I am done with Christmas shopping for my daughter. I sat online and looked for age-appropriate toys for her, selected the ones I thought she would like, did the price evaluations to maximize my budget, and then ordered all of her presents for this year’s holidays.

Stack of holiday presents - Holiday presents are a rollercoaster of emotions when parenting after loss

Adobe Stock/Di Studio

I am now done, having checked that off my holiday shopping list, doing what millions of parents are doing over the next few weeks.

But, mine is a little different. I ordered toys that I will not see, and I chose toys based on what I thought she would like instead of what I heard or observed or saw circled in a catalog or pointed out to me in a store or screamed about when a commercial came on or scrawled in a letter to Santa. Why is that? Because my daughter is dead and those toys I bought her were all bought in her memory for children I do not know but who want a toy this year that their family may not otherwise be able to provide.

We started this tradition of giving age-appropriate toys away in Colette’s memory for our first Christmas after her death. It has morphed and changed, but every year, it is the same playbook—we set a budget, and then I get to work on the actual purchasing. I look for toy drives, nonprofits, those drives that do not get much attention or places that have meaning to us. And then, I look for a variety of toys at whatever age Colette would have been, purchase them, and mark the shopping completed. It does definitely mean a lot that we are still giving back in her name and that I still get to shop for the holidays for her, but the truth is that every year after I finish, I feel depleted.

The emotional toll of doing this is a lot on this loss mama. It brings up not just Colette’s death but what that means as the years go by, everything else that I have lost as a result of losing Colette, and all the feelings about the holiday season.

I am exhausted.

Exhausted that I have to carry this grief with me, exhausted that I have to feel like I am psyching myself up for battle every time I leave the house because I do not know what triggers are out there, what questions or comments I will have to endure, the reminders of a life that looked very different in mind than what it currently is. I am exhausted from hearing the, “Oh, you’re so strong,” “I could never handle that,” and the “I cannot imagine.” I am exhausted from triggers that hit when I least expect them–when I see a blonde girl around the age of five that maybe possibly could look how Colette would today or when I see two sisters and think that is what I thought my kids would look like.

I feel guilty.

Guilty that my rainbow, LL Cool T, gets a different mom, a mom who is broken, who had a part of her die with Colette. I feel guilty that I am mourning not getting to raise a girl when, at the same time, I am so grateful for my boy and love being a boy mom in a way that I never expected. I feel guilty that some part of my body did not do what it was supposed to and caused the circumstances behind Colette’s death. I feel guilty over the fact that my living child will not have all of the joys (and a few of the annoyances) of having a living sibling, that as he grows up and navigates the world, he will not have that older or younger sibling to go back to, to remember childhood, to talk about how crazy their parents were, or in hopefully a long time from now, to navigate aging parents.

I am sad.

Sad that my daughter is not here with me, that I will not get to see her grow up, to develop her personality, to tell me all about her interests, and to be silly and goofy and have fun with. I am sad that I do not have two kids running around here, sad that Elliott will not have a sibling bond like I am grateful to have with my sister, sad that I will not get to parent a girl. I am sad that the vision I had for what my family would look like has been morphed and changed so many times. And, while I am grateful for everything I have, I also mourn what I thought it would look like. I am sad that my circle almost entirely now has at least two living children and that I have now accepted, to the extent that I can, a future of only one living child. I am sad that I celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, other holidays, Tuesdays, Saturdays, and all of it without one of my children. I am sad that I buy gifts for my daughter that I do not get to see her open. I am sad that I will never get to experience a third trimester of pregnancy or labor or what it is like to have a pregnancy that is not interrupted by trauma, grief, and loss.

I am angry.

I am angry that we suffered such losses, from infertility to the pregnancy loss of Sweet Pea not just once but twice to the losses of IUI and IVF procedures that did not work to pregnancy complications that landed me in the hospital to a NICU stay to losing our baby to sacrificing my job, my right as a woman to carry my child to not being able to bring a second baby home. I am angry at the people in my life who dropped me after Colette died, who could not deal with me as a loss mom and so hid away, did not say anything, and essentially ended their relationships with me. I am angry at a world in which people avoid me because no one wants to talk to the woman with the dead kid, let alone me as the woman who talks about her dead kid. I am angry that all of these losses and traumas happened, and yet I still have no answers as to why. I am angry that so many people before me had losses and were told not to talk about them, leaving me feeling so much more alone. I am angry to live in a world where these losses happen, and no one seems to be doing anything about it. I am angry at every single adult growing up who made it seem like having sex would automatically get you pregnant and that pregnancy automatically meant a baby at home.

I am angry, and this one is a tough one to share, I am angry that other people have more than two living children. I do not like admitting this because I want families to have as many children as they want and can handle, but it feels like, wait, why did this not get to be my child? And I know that this is completely an irrational anger because it is not as if someone else having a third child meant that I did not get a second living child, but it is where my grief and emotion go. This irrational anger that is all too real then makes me feel guilty, and I feel like the cycle begins all over again.

Most of all, I am grieving a grief that will last until I take my last breath and perhaps even longer than that.

I am grieving a child, but also a lifetime of experiences and moments with her, and of a life in which mentioning all of my children could happen without a trigger warning, a description, an asterisk, or where talking about all of my children would be met with something besides the, “Oh I know you’re grieving,” head tilt, the comments like, “Oh, I could never imagine,” and, “She’s still here with you,” or quite possibly the worst, the total lack of recognition.

And today and this time of year, I really wish that the presents I get to buy my kids are the same ones I get to see opened and played with. But, for now, I will just hope that a lot of other parents and loved ones will get to see the looks of joy and excitement over presents bought for Colette.

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