Christmas is different this year in so many ways. It’s different from how it has always been. It’s different from how it was supposed to be. It’s just different. And it’s hard. So. Freaking. Hard.
Last year on Christmas Eve we shared the news with my parents and sister and brother-in-law that we were expecting. We all went to church Christmas Eve with so much joy and love in our hearts. It was overflowing. We giggled when my sister nudged Scott and I during the children’s impromptu nativity and said, “Hey, Erin! You should go up and play Mary!” and Scott immediately whispered back, “Well, there’s one technicality…” (I’ll leave the rest of his comment to your imagination as it wasn’t particularly church appropriate, making it very difficult for us to contain our laughter.) We were overjoyed. Christmas morning, we shared the news with Scott’s parents and brother and (soon-to-be) sister-in-law. Again, there were tears of joy and so much excitement. Christmas last year was full of joy and anticipation.
Yesterday morning, Scott and I woke up to a Christmas Eve far different from what we imagined after another all-too-silent night. We took it slow and easy in the morning and then headed off to The Garden of Hope and Remembrance at the hospital where Alexander was born. It was the first time we’ve been back there since Alexander’s brick was laid and dedicated back in October. I meant to go visit for Thanksgiving, but didn’t make it over there. We left the house and drove, almost in disbelief, over to Kettering Medical Center. I couldn’t help but flashback to July 5, when we were driving there having just found out that Alexander’s heart was no longer beating. We arrived at the hospital and walked over to the garden, taking a seat on the bench near Alexander’s brick.
As soon as we sat down, it hit me. The slight chill in the air. Seeing the stones from family and friends still laying there on Alexander’s brick from the remembrance ceremony back in October. The fact that this Christmas just isn’t what it was supposed to be. It’s not the Christmas we imagined a year ago when we shared the news with family that we were (finally) expecting our first child. Tears began to well up in my eyes as Scott and I just sat there in silence. It was still and quiet. Nobody else was there in the garden while we were, and we just sat there thinking about our sweet boy and acknowledging that this Christmas just isn’t what it was supposed to be. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t even feel like Christmas.
After about 15 minutes or so, I turned to Scott and said, “Do you want to go get something to eat?” Because how else do you handle overwhelming grief on Christmas Eve? We packed up our blanket and hopped back in the car and drove over to our new favorite breakfast place for a late brunch. We spent the time talking about how we’re both feeling about Christmas this year. About how in a lot of ways we just don’t feel like celebrating. About how even though we both cling to the great hope of the birth of our savior, it is so so hard to celebrate a holiday centered around the birth of a baby when we are grieving the loss of our only son. We talked about feeling just a little guilty over the fact that our days look so much different than they should. We shouldn’t be able to spend hours on hours out doing last minute Christmas shopping with friends, or just picking up and going and traveling, or eating out, or any of the other things that have filled our time over the past five and a half months. We talked about how difficult this Christmas is and how different it is from what we had imagined.
After our late brunch we came home and put on White Christmas while we wrapped the few Christmas presents that we did buy this year. A few things for special friends and immediate family. It didn’t take too long because there wasn’t too much. White Christmas is our Christmas Eve Day tradition, but we didn’t even finish the movie. It just doesn’t feel right to do the things we have always done. So, when we finished wrapping up gifts, we got in the hot tub. Because Christmas Eve in the hot tub feels like the best we can do.
We spent the rest of our Christmas Eve with our dear friends the SC family. We went to church, enjoyed a dinner out, and then went back to their house to exchange some gifts. Their presence has been the best gift to us over the past few months, but especially last night. In an excruciatingly difficult season, they have given us the space and freedom to just be exactly where we are on the good days, the bad days, and all the in between days.
As we lit candles in church and sang Silent Night I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by emotion. Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Our nights are all too silent these days. I can’t imagine that the night of Jesus’ birth was silent–because newborn babies aren’t silent. Even the singing of Silent Night at the 5:00pm Christmas Eve service was anything but silent as I was keenly aware of the sounds of so many small children and babies filling the sanctuary. Yet each year we gather, light candles, and sing of a silent night. Let me just tell you from my experience that the silent nights are excruciating when they should be anything but silent.
Over the past several years, it has been our tradition to take family photos in front of the trees at church. This year, family photos are just hard. I imagine they will be for a while. I popped onto facebook just for a few minutes this morning as I laid in bed after sleeping in far later than should have been the case, and was immediately overwhelmed. Family photos. Kids opening gifts. Baby’s first Christmas photos. So many reminders of what we won’t ever get with our sweet Alexander.
This day is just so bittersweet. The nights are bittersweet. We are grateful to have family here in Dayton to be with. We are grateful to have family coming in from out of town to spend time with us today and this week. But, oh, how we are missing our boy on this day that should be his first Christmas.