This Advent Letter to Those We’ve Lost is written by Alise Chaffins. Her son Elliott was stillborn on June 4, 2014, when she was 35 weeks pregnant. Four weeks later, my wife Maile gave birth to Leo, and there has been a connection in my mind between Leo and Elliott ever since.
Here is Alise’s letter:
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My Sweet Elliott,
I miss you. Every day, every day, every day. But there are times when that missing deepens a little bit. Times when I think of what could have been – what should have been – and I wish I could hold you again.
I said that there are times when the missing deepens, and that’s especially true of Christmas. My Instagram feed is filled with family pictures, which means lots of photographs of the babies that were born at the same time as you – little boys and girls who get to grow up and see what the world has in store for them, not stunted in infancy like you. Pictures that get to change each year, rather than just a new filter on the same dozen or so pictures I have of you.
And it’s not just the pictures on Instagram and the Facebook updates. It’s in our Christmas carols, in the nativity scenes, in the Bible passages. The story of a little boy, born thousands of years ago. And to make things worse, this baby’s birth is seldom talked about without mentioning his death as well.
Sometimes I want to ask people to stop, just for a minute, and simply enjoy the miracle of the birth. Let’s not rush Jesus to his death, but let’s just take a breath and celebrate his life. Not even how well he lived and what an amazing teacher he was, but simply that he was born. That he grew and kicked and was born. That alone should cause us to marvel.
This should be your second Christmas. Last year you would have barely been able to sit up, but this year, oh this year you would be tearing around the house with your brothers and sister, adding to the noise and commotion of our big, blended family. I say that I want to hold you again, but let’s be honest, you would be at the age when holding would be hard to come by. I can just see your little legs pumping around the living room, clambering over your siblings, trying to sort out where you fit in. I can see the little annoyances and the big affection that would come from your family.
You would probably be starting to talk. If you were like your brothers, maybe not a lot of words quite yet, but you would know me, you would know your daddy. You would say our names, and even if we were exhausted from a lack of sleep, you’d melt our hearts with those words. Mama. Dada.
I wish you were still here. Sometimes I’m tempted to “look for the bright side,” but the bright side would be you here with us. The bright side would be something completely different than what is.
Instead, I’m finding that I need to allow myself to feel grief when it happens. To allow the tears to fall when they come to my eyes. To allow myself to think about you when you come to my mind.
This Christmas, that is the gift that I can give you. The gift of remembrance.
And son, you have given me a gift as well, even though at times I don’t recognize it. Not the gift of a bright side, but the gift of darkness. The gift of permission to seek help for so many other hard things that have happened. The gift of vulnerability.
You have given me the gift of grief.
I love you, baby boy.
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Alise Chaffins recently released a book called Embracing Grief: Leaning Into Loss to Find Life. She is a wife, mother, eater of soup, and defender of the Oxford comma. She writes about life and grief, and how embracing grief allows for a fuller life. You can follow her online on Facebook and Twitter. She blogs regularly at knittingsoul.com.
Previous Advent Letters to Those We’ve Lost:
Dear Mom, I Have Your Christmas Cookie Cutters by Bethany Suckrow
Sometimes It Seems Like I Am the Ghost in the Room by Rebecca Mast
Advent Letters to Those We’ve Lost
Also, we’ve completed the first season of the podcast, The Story of My Death. Caleb Wilde, Bryan Allain, and I recorded three different episodes in which we interview people who tell compelling, intimate stories about death. Caleb tries to give away a Hearse. Bryan tries to make us laugh. The episodes are funny, sad, poignant, brave, and heartwarming. You can check out the first season of episodes HERE.