There’s no way to sugar coat it. This is a particularly rough year in an always difficult season. I’m five years out from the birth and death of my first child, my Oberon. The calendar (and social media) reminders come fast and furious. Birth day, days we thought it would be OK, days we knew it wouldn’t, transition to hospice care, memory-making and visits, Santa, and then the death day.

kids with Santa - Managing the holiday season

Somehow, I didn’t think it would be as heavy this year. Five years practiced, surely I’ve gotten better at handling my emotions? Turns out I have not.

In a season where I maybe should be stepping back and not taking on too much, I just can’t. I wish I had good advice for how to manage through the holiday season without feeling like I got kicked in the face, but I don’t. I’m just taking it one day at a time, trying to spread out my emotional labor, parenting duties, and menial merriment.

Emotional Labor

Like it or not, I have feelings to deal with. It isn’t always predictable, and it’s almost never convenient. I have to take the time to grieve my son on these special days and anniversaries. I need to share him with his living siblings, knowing it will take all my energy.

This year there have been a couple out-of-order deaths related to colleagues and family. These tragedies impact me on a personal level because I know so much of what those parents are going through. Even though it is a heavy lift, I reach out. I have to. My emotional work to attempt to be supportive is so minuscule compared to what newly bereaved parents go through, yet it is still work and still takes its toll. I can’t justify opting out of helping because it’s my toughest time of year.

Parenting Duties

Thanksgiving weekend turned out to be the best time to start potty training my two-year-old daughter. I don’t think I anticipated how much this extra stressor would impact me. I’m already running on fumes and now we’re trying to teach a small human that peeing all over her pants is actually not just fine. Plus we’re waking up at least once in the middle of the night to firmly (but gently) demand she pee.

Maybe this is one we could have planned a little better, but what’s done is done. She is making progress, and throwing in the towel doesn’t feel like the right thing for her.

Menial Merriment

I want the holidays to be magic. For us, for my living children. I want to take the opportunity to stay connected with loved ones. But man, it is a lot of work. Holiday cards, gift buying, planning play dates, attending special events (and meeting Santa)… it’s overwhelming at times.

Even though it makes me exhausted, I want to do these things. I want my living children to have sweet and lasting memories. I want family traditions. These are some of the things I dreamed about when I imagined having children of my own.

And what if this ends up being the last holiday season? For me, for my child, for my parent, for my cousin, for my friend? As hard as it is to keep going and keep doing the things, the anxiety and fear of not doing the things when I have the chance is worse.

I suppose it all – like so much – comes down to balance.

So far this year I’ve enjoyed some of the work, as tired as it makes me. I’ve enjoyed the outings and I expect to enjoy more. I’ve laughed at my children decorating the tree. I’ve gazed at the lights strewn about our patio. I’ve made a new ornament for Oberon. So far, it’s all been worth it.

And right now, I need some chocolate and a pillow. I’ll wrap more presents tomorrow.

Share this story!