I’m writing to you this year on behalf of my sweet four-year-old daughter Zoe. She wants you to know that she would like a doctor’s kit, a stuffed giraffe, and a Frozen princess dress for Christmas. Zoe has been very good this year. She wanted me to make sure that I told you that AND that she has been especially nice to her two-year- old little brother, who would like a Bob the Builder tool set. But what Zoe REALLY wanted me to ask is for you to remember to fill all the stockings this year, because last year you missed one.
Last Christmas, you left daddy coffee beans, mommy fancy smelling lotion, her little brother pacifiers and you even left her puppy a bone. But Santa, you forgot to fill her big sister Nora’s stocking, and this made Zoe terribly sad. This year Zoe is hoping you could bring something for her sister’s stocking too.
You see, Santa, Zoe is a special child–all children are.
But, Zoe is extra special to me–and not just because she is my baby or that she is kind, caring and obviously sensitive to other’s feelings, like that of her big sister–but, because she was born out of the place where death last lived.
I’m sorry to say, Santa, that Zoe never met her sister Nora, who was born silent and still into our arms on a cold Midwest winter afternoon two days before the New Year. I can still remember that holiday season before Nora’s stillbirth when I hung her expectant Santa felt sock in between my husband’s and mine on the mantle. Due the day after Christmas, the birth of our first child was like a coveted Christmas gift I had written on my wish list to you, nine months before.
But the gift of a life for Nora never came.
Her heart stopped in my womb while I slept a few days after our only Christmas together. That’s how my husband and I found ourselves twenty-some-weeks pregnant again with our second child the following Christmas, when it felt like bells should have been ringing the sad, sad news that our baby was gone and we couldn’t be with the one we loved.
That December I didn’t dare situate a new sock between my husband’s and mine on the mantle for the baby growing in my belly as I had done the year before, having learned the hard way that a positive pregnancy test was not a promise. But I still hung Nora’s empty Santa stocking on the chimney with care in remembrance of my first daughter who was once there.
The baby that I carried in my belly during that blue, blue Christmas, when the reds and greens of the season had turned shades of grey in my grief, is now four, Santa. And last year, when Zoe and her little brother came down the steps on Christmas morning and she saw her big sister’s stocking was empty while the others were full, she turned to me tearfully and asked,
“Why didn’t Santa put something in Nora’s stocking too?”
Stunned and unable to answer, I stood there at 5:00 AM with wide eyes and my mouth agape. This was not the first thing I thought my babies would notice amongst the piles of presents under the tree. I wasn’t sure what to say, Santa, as I couldn’t tell her that mommy had a huge parenting fail and forgot to include Nora in her wish list to you. And, I don’t want to tell her that dead siblings don’t need presents. Because for us, the living, maybe they sometimes do.
So this year, Santa, Zoe is making it a point for us to write to you and ask if you could please remember to leave a gift for Nora in her stocking too. It doesn’t have to be much. I know what I would give my almost six-year-old girl, if she were here. It wouldn’t fit in a sock. Instead, placed next to it would be her first big kid bike adorned with a bright red bow. But since she is gone, just something small will do. An ornament for the tree or a bag of bird seed should suffice, as birds remind us of Nora. Just something to show Zoe that her big sister, Nora, was once here.
Thank you for taking the time to read our letter Santa. We know you are very busy this time of year.
Oh, one more thing.
If another grieving little girl who is missing one of her siblings ever sits on your lap and asks for you to bring joy back to her and her family’s broken hearts for Christmas, I want you to tell her our story. Tell her that it’s been almost five years since that first Christmas without Nora, and I find myself smiling at the scene on the floor below the five stockings instead of three now hung by the fireplace.
Because, this past year there was an almost two-year-old boy feeding his holiday sweets to his Shih-Tzu in front of a roaring fire on Christmas morning while a three-year-old little girl wearing a red fur hat trimmed in white unwrapped her gobs of gifts next to a single stocking that had her missing sister’s name on it. You see, Santa, you can tell this grief-stricken girl, that there is still sorrow, still grief and pain, and we are happy once again.
Nora & Zoe’s Mom
(and their little bro’s too)
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Lindsey Henke read this piece at Listen To Your Mother Twin Cities Holiday Alumni Show, December 4th and 5th, 2019.