So I’ve made it through my first Christmas without Benjamin. I would love to be able to write about the endless positives that shone through. I would love to be able to tell you that despite all the sadness I still felt hope and happiness. The truth is that I just felt so desperately sad, the loneliness penetrating my soul like a dagger through the heart.
I hoped so much that Benjamin would be included as part of our family and mentioned by everyone, that he would be incorporated into existing traditions and that new ones would be created just for him, to recognise the uniqueness of his loss. I hoped it would be so but unfortunately it was not. He was not mentioned more than he was. The inevitable Christmas cards without his name served as a cruel reminder of the invisibility of my son and his brief life. Repeated wishes for a “happy” Christmas reinforced my suspicions that the vast majority of people either had no idea how difficult this holiday season would be for me or had simply forgotten that I would be “celebrating” it without my son. Pictures of carefree and happy celebrations showed no sign of a missing piece or for me, what felt like a gaping hole. “Did you have a nice Christmas?” was enquired on more than one occasion. It literally took every ounce of restraint not scream at the top of my voice in response. It just feels so obvious to me – how could I possibly enjoy a day that was supposed to be my son’s first Christmas with him gone? How? Once again I felt very much alone and misunderstood in my grief for my son.
I don’t begrudge people enjoying their Christmas; it simply just hurts when Benjamin is not openly incorporated into the traditions and celebrations. If this is what it is like when he has only been gone 8 months I dread to think what it will be like in 10 years time.
There were of course some lovely messages. People who just said they were thinking of us and of Benjamin. That they knew it would be hard but they loved us and were here for us. This was like a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunshine. A few words of kindness and understanding in a time of darkness can help to lead you back to the light. Acceptance without judgement – the Holy Grail for most bereaved parents.
I knew that in order to survive the day I needed to be in control of what I wanted and do what was right for me. While other people’s kind words can never erase the pain, the wrong words can certainly intensify it. I needed a cocoon, a safe haven, far away from the rest of the world…and that was my beautiful little home in Perth with the love of my life, Benjamin’s Daddy.
I stocked the house full of yummy food and wine with treats galore so we didn’t have to leave if we didn’t want to. Calorie counting and weight watching were thrown out the window. Whatever made me feel good was what I did. I spent Christmas Eve installing our new green wall with hubby. Anything to keep me busy and prevent my mind from wandering to dark places. By the time we were finished I was exhausted. The 10 hours of gardening had succeeded in temporarily distracting me from the sadness of what should have been.
When Christmas morning arrived it was met with tears. Crying these days has mostly been reserved for silent tears, creeping down my cheeks as naturally as a smile flashing across someone’s face. This was different. Before I knew it I was fully sobbing. The realisation of our new life and future without Benjamin hit me like a freight train. This was only the first of many Christmases to come without him. No matter what, our Christmas will never be complete again.
I soon realised that the day was going to be much more intense than I had anticipated. We locked ourselves in the house and didn’t leave. I put my phone upstairs and on silent and succumbed to the inevitability of the day. It was just my hubby and I with no pressure, no plans, just each other. United in our grief and in our love, we just allowed each other to be.
The morning after the relief was palpable. I hadn’t realised it but I had been holding my breath for weeks. Looking back now I think I was scared to face the onslaught of emotions that I knew would come with Christmas without him. I had gotten used to the day-to-day pain of living without him and the thought of having to go back to that very dark place of intense grief again was intimidating. People say that the thought of it can be worse than the day itself but for me the emotions were stronger than I thought they would be. Now that I am on the other side I realise that this is just another step that I needed to take. I needed to face the pain head on and accept it as part of my journey. This agonising pain is the representation of my love for Benjamin. With great love comes great loss. I would never change that love and therefore I must learn to live with the loss.