We struggled and debated for three years after Lindsay died. Should we keep them the same? Should we add a few? Delete a few? Create some new ones? One question we particularly struggled with was the idea of hanging stockings - we didn't hang any the first three years. Our other children were babies and therefore knew nothing of stockings and the treats they are supposed to hold on Christmas morning. So it was easy for us to ignore them a few years.
That changed the third Christmas when Melissa, then four years old, asked why her friends found stockings on Christmas morning, and she didn't. So I bought a couple of kits and made them each a personalized stocking. But seeing the two stockings on Christmas morning, and none for Lindsay, was very sad for me. I made a deal with myself that we would never again celebrate Christmas without a stocking for Lindsay too.
So the next Christmas, I made another personalized stocking. It brought me comfort to think of it hanging in its proper place between Melissa's and Katie Rose's. I felt I was finally coming to some sort of peace about Lindsay's death, and while we had struggled a few years about what we should and shouldn't do, one thing I was sure of: as long as the things we did in her memory did not hurt ourselves or anyone else, then it is okay for us to do them.
That Christmas, we hung the special ornaments we have collected for our children, set the nativity up in its usual place of honor, and hung the three stockings on the mantel. The house was dark, lit only by candlelight and the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, a true cedar. We stayed up late on Christmas Eve frantically assembling the bicycles, trikes and dollhouses, filling the stockings, wrapping the last-minute gifts, and then fell into a deep slumber.
The next morning the girls tiptoed into our room and Melissa put a hand on my back and urgently whispered, "Mom, Mom, wake up! I have to show you something."
Assuming she was going to exclaim over her beautiful, shiny blue bike parked in the living room, I woke Phil to join in the celebration. Together we walked into the living room and my eyes were immediately drawn, not to the bike, but to the three stockings on the mantle.
"Don't you see, Mom?" Melissa said tearfully, pointing to the three stockings. "Santa forgot to put anything in Lindsay's stocking!"
And Lindsay's stocking looked so forlorn and empty hanging there between the other two, which were bulging with prizes and treats and goodies.
"Do you think Santa sneaked in our rooms to see who was here?" she asked.
I was softly weeping now. It was MY fault that Lindsay's stocking looked so starkly different from the others, not Santa's. I was the one who bought the treats and filled them, but I did not think about putting anything in the middle stocking. I thought simply having it there was enough.
As I sat down in the rocking chair, hugging a new Winnie-the-Pooh, Phil took the stockings down and handed them to the girls who were by now, sitting on the floor, eagerly waiting for them. I was lost in my thoughts and grief, blaming myself for this incredible blunder, when Melissa, very matter-of-factly dumped the contents of her stocking into my lap and said, "Here, Mom. Lindsay can just have some of mine." And Katie Rose, who was almost three, gave me an apple and a Cherry Merry Muffin doll. "These are for Lindsay too," she said.
If this is your first (second or fifth or tenth) Christmas since your child died, you may be struggling with what you should and shouldn't do. This is normal. We wonder if others will think we're just a little too sentimental to include our dead children in family celebrations. Or even worse that we are merely angling for sympathy.
I am a relatively quiet person, and it is very hard for me to let those around me know what I need, thus began a cycle of misunderstandings. On the Christmas of 1989, when Lindsay should have been 7-months-old, I KNEW we needed to do certain things in her memory, but for fear of what others might think. I didn't exactly make it clear that was what I was doing. As time went on, and I got a little braver, some began to question my motives: "We didn't do it like this last year! Why must we change this year?"
Of course, we who know understand that we sometimes think we are going to be okay with certain things, only to find this is not so. And we discover that it is okay to try new and different rituals every year until we know exactly what we need. Give yourself permission to do that.
As time moves on, we learn more about ourselves and what we should and shouldn't do at special times of the year. We learn to live with our grief in a different way and we learn what we need to do in order to find a little comfort and peace.
I thought we only needed Lindsay's stocking to be hanging with the others, but I discovered we need it to be filled too. I didn't learn that until the Christmas she should have been 4 ½ years old, and new tradition was created. This year, her stocking will not hang empty.
Lindsay Nicole Gensler was born May 23, 1989 and died on May 25, 1989 from Hypoplastic Left Syndrome. Her mother, Dana, is the former editor of the Pen-Parents HeartSongs newsletter and the author of two poetry books. Visit Lindsay's website and see the beautiful tribute her mother has created for her.
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