This will be the fourth Christmas since writer Pippa Vosper lost her son late in pregnancy. Here, she pens what it's like dealing with grief over 'the most wonderful time of the year'
I can still remember that first Christmas after he died, thinking my baby would have been two months old if all had gone as planned. I was five months into my pregnancy when I lost my baby and so many plans had already been made for his due date in October. We had named him Axel. Now it was December, all around us friends were having festive parties, but I was still deep in my grief and wanted to stay home. Christmas Day arrived and all I could think was that we were missing someone. Two friends had recently given birth and I saw pictures on Instagram of their babies by a Christmas tree, as our baby should have been. How strange it all seemed, as though it still wasn’t my reality.
My husband’s family are in Sweden, mine just outside of Copenhagen, so travel during the festive season has always been a big thing for us. I couldn’t face being on a plane, surrounded by people I didn’t know and having to pretend to be happy for our family and friends. Before Axel died, I worried it would be too much to travel from London to Stockholm with a new baby, but now there was no need to worry. That year we stayed in London, I wasn’t ready to pretend everything was okay. My husband and I watched Christmas movies with our eldest son, sat up talking late into the night and relinquished any pressure to be sociable. Grief versus happiness is a strange dynamic; you want to be happy, but because you simply cannot, it accentuates your sadness.
Grief versus happiness is a strange dynamic; you want to be happy, but because you simply cannot, it accentuates your sadness
I decided to really live with my grief that first Christmas, I let my emotions pour out rather than keeping them locked inside. I focused only on my husband and our son, curled up under a blanket and let any guilt of not answering calls and messages fade away. The thing with grief is that, more than any other time, you need to feel free to be just as you want to be. Live through your grief, and those who really care for you will be there to support you. Those who can’t accept you’re not happy may just disappear from your life. It’s about accepting that some people will be there for you, and some won’t.
I knew it wasn’t always going to be as hard as it was the first year. And it wasn’t. The following year my grief had eased, but I still didn’t want to celebrate Christmas with travel and noise and large gatherings. Occasions such as Christmas and birthdays can still be hard years later, as they are always a reminder of who isn’t there. When grieving someone you have loved and lost, the Christmas dinners, cocktails and fun with friends can wait. What I’ve learnt about grief and the festive season is that you really have to look after your own mental wellbeing. If you choose to spend time with family and friends; before you see them, explain that you are not feeling okay and that you hope they’ll understand. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in social situations, go and sit somewhere quietly by yourself. If you have already explained that you are grieving, nobody will think it is rude that you have chosen to be alone for a while. Those who cannot understand are perhaps not the best people to have with you at that time.
Occasions such as Christmas and birthdays can still be hard years later, as they are always a reminder of who isn’t there
This will be the fourth year since I lost my baby. Four years since my world shifted and I had to live through the unimaginable pain of an unexpected trauma. This year, as with the last, I will remember Axel while celebrating a family Christmas at home in London where we are based. As we decorate the tree, a bauble painted with a large A will be placed at the top, with a small gift for our baby underneath, ready for one of my children to open on Christmas morning.
We’re creating new Christmas traditions to remember not only Axel, but those we loved who cannot be with us. Decorations that signify people we have lost will be placed on the tree and we will be hosting a dinner with friends to celebrate the people we wish were still here. There may be tears, but mostly we will share beautiful memories. When there is distance from the first months of intense grief, only then is it possible to find happiness again, to laugh and be fully present with friends once more. When grief eases and you can find reasons to celebrate again, it doesn’t mean you’re forgetting, it just means you’re learning to live alongside losing the ones you loved.
Pippa Vosper's book Beyond Grief, Navigating the Journey of Pregnancy and Baby Loss will be published in summer 2022