Growing up in Canada, Christmas was so important to me, but for the 2010 Holiday Season all I wanted was to sleep it away or escape it somehow. The pressure of the Holidays began to build early because in November we received news. After waiting three months for Amiya’s autopsy results, we found out that it was a virus and co-sleeping that had caused my sweet baby girl to pass away at only nine weeks and five days old.
As Christmas drew closer, I wanted to forget it was part of my upbringing or that I once upon a time loved this holiday. In years past, Christmas was so important to me: The rituals, the tree, the turkey, family gatherings, fun and festivities. But my grief wouldn’t allow me to want to participate in any of these events that year.
I was scared of what I was feeling. I was scared of saying the wrong thing because I was grieving. Besides no one knew how I was feeling, nor did I want them to know. I was also angry because no one around me knew what it was like to ‘pretend’ to go on even though I really didn’t feel like it. Initially I thought I could push through all the emotion for the sake of Christmas. I was trying to overcome the anxiety of participating in a Christmas with family who, I assumed, wanted Christmas to be as it was in the previous years. I admit that this was my assumption given how young all the kids were at the time.
The thought of having to participate in Christmas with family made me sick to my stomach. Usually, I was delegated turkey duty. I make a “mean turkey” and I was always the one who got the siblings together and planned out our Christmas events. But in 2010, I just couldn’t do it, not even for my living son. I was in physical pain and heartbroken.
After months of sitting on the couch for six hours doing nothing, not showering, not eating, nor responding to friends or family, I would pick up my three year old son from daycare, and he would come out and present me with a holiday ornament or gift. It hurt, but how could I get mad? Besides, I felt like he was all I had left.
As December approached, I became more anxious, more withdrawn. I became frustrated that I wasn’t being invited to holiday functions, even though it was unlikely we would have gone. I wanted to have the choice whether to accept or decline events. Eventually, I told my husband that I just couldn’t be around family for Christmas and, pretending I was okay for the sake of family, I suggested we leave for Christmas and be on a beach somewhere - anywhere except home. He didn’t pause to think about it, he just said to go ahead and book a trip to wherever I wanted to go.
I had heard how beautiful Punta Cana, Dominican Republic was and lucky for me I was able to get the last package deal out of Calgary despite our late booking. Within 24 hours of deciding to go, we were booked to leave Calgary for Christmas and I felt great relief.
When we told our families, we were going away for Christmas, I think they also felt relieved, not for them, but for us that we were getting away. They felt it was a step in the right direction for us.
As our departure date approached, I started feeling less anxious about Christmas and I started to feel excited about our trip. But then the guilt started setting in. How can we be leaving without Amiya on this family vacation? I slowly fell apart again because the guilt started to take over. My husband would try to console me by telling me she would want us to go, but I struggled to let it go.
The day we arrived in Punta Cana, it was everything we imagined and more: The crystal blue water, white sand beaches and the hospitality of the hotel and staff was extraordinary. As we quickly settled in and headed to the beach, I was calm. The guilt was not as stifling once we were there. I would lay on the beach all day and just look out at the ocean, wondering what happened? Where is my baby girl? How do we go on? Can we stay here forever and not go back to reality?
Christmas morning, I woke up early and went to the beach while my husband and son slept. I eased myself into the ocean and just took it all in for what it was. I felt relieved it was just the three of us in Punta Cana. No one knew our story. I didn’t have to deal with the sorrow and sadness others felt for us. I was grateful to escape the horrible reality to some extent even though it was still with us. It just felt a little bit easier to bare the holiday.
When I got back to the room, I pulled out my son’s Christmas presents. (I had decided to buy presents for him because at age three Christmas is about the presents and I still wanted him to believe that Santa would find him no matter where he was in the world.) When he woke up, he saw Santa had visited the night before. He was so excited! The resort hosted an amazing Christmas-themed events plus Santa was on hand with more presents for the kids. Christmas dinner at the resort was amazing; they went all out for their guests. In a way, it was the perfect Christmas day given what our reality.
As I reflect upon that Christmas six years ago, my raw pain, and feeling disconnected from everyone, I am grateful for that trip. It allowed me to escape for a time and I needed it. It allowed me to sit in the sand, cry in the ocean, honour my husband and cherish my son on December 25, 2010 in my own way, without the pressure and expectations of others or what used to be.
Regardless of I where am, I know my grief is always with me. But being amongst strangers and not having to retell our story during Christmas when we were so raw helped us escape and gave us break from the pain.
If you are thinking of going away this Christmas, it may be just what you need. It was for me. However, other moms have chosen different ways to traverse the Season. Make decisions that are best for YOU and trust yourself to make the right choice.
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