THE BLOG

Celebrating The Holidays After The Loss of a Loved One

How a Yugen Tree helped us cope with loss at a time when it is most unbearable - birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas.

13/12/2016 04:54 SAST | Updated 13/12/2016 04:54 SAST
Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
Catholic Christians pray on Christmas Eve along with other pilgrims in the place where Christians believe Jesus was born, in a cave under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem December 24, 2002.

After the loss of a child, so many days become so hard. Anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas – they are all fraught with a kaleidoscope of emotions, even more so when you have other children who you want to show the joy and happiness of these events to. You think about all of those things that you would have been doing with your child. All the milestones you are missing, all those shattered dreams and hopes you had for them – and you are once again reminded of some of the consequences of your loss.

We lost our daughter, Bella on the 15 September 2015. She was 7.5 months old. What should have been her first Christmas with us - a joyous occasion, a time of celebration, of gift giving and receiving, of family time - was filled with so much sadness. The debilitating grief made it almost impossible to see any kind of light, to celebrate in any way. All I wanted to do was sleep the days away, wishing 2015 behind us, because surely 2016 had to be a better one? We were lucky in that our little boy Murray was just young enough that we could get away without having to do too much and letting the day go largely unnoticed.

In chatting to our grief counsellor about how I was really battling to get my head around doing anything to celebrate Christmas (which he said was totally normal as to do anything celebratory while in the midst of grief is totally at odds with what you are feeling – its sometimes nice to be told what you feel is normal!), he had a wonderful idea. Instead of doing a Christmas Tree with lots of glitz and glam and flashing lights, do a Yugen Tree.

"Yugen is a Japanese word that sits at the core of the appreciation of beauty and art in Japan. It values the power to evoke, rather that the ability to state directly. If Christmas is a time of gifts and giving, consider that we are surrounded by gifts every day and every moment of our lives. It's called yugen. A sunset on the beach. A paper bag dancing in the wind. Three dogs sticking their heads out of the rear window of a passing car. A little girl laughing her head off. A butterfly gently landing on your left hand. All these are yugen. It costs nothing. It's totally awesome. And it leaves us breathless every time."

And so we created our Yugen Tree. A tree to acknowledge the simple things in life we should be grateful for and that we so often take for granted. We put little angels on the tree to celebrate our Belsie, and then a whole lot of hearts. And on each heart was written one thing we were grateful for – Murray, Bella's 7.5 months, Our Family, Friends, Community, Each Other, Bella's Sparkling Blue Eyes, Memories, Helping Others, amongst others.

We thought that 2016 could only be a happier year, but unfortunately we lost our little boy Thomas in May when he was born prematurely at 26 weeks and only lived a few hours. Just at a time when I thought I was starting to learn how to deal with my grief, the heavy feeling on my chest starting to lift a little, I was thrown back into a grief even deeper than I had experienced before. I was now not only grieving the loss of our Bella, but our Thomas as well.

And so we are coming around to another Christmas. Murray is now fully aware of Father Christmas, gifts, and Christmas trees and there is no way we are going to be able to hide from this. I love the fact that Murray talks about his brother and sister and I want our children in heaven to still be able to be a part of our family time and celebrations. And so our Yugen Tree will be a yearly family tradition for us. It will sit alongside our traditional Christmas tree, and we will use it to reflect on the year that has passed, how many things we are grateful for and blessed with. It's a way of including our darling babies in our lives, even though they are not physically with us. Despite our grief and the loss of 2 children in 9 months, there is so much for us to be give thanks for – our darling son, our marriage, our friends and community, our work, our home and comforts, to name but a few. You can get so bogged down with your grief, allowing it to be all consuming, that everything can seem dark and hopeless, with no light at all. But this is not the case, life is always worth living. If for no other reason than you have to make your children proud of you and make the most of the life that they didn't have the opportunity to live themselves.

And so our Yugen tree will be our annual reminder to have the strength and stillness to appreciate the blessings which we have in our lives, without being disillusioned with what we have lost. My darling Bella and Thomas, neither of you got to celebrate even one Christmas with us, but we will remember you, love you, miss you, hug your brother even tighter and appreciate each Yugen moment. Thank you for giving us this gift.

Angela Miller