Christmas for two

For the first time in my 31 years, I’m having Christmas for two. I won’t be at the extended family lunch at the holiday house, and I won’t be joining my parents for dinner. I won’t be visiting any of Jason’s family and I won’t be spending it with friends. I won’t have Christmas morning with my step-children and I won’t wake up to presents and craziness. This Christmas is Jason and me. And Carlin.

It’s hard to articulate what exactly it is about Christmas that makes me want to pretend that I’m not home. I know this time of year is about family, children laughing, loved ones getting together, and I don’t feel like any of those things. I know that I had imagined this Christmas with a baby in my arms. But none of that seems to describe it. That isn’t enough to explain this longing feeling; someone is missing. That someone will always be missing. They will never leave out carrots for reindeer or write to Santa. They will never wake us with bursting excitement to open presents. They will never spend holidays playing with their cousins, jump at New Year fireworks or learn to swim in the sea. Carlin.

All week I’ve had Christmas carols blaring and my heart is torn. They are my favourite part of Christmas and I love them. But they sing of babies being born, children playing, everyone coming together, and it’s hard. When you go out people ask what you’re doing for Christmas, and “My baby died so probably nothing” is a conversation killer. There are signs telling you to have ‘happy holidays’ and to ‘enjoy the holiday season’. But what if that’s not where I’m at. There’s an immense pressure to conform to the joyful, grateful, big expectations of Christmas. But I’m here, with Carlin.

So we made a decision. We let everyone know that this year we weren’t up to socialising. The smiling and the laughing on cue were too hard. The answering of questions and the chit chat, and the playing with other people’s children, were tasks we simply didn’t have energy for. We went ahead and sent the kids to their mother’s as planned, even though we know it may feel empty in the morning, and bought some groceries so we won’t have to leave the house for days. And then we found ourselves lying in bed, daydreaming about this Christmas, and Carlin.

This may be the only Christmas that we share as just the two (three) of us. Every year prior has involved Jason’s children, and the future may combine them with another baby of our own. This is special. This is to be treasured. Christmas is about making memories and being with the ones you love and this year is no different. There is no one I love more than Jason, no place I would rather be than our home, and nothing that I would rather be eating or drinking than the Tofurkey roast that I have to remember to defrost today and that one cider that will have me giggling in my chair. It’s forecast to be 37 degrees and our house has already succumb to the heat wave. Perhaps we’ll spend Christmas in our underwear. Jason may be persuaded to sing my all time favourite carols with me and I’ll likely be found dancing with the dogs while I build the chocolate creation requested for dessert. We’ll be able to laugh and play and cry, as we will be able to be how we are and feel how we feel. For that day, that very special day, it will be me, Jason, and Carlin. And I suspect, that despite the year that has been and the challenges that are to come, it will actually be a very, merry, Christmas.

A space well spent

I now need space to myself in a way that I never had before. Space away from other people, and with only one dog (rather than the usual three). I feel crowded, hounded, overwhelmed. I can’t remember who told me that the space had already been made for me and my new baby to enjoy together. Maybe. The space could be the timeout required by any new parent. Maybe. The space might simply be my body needing rejuvenation, healing, recovery. Maybe. Whatever the explanation, it’s compelling. It is a need not a want. And hard to negotiate with.

So I take myself back to bed in the early afternoon and crawl under the covers. The first dog to notice stays on my side of the door. And I realise how tired I am. How exhausted. How heavy. How the familiar lump in my throat is starting to ache and my eyes are beginning to sting. How I no longer care about the list of very important things to do today, and have no energy for time. I have tapped out.

I listen to the dog’s rhythmic snore and wish I could sleep like him; easily, frequently, without fear. I watch his nostrils flare and ears twitch as he effortlessly enters a dream. It’s so much easier when you’re sleeping. I’m tired of crying, of the effort it takes to fight back the tears that come without warning. I scrunch the doona in my hand and tuck the other under my pillow. Within minutes I am lucky enough to be dreaming too.

When I awake I’m sleep hungover. Too hot, dazed and disorientated. I roll and come nose to nose with a dog. He’s holding my hand. He’s been here all afternoon. I smile, and consciously remind myself that today was a day well spent. I am not depressed, I’m grieving, and grief is hard work. It wears you out, it pushes you to your limits. I know that it’s important to take the time out when I need it, to listen to my body, my heart, my soul. Seven months on and I’m still learning how to listen. How to provide this new space. How to be okay with sitting still or lying down in the middle of the day. And perhaps the biggest challenge, how to not feel guilty or weak for doing so. I squeeze his paw and he opens his eyes, eyes filled with love and comfort and peace. To him this afternoon was quite the luxury, a perspective I would like to keep.

Because everything happens for a reason.

When your baby dies your ears soon ring with everything happens for a reason. Does it? Does everything happen for what that suggests to be a good and important reason? Do babies die for a reason? Do we have to make heart breaking decisions for a reason? Are we destroyed by grief for a reason? From the outside looking in, many easily and confidently assure you that yes, absolutely, there is always a reason, perhaps it’s even part of a bigger plan. But what if I don’t agree with this plan? Where was my say in all of this? Whose reason? And what exactly is it? Because it better be bloody good. Like, saving the universe level of good. Not, ‘Oh you’ll be so much stronger after this.’ Or, ‘This will help you to appreciate what you have!’ F that. No thanks, not what I signed up for, refund me please!

One of the hardest parts of this expression is that you’re supposed to accept that there is a reason, that it’s a good one, and that you don’t need to ask any further questions. That works really well if you win the lotto, or get that amazing promotion that you’re not entirely sure you should have received. In times like those it’s easy to accept that everything happens for a reason and cash the cheque or sign on the dotted line without question. It’s a great way to tell yourself that as everything happens for a reason, it is out of your control and this good thing has been awarded to you because you deserve it.

But what happens when it’s not the lotto. What happens when it’s something awful, something terrible, something devastating. What happens when it’s just as great a shock but rather than lifting you into the clouds it knocks you to the ground and pins you down. Is there still a good reason? This expression is about providing comfort, faith in a greater plan that you just might not know about yet, a movement of responsibility to a higher power. But sometimes you can not even comprehend a world where this pain, this injustice, this grief, could actually be someone’s intention. Sometimes you would rather die than be part of the plan.

Knowing what I now know, I’m reluctant to ever say that anything happens for a reason. Unless it’s my reason and I made it happen. However, in an attempt to find the comfort and faith that that saying attempts to bring, in our home we believe that everyone is on a journey and that something can be learnt from everyone we meet. But that’s the same thing! No, it’s not. Rather than chess pieces in someone’s game, we are like a gang of meerkats or parade of elephants. We are social beings who work together and live in a community where we are all connected. Our lives overlap, our experiences are shared, and as humans we continuously cross paths with new souls. And old souls. And middle aged souls.

So what does this mean for my baby who died? Well if you ask his Dad he still says, “I think that Carlin just worked it all out and finished his journey in 37 minutes. Lucky kid!” And what does that mean for us who are yet to ‘work it out’? Carlin’s Mum says, “I think we can try to cherish the time our lives overlapped, and then take that connection, that experience, that moment, and use it to create something beautiful.” So did Carlin die for a reason? Beyond genetics and biology, no. But has his life had purpose and contribution? Absolutely. Carlin has planted an acorn deep within, his roots are spreading far and wide, and it is growing with heart and soul in every breath, every smile, every new soul we cross.

Who killed the creativity?

Returning to work and play after loss is difficult at the best of times. But if they are also your creative outlet, or they require you to be creative to perform, then returning to work or play becomes even more challenging.

Creativity comes from the heart and the mind. It involves connecting with innovative thinking, challenging yourself to imagine beyond what you have seen or done before, and to express yourself in an outward development of something new. Creativity flows most easily when you are passionate and focused on the task at hand. When the subject excites and motivates you to explore. It flourishes when you have the freedom to step aside and ponder a road block, and then to throw everything you have into its completion.

Grief presents as a competitor against many aspects of creativity. It scars your heart and taints your mind. It prevents you from thinking forward, instead encouraging you to desperately cling to the past. It makes it impossible to concentrate, squanders excitement and motivation, and prompts you to question your lack of passion and enthusiasm. Any pause in structured thought allows heavy, consuming emotions to flood in, leaving you exhausted and unable to give. With no clear boundary, grief creeps in and suffocates creativity.

Ironically, grief in itself is a challenge that creativity is required to help you overcome. You must commit to healing, to growing, to recovering from its wounds. You must find new ways to live, to love, to survive, and explore parts of yourself that have previously been left unnoticed. When grief devours, you are forced to take the time to rest, to connect with the darkness, to view the world around you from a different perspective. In doing so, you are given the tools required to create something truly beautiful. Like a caterpillar encased in a dark cocoon, grief engulfs. The act of emerging from grief as a new version of yourself, is in fact one of immense creativity. The beauty can be found in the colours, the hope, the freedom, but you must not be afraid to spread your new wings and fly.