CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAYS
When we think of the holiday season, generally our thoughts lead to feelings of happiness and joy. Celebrations and parties come to mind. There are visions of bright, twinkling lights and festive decorations, the smell of cookies baking and the sounds of carolers on the doorstep.
For me, the Christmas season is a time of stress and mixed emotions. It is a time of balancing family traditions from before Tabitha's death with new traditions, created because of Tabitha's death.
Our family kicks off the holidays by serving lunch at Ronald McDonald House. We choose a date close to Thanksgiving day to show our gratitude for the support and services that were available to us during Tabitha's hospital stay. Thanksgiving has taken on a new meaning. We are reminded that we are thankful for every second that we breathe and for having one another. We are grateful for the positive changes in our lifestyle that came about following and, yes, because of, Tabitha's death.
On Thanksgiving weekend, we take our living children to visit Santa Claus. We bring a picture of Tabitha along so she can be part of that visit. Our home is decorated with Christmas trees, lights, stockings and wreaths. Tabitha's stocking is hung on the fireplace alongside those of her siblings and there is a special tree, decorated with angels and stars, dedicated to her.
Throughout the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we bake cookies together, sing carols, enjoy the sight of the twinkling lights and attend holiday events and parties. As we do these things, my mind cannot help to think how it would be different if Tabitha were still alive.
On Christmas Day and New Year's Day, we celebrate with our families. On the surface, these appear to be normal family holiday gatherings. And, mostly, they are. However, I have searched out places to escape, when needed. I find a spot to remind myself that I must focus on my living children and their joy. And, each year, I am both glad and grateful that we are able to celebrate.
Tabitha died on January 21, 2013. Twenty-two days later, on Valentine's Day, February 14, I learned that I was pregnant with baby number three. In the weeks following the accident, I had been praying for a sign that Jon and I were good parents and that staying together was the right choice for us. The news of expecting another child was a pretty big sign.
I was happy. I had been given a third chance at having a baby. Isabelle had the opportunity to be a big sister again - she had been a great one! It was nice to have a distraction from the grief, the physical and emotional pain and the legal issues.
But conflicting emotions made it difficult to be joyful. Fear and worry loomed … How would others respond? What would people say? Was I ready? What was going to happen to Jon? There was sadness … It was too soon. Tabitha had just died. I missed her. I needed to let myself grieve.
Feeling happy while being so sad was confusing. How could I be both? While in counseling, the most helpful exercise was to eliminate the word 'but'. It was not, "I feel happy, but sad". Rather, it became "I feel happy and sad." Replacing 'but' with 'and' allowed me to focus on both my grief and my joy. I both missed Tabitha and I was excited to meet my new little one.
Isabelle's excitement for the baby's arrival also helped make it easier to find happiness during this time. I would ask if she wanted a brother and she would respond, 'no'. I asked if she would like a sister and she would say, 'no'. When I asked what she did want, she simply said, "A baby!" I found some humor and relief in the fact that she was not expecting or wanting a cat, dog, horse or cow for a sibling!! All Isabelle wanted was a healthy baby to care for and to love. Thinking of this brought me great joy.
my children see 'ghosts'
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels and yes … you read that title correctly. I have two children who say they have seen ghosts.
The first encounter with a spirit was with my daughter who was born nine months after Tabitha died. When she was about two years old, she was playing outside at my parents house and came running, terrified, around the house from the backyard. My mom talked with her and managed to calm her down. When I went to pick her up, my mom told me about the experience. Hoping for more information and details, I tried asking a few questions. Was the ghost a boy or a girl? Was it wearing clothes? Did it talk to you? All she told me was "I don't know. It was loud." She talked about the ghost for months.
Our second experience happened with my same child and her little brother not long ago. They said that they had a visit from a ghost while in their shared bedroom, sleeping. The ghost talked to both of them, but they were not able to tell me what it said. Once again, they could not provide a physical description of what their ghost looked like, either.
So, here's what I say to my two- and four-year-olds, not just today on this feast day of the guardian angels, but every time we talk about their ghost: I tell them that this is their special angel, not a ghost. Their angel comes to visit and to check in with them. She will never hurt them, only protect them. Their angel does not want to scare them. She loves them.
Tabitha's death was hard on my husband, Isabelle and myself. She made a huge impact on our lives in the short time she lived on earth. It is very important to me that Tabitha remains part of our family and that we continue to include her as part of us.
Someone once said that Tabitha not only remains part of our family, but that she is the one around whom our lives are centered. It's true. We celebrate both Tabitha's birthday and the anniversary of her death. We volunteer in her memory. Most importantly, we make decisions for our living children with Tabitha in mind.
So … what exactly do we do?
In our home, we keep Tabitha's most memorable belongings on a shelf. We have pictures of her displayed throughout the house, just like we do our other children. We talk about Tabitha to our living children. When we have family photos taken or send greeting cards, we make sure that Tabitha is included by using a photo or symbol of her in the pictures and by signing her name to the cards. On the occasion that we meet someone new and they ask how many children we have, Tabitha is always included in our list of kids. Every day, I wear a necklace with the birthstones of all four of my children.
Twice a year, we volunteer at Ronald McDonald House in Tabitha's memory. Often, we visit the cemetery. When we go, we bring flowers, pinwheels or other small trinkets. On her birthday and anniversary of her death, we go to the cemetery and then embark on a family day that a child of Tabitha's age would enjoy. On these two special days, we also look at pictures, light candles, eat birthday cake and make donations in her memory.
Writing "Stella's Story" was another way for me to remember Tabitha. The words in the book were those I spoke to Isabelle following Tabitha's death. Throughout the writing process, selections were made keeping Tabitha in mind. Stella was chosen for the character's name because 'Stella' means 'star', which has become our family's symbol for Tabitha. Stella wears rose colored clothing because Tabitha's middle name was Rose. The family depicted in the story are cats, representing one of Tabitha's nicknames, 'Tabby', a common description of a cat. Making each decision throughout the publishing process was one more way to remember my child.
There are innumerable ways to remember those we have lost, to keep them present in our daily lives. There is no one method of remembrance that is better than another. What is important is to keep your loved one close to you in a way that brings you comfort. I hope this piece gives you a few ideas - and lots of inspiration - as how to remember your loved one.
When Tabitha died, Isabelle was just 2 1/2 years old and Caroline and Sebastian had not yet joined our family. Isabelle was beginning to ask the dreaded 'why' questions. She wanted to know why the accident happened. She wanted to know why Tabitha had to die. She wanted to know why the police were involved. She wanted to know why the ice broke. She wanted to know why her sister did not come home from the hospital.
Explaining death to a 2 1/2 year old who wanted to know everything was tricky …. How much do you say? What do you say? How much can she understand? How will what I tell her now affect her in the future? I decided it was best to honestly answer each of Isabelle's questions. It was best to keep my answers short and factual. I needed to remind her that she has two parents who love her very much. I needed to provide her with opportunities to talk about and to remember Tabitha. I wanted her to know it is ok to talk about her feelings. I stressed that Tabitha is with her every day. Tabitha is and always will be in her heart.
Today, I continue to talk about Tabitha. I tell them the basics of the accident. I describe her smile, her laugh and the impact she had on our family. I tell my children they have another sister, Tabitha, who watches over them and is in their heart always.
Welcome to my site
Welcome to my site! It feels amazing to say this place exists.
A short five and a half years ago, my daughter, Tabitha, died in a tragic accident. Both the accident itself and Tabitha's death had a life changing impact on my husband, our surviving daughter, Isabelle, and myself. It also affected and continues to touch the lives of our extended family, friends, colleagues, our faith community and many others throughout the Twin Cities.
In January of 2018, five years following Tabitha's death, with the support of my parents, I was able to release my first book, "Stella's Story: Dealing With Sibling Loss".
My hope is that this site and 'Stella's Story' serve as useful tools for those who share the painful experience of losing a child. I look forward to sharing with you things that I have learned and experienced on my own grief journey.