Dear Colette,

Christmas this year was the toughest one since you left us. This year, imagining what it would have been like with you as a three-and-a-half-year-old, who I sense had my sassiness and your dad’s silliness, hurt. This likely would have been the first year that you would have understood what Christmas really was and that you would have written letters to Santa, been super on top of leaving out his cookies and milk, all while asking the tough questions as to how it is that Santa delivers all those toys in one night. I imagine you being so excited after Christmas Eve at grandma’s, begging to play with all of your new toys and yet knowing you had to go to sleep for tomorrow’s celebrations. I can picture you bouncing up and down in anticipation and passing out from the sheer exhaustion of it all.

I can imagine you appearing at our bed Christmas morning, jumping into it and staring at us until one of us woke up or jumping up and down screaming, “It’s Christmas!”

santa sacks with the names Colette and Elliott - A letter to my child who is not here at the holidays

Author’s Personal Collection/Michelle Valiukenas

I imagine your little brother looking at you wide-eyed as he struggled to figure out what was going on and why you were so excited. I have images of you racing down the stairs to find that Santa did come and ripping open presents, some yours and some your brother’s just because you love the process of ripping off the wrapping paper and revealing what is inside. I can see you yelling things like, “awesome,” “cool,” or whatever else was THE word to say that your non-cool (although I swear we used to be cool) parents would not totally understand. I imagine Elliott spending most of his time trying to understand what his awesome big sister was doing, trying to get your attention, trying to send the signals that can only be sent between siblings to say bring me up to speed, why is this so exciting.

I can see you finishing Santa’s gifts and moving on to the ones from your dad and me, perhaps counting the number of presents you have and comparing them to the number your brother has, hoping and wishing that the next present is THE ONE, whatever that one thing you want above everything else. As you open the presents, I can imagine your face of joy and even that half-second disappointment that this one is not the one, but then the anticipation that the next one is. I see you standing in a pile of wrapping paper and tape, a pile that your dad is trying and failing to keep up with, shoving the discarded remnants into a garbage bag.

And then the opening of THE ONE, that one present that you wanted above all else.

And that look of pure joy, excitement, pleasure on your face, the face that screams, I did it, I said what I wanted, I advocated for myself, and I was heard, and I GOT IT! I imagine you catapulting into my arms, into your dad’s arms, screaming and shouting, jumping around, perhaps even to the point where your brother gets scared from all the commotion.

I can visualize the living room, as we sit around by the tree, in a daze of activity and wrapping paper and sheer joy before whisking you guys out to give dad the chance to clean up and to feed you guys breakfast. I can visualize hot chocolate being drunk and you talking a mile a minute about everything you got as my mom and dad arrive, as your Aunt Laura and Uncle Charlie come in with bags and boxes of even more gifts for you. Just as I have heard my nieces and nephews talk about their presents, I can see you jumping around searching for that willing ear who is going to listen to every detail of what you got, what you are going to do with it, and everything else that your excited self wants to share.

I imagine us sitting down to breakfast, to our traditional Christmas morning bagels, a tradition that existed before I was born and that has continued every year, without fail.  I imagine that whoever got the bagels this year will have stories to tell about the lines, has managed a few freshly baked, still warm bagels that you and your brother will get first dibs on.  I imagine that even if you were the very best eater, you are probably too excited to eat and I have to tell you a few times to stop and eat.

But, alas, that was the Christmas morning in my head, a great daydream, but not what happened.

We had a good Christmas, but when you visualize what life should have been like, what it should have looked like with you, it is hard to not hate the reality of a Christmas without you. Yes, we had presents, we had an excited kid who was bouncy and then passed out from exhaustion, we had our Christmas morning bagels, and all the rest, but without an older kid, one who understood exactly what was going on, it felt lacking and it made me miss you more than I do every other day of the year. And kiddo, man, do I miss you every day.

One of my biggest comforts is that the man who truly taught me to love Christmas was my grandfather, who turned into the biggest kid as soon as Thanksgiving came around and stayed that way until January 6, is up there with you. I hope that your great-grandfather or Buebi, as I called him, did all of those things for you and more, that he gave you tons of presents, played Christmas music sung by the greats like Nat King Cole, decorated beautifully, and that he loved you in only the way he could. Tell him that Christmas has come close, but has never been the same since he left us.

I hope that you were surrounded by your family in heaven: your other great-grandparents, your grandfather Al, who I never met, but who I am assured by everyone who knew him, is spoiling you, your Aunt Martha, my great-grandmother Cusa, who if you’re eating her bread, well, I am jealous! I hope that all of your other friends in heaven, the ones who have brought their moms and dads and your dad and I together, played and talked and ate and partied. And I hope you thought of us and looked down on us and saw all that we do to still remember you here, that you saw your little brother who is not quite at what I imagine is your speed, whether in talking or moving, but who is growing so quickly in front of us.

But, above all, my precious girl, I hope that you had an amazing Christmas and I hope you felt so loved.

Because that is what Christmas is about—being surrounded by those you love and who love you. And I know I felt it and I hope you did too.

Love you always and forever,


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