéed greens that I got at the farmer’s market. I toasted bread from the bakery, rubbed it with garlic, drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled coarse salt.
Maybe I was trying to satiate a hunger not related to food. Maybe I just needed food from home after not being there for three months. Maybe the rhythm of the kitchen soothed me, kept me busy enough without requiring too much thought or energy.
I cooked and I ate, and although the grocery store was a gauntlet of anxiety—ignore the birthday cakes, don’t go down the baby aisle, hold your breath hoping the cashier won’t ask anything about kids—I shopped for food. I went to farmers markets. I paid more for cheese than I should have. I got a farm share of meat and bought local eggs and honey.
I hadn’t worked for almost seven months and was limping along trying to get my sluggish brain to function enough to get through the projects that fell on my desk. B. was going to quit his job come fall to go back to school. I had no business spending extra money on food, and months later when B. actually did quit his job and I readied for another self-paid maternity leave, I gave up the farm share, started buying conventional eggs more and more, cut back on the cheese.
But still I cooked. Still I ate well, and I still took comfort in food.
These days, I still cook, still like to choose good food, still like to do something with the veggies I bring in from the garden. Though with little ones pouting, “I won’t eat that” without even trying it, some days I want to go on a hunger strike, holding out on making food until they are hungry enough to eat whatever it is.
Last night I made potato leek soup with potatoes and onions and carrot and herbs from our garden. I served it with garlic toast with cheese. We started dinner with two whines, but eventually one ate the soup and one at the grilled cheese (it worked better when we put the toast together and called it that). I sat back and enjoyed both.
It was a chilly day, and soup was comforting and warm as the darkness gathered. Comfort food isn’t just for hard times; sometimes we just need to feel cozy at home.
What’s your favorite comfort food?
Potato Leek Soup
olive oil or butter
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large carrot (or equivalent), chopped in half rounds (or quarters if the carrot is fat)
1 ½ cups chopped leeks* (approximate)
salt and pepper
2 quarts broth **
5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
large splash heavy cream (optional, but recommended)
- Sauté the carrots, celery, and leeks until softened. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Add the broth, potatoes, and herbs. Bring to just a boil and lower the heat. Simmer for a long time until the potatoes start to break down.
- Look at your soup and debate whether to bother puréeing it. Take a taste. Wonder if you should add milk like you usually do. Take a Facebook poll.
- Use an immersion blender to smooth out the soup, leaving some small chunks. Taste again. Add a hefty splash of heavy cream if you have it.
- Serve with garlic toast, cheesy or not, and hope your kids will eat it without too much of a stink.
* I actually used Egyptian walking onions in this version. I included any green parts that looked vibrant. They fade as they cook, but still taste good.
** I used homemade chicken broth this time, because I happened to have it in my fridge and wasn’t in the mood for chicken soup, but I’ve made great soup with canned/boxed chicken or vegetable broth. I went heavier on the salt because I knew my base was lower in sodium.