My girls and I spent several hours this weekend working on Christmas cookies to give to our new cul-de-sac neighbors. I confess it was fun the first hour or two; and then….so. much. mess. The flour everywhere. The pans and bowls piled. The sprinkles. THE SPRINKLES!!! Let’s just say I was a little more Grinch than Santa by the end.
But it was nice to awaken a tradition I began with the girls when they were just toddlers. The previous two years we haven’t done it. I remember a neighbor giving me some Christmas tins the Christmas season after Elliot died. “For your Christmas cookies this year,” she stated. It was a nice gesture, but there were no Christmas cookies that year. It felt like a daily miracle just to keep my heart beating, and I felt nothing holly nor jolly about the season. It was a nightmare, to be honest, to try to pretend through a holiday designed to celebrate and spoil kids. I don’t think I had yet emerged from the traumatic shock of the fact that my beautiful son’s body was buried in a cold cemetery, rather than his hard-fought-for life filling our family with warm contentment.
Christmas 2018 was easier, but it would be a stretch to say I enjoyed it. I tolerated it. We donated gifts to a little boy Elliot’s age, and saw how much it meant to his mother. We had our foster son and, in a way, it felt like I could pour some of my aimless love for Elliot out on him. My beautiful nephew, who is just 8 months younger than Elliot would be, was with us for his first Christmas and he also will always be a special recipient of the outpouring of my love for Elliot. But it still felt like a bad dream. The sweet excitement of my daughters, foster son, and nephew also hammered into my heart: someone’s missing, someone’s missing, someone is MISSING.
And this year, Christmas 2019, I was able to make Christmas cookies. It’s a symbolic step toward joy in this season that is supposed to be joyful. Being in a new house has helped press a reset button in the areas my brain and heart have endured trauma. I’ve felt enjoyment of things return: going for a run, enjoying nature, singing. For probably two years I couldn’t do those things; grief and trauma had taken them out of me. Grief and trauma also took enjoyment of Christmas out of me, but I can feel a sparkle of it returning.
Jesus coming to earth as a baby has a deeper symbolism for me than it once did. It’s so sweet to think about and sing about, but really, the human race has not usually valued babies and children well. We know how children were historically treated as less-than people (Charles Dickens can tell you!). Anyone who will brave the reality of modern-day abuse, neglect, and abandonment of children can see this is still, unfortunately, how children are regarded too often. The culture of abortion cannot defend itself; it has declared babies literally disposable.
So the fact Jesus came as a baby, who most reasonable people would value and protect, but who the evil in our hearts would despise, is profound. God could’ve put on flesh any way he wanted; he could’ve made an already-grown guy like Adam. But he made himself a baby. This causes me assume that the Baby Jesus was not just prized and treasured because he was the Messiah; he was prized and treasured also because he was a baby. It was that little baby who caused the sky to gleam with heavenly host. It was that little baby whose Christmas star led foreigners on their adventure of worship. It was that little baby who had nothing but gave us everything.
If you are not in “the club” of infant loss, I am, first of all, very glad. I hope you never will be. But after years in this club, hearing from moms and dads, embracing them in their tears, hearing the names of their babies, practically being able to see the broken hearts they wear each day, I am convinced we still do not value these little ones as well as we should. We sing about Baby Jesus, we send Christmas cards with nativity scenes, we who love Christ claim this is what Christmas is really about.
But parents who’ve lost babies remain wondering in a fog, uncertain how to continue remembering, celebrating, and including their babies who have died. It feels as if every person in our circle of faith, family, and friends has moved on and expects us to move on, too. We know this is not necessarily true, but it can feel that way. Yes, our babies died. Jesus died, yet we celebrate him as a baby every year. Would it not be a beautiful expression of our understanding of the value of Baby Jesus to value all babies, especially heaven babies, in the same way? To say their names, place special stockings and ornaments in their honor, to love even more deeply in remembrance of them?
I guess this is a gentle nudge to those of you whose babies have died: keep remembering. Keep honoring. Keep making intentional overtures of including them. I know this time of year brings an icy wave of grief; use it to let your love for your child swell.
And for those of you who support moms and dads whose babies have died: when you remember and celebrate Baby Jesus, remember and celebrate your loved ones’ babies too. I don’t think Jesus will mind. In fact, I think would be a reflection of exactly why He came.
I love the symbolism of the “star” the wise men followed to locate the Child-King Jesus. We don’t really know what that was, though I like all the theories. It doesn’t seem we can see its light anymore. When Jesus came, He was declared the Light; perhaps the Christmas Star was an expression of his very being.
It’s struck me many times since my Elliot died at five days old, that Jesus experienced a five-day span of time which so many people thought would end with triumph and joy but ended in death. He entered Jerusalem to much praise and fanfare on Palm Sunday. And yet, five short days later, on a Friday, he was hanging on a cross. Elliot was born on a Monday, Memorial Day, to the rejoicing of friends and family and strangers who’d been praying for his safe entrance into this world. So much hope and expectation hung in the air. And yet, five short days later, on a Saturday, he was lifeless in my arms.
Please, never ask nor expect Christmas will be the same for me. Or for any mama who has buried her child. Instead, step into the tension between love and loss with her. This is Christ’s heart.
As Jesus was buried in the tomb, hope seemingly gone, we understand now that his Light was still shining. Though it wasn’t visible, perhaps it was the same Light that guided the wise men: the light of the Christmas Star. And, as one of my favorite verses from John states: “The Light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Who could have imagined, let alone comprehended, the mystery of resurrection?
So this Christmas, when the deep appreciation for the life and joy around me mingle with the ache for my missing pieces, I will remember. I will remember Jesus, too, died five days after a seeming world of possibility was just beginning. I will remember a mysterious Star that led strangers to him as a baby. I will remember His resurrection is meant to buoy my often-sinking hope: that the same Light that awoke him will awake Elliot and Avery and Everett and awake us all. It is the Light that causes their spirits to shine in Jesus’ presence even now.
My little boy is buried, and there are days the weight of that fact crushes me. But this Christmas I am intentionally remembering my son along with Mary’s son, and thinking of the Star’s Light which connects them. I wish Elliot’s precious hands were tearing into wrapping paper this year, that his chubby cheeks were dimpled with joy at each new toy. I won’t give in to forgetting; I will remember who he is and who he should be and who he will be. Because he is not buried forever. He is buried under a Christmas star, under the Light that overcame death, and that forces my heart to have hope, if only a shred. I can’t see this star’s light the way the wise men could see it. But perhaps that makes it more real, because “What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) The light of this unseen star guides me and places Elliot in my mind’s eye as Christmas festivities unfold.
As the Father boldly declared his love for an infant in a manger 2,000 years ago, He declares it for my Elliot this Christmas, and for me, and for all of us who are, to Him, beloved children wrapped safely in His love.