How we made the most of the first Christmas without our son and actually managed to create some very fond and special memories.
To me, Christmas has always been the most magical time. The daughter of some of our close friends once called our house ‘The Christmas House’, we always go all out – the huge tree, the perfectly decorated house and table, the advent calendars (even in our 30s) – just all the festiveness!! So having our son, Dexter Bear, with us to celebrate was going to be everything. When I was pregnant, I would imagine reading ‘’Twas the night before Christmas’ to Dexter on Christmas Eve as I tucked him into bed after watching The Snowman and leaving a mince pie out for Father Christmas. I imagined Dave eating that mince pie, sneaking into Dexter’s room and leaving his stocking for him at the end of his cot and leaving fake Father Christmas footprints around the house. I imagined Christmas Day spent surrounded by family, all passing Dexter round whilst he wore his ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ bib. All those dreams put on hold but never to be a reality for Dexter, I am (and forever will be) so sad for him and for all he’s missed out on.
This time last year, as Christmas crept into the shops and was getting ever closer, I was determined that I wouldn’t let the sadness defeat me. This was Dexter’s First Christmas after all, not how we imagined granted, but it was his First Christmas all the same and my fear was that we’d let it go by and we’d never get his First Christmas back. That was my motivation. I had to make Dexter’s First Christmas special and with that I set about making plans and coming up with ways to honour it.
I had decided I wanted to do something on behalf of Dexter for Advent, I thought that by doing something each day that would help carry us through December. Dave came up with ‘Dexter’s 24 Days Of Christmas’ and the idea was born. I then came across Jess’s @thelegacyofleo on Instagram ‘Advent To Remember’ and everything fell into place. We wanted to do a random act of kindness (RAOK) each day, justifying the money it may have cost us on knowing we’d have spent at least what we did on Dexter’s Christmas presents had he have been here.
We bought a beautiful blank advent calendar that we had personalised from @maxmademedoit where we could include each random of act of kindness each day as a way of remembering Dexter’s First Christmas. Below is the list of things we did for each day of Advent. We chose to do RAOK but so many people do a whole range of things, such as going to a Christmas fayre, going to a Christmas service, decorating their child’s grave, a baby loss event, making Christmas decorations, Christmas baking, going for a Christmas walk etc etc….have a look at the hashtag #adventtoremember on Instagram for all the ideas.
Here was our December:
December 1st – a couple of weeks before the start of December, I did a post on the gram asking if anyone would like us to send them a Christmas card – maybe they were spending their first Christmas without their baby too? We were inundated with replies and so our first RAOK was to send over 75 Christmas cards to people we’d never met but had come to know since losing Dexter. Dexter’s cards spread as far as Australia, Germany and America. It was wonderful.
December 2nd – We bought a Costa gift card and handed it to someone in the queue who kindly accepted it and we promptly ran away!
December 3rd – We bought food items from Tesco (all bear related of course) and left them in Tesco’s food bank collection trollies.
December 4th – We went to our local weekly pub quiz. Our team name was ‘Dexter’s Sunshine’ but no-one ever knew why. That night, we handed out bags of chocolate coins to all the other teams who then got to know the story behind our team name. I loved this one!
December 5th – I bought coffee and a cake for an insta, now real-life chum. We talked for 5 hours about our beautiful boys who I know are looking out for each other in the stars.
December 6th – I wasn’t very well this day so it had to be something I could do from the sofa, so we sponsored a bear through the ‘Four Paws International Charity’.
December 7th – We donated some children’s toys to Morrisons Toy Appeal.
December 8th – We donated a range of Christmas items (chocolates, crackers, biscuits, Christmas pudding etc) to ‘Project Hope’ which was a charity we were working with at work. They put together Christmas hampers for less fortunate families.
December 9th – We loved this one! We went to a Costa Drive-Thru and paid for the car’s order that pulled up behind us as we paid for ours. The Costa team handed over our RAOK card to the driver so he knew why and he sent such a kind message thanking us.
December 10th – We left bags of chocolate coins and chocolate Paddington Bears in random places at our local shopping centre.
December 11th – We bought a hot meal and drink for some local homeless people.
December 12th – We donated an ‘Aching Arms’ bear.
December 13th – Loved this one too! We left some bunches of flowers in random trollies at Aldi.
December 14th – I was in the middle of phase returning to work by this point and the majority of my colleagues had been amazing, so much so I wanted to thank them. I left a load of treats and goodies in the staffroom for everyone to tuck into.
December 15th – We left a £5 M&S gift-card in a Paddington Bear book in one of their stores.
December 16th – We left a bag of loose change attached to one of the ticket machines at a car park in York.
December 17th – We went on a Christmas walk on behalf of the ‘Campbellinas’ and donated to their charity which is very close to our heart.
December 18th – I bought a coffee and some chocolates for my beautician who had been very kind and really helped me to practice some ‘self-care’.
December 19th – We dedicated a light on the main Christmas tree in York to Dexter as part of the ‘Light up a Life’ Christmas Campaign raising money for St. Leonard’s Hospice.
December 20th – We bought a cinema ticket for our local cinema and left it on one of the tables in their cafe.
December 21st – (the only one that didn’t go to plan) Our plan was to leave some chocolates on the ‘Moz the Monster’ display at John Lewis. We attempted to but sadly, they weren’t keen on the idea but after speaking to the management team they kindly made a donation to Tommy’s in Dexter’s name for any upset they had caused.
December 22nd – We left a tub of chocolates at the local fire station.
December 23rd – We gave our postman a gift-card and some choccies which he loved. We also bought some lottery tickets and posted them with some chocolate coins through a few houses up our street that we thought looked really festive.
December 24th – Our final RAOK. We wrote over 100 babies’ names on stars and hung them on our Christmas tree – so many babies all missing from their homes for Christmas. We sent photos of the stars to each family so they knew we were thinking of them.
Alongside our daily RAOK, we had many family and friends also join in. Some made homemade mince pies and delivered them to their nearest fire station, some donated bear books to nurseries or children’s centres, some hid candy canes for people to find, some donated hampers to their local care home, some donated to a charity close to our hearts and so many more wonderful ideas. We were so overwhelmed by people choosing to carry out their own random acts of kindness in memory of Dexter.
*Some new ideas that we’re including this year are; to go to a baby remembrance service, have a Christmas movie and hot chocolate afternoon, a RAOK to ourselves – to practice some self-care, promote small businesses and to remember many loved and missed babies.
Other ways we acknowledged Dexter’s First Christmas:
- Personalised Christmas items; this included a personalised bauble with Dexter’s name on and the year he was born (2017) from the extremely talented Jess @studio7_creative who created such a special one for us. Dave and I have bought a dated bauble for each year we’ve been together so getting one to acknowledge Dexter’s year was very special for us. My lovely friend Laura @after_arthur has also made some beautifully, personalised baubles for many angel babies so have a look at her page too. We also bought him a personalised stocking that we hung on his door on Christmas Eve, we bought bear wrapping paper and gift bags (mainly M&S) and we bought other bear and star tree decorations. We also decided we wanted to host Christmas at our house that year (we will be again this year) and so all the tableware was bear related, from the napkins to the crackers, and even down to the personalised bear place cards we found.
- Personalised Christmas cards – I was scrolling through notonthehighstreet.com when I came across some Christmas cards with a family of bears that could be personalised. We bought a pack of 10 that we gave to our closest family and friends. We had hoped that we’d be able to include another bear on the card this year but this year isn’t the one, so hopefully next year? But we bought a pack of personalised cards this year from @littlelennyco – a small business that create the most beautiful personalised prints and cards. When I first suggested what we were after, they immediately got to it and sent over a proof that completely exceeded all expectations we had. I can’t wait to give them to our family and friends this year.
- Something I found really difficult after Dexter died was how to include him in cards. Will people find it ‘odd’ if I include him? Will it make people uncomfortable? But if I don’t, then is he not part of our family? I HAD to find a way of including him. I very quickly bought a bear rubber stamp that I stamped in cards by way of acknowledging him. I also sign off with three kisses xxx for Dave, Dexter and myself. I then managed to find a polar bear stamp that is my Christmas stamp for Dexter. Over the past year though, I have seen many beautiful ways of how people include their missing children in their cards including some getting their child’s hand or footprint as a stamper.
- We were also honoured to receive a letter from Father Christmas to Dexter – this was something I hadn’t even considered but it is now one of my most treasured possessions, I am so thankful for a wonderful friend who thought to get him one. I have done a post on my Instagram page (click on the link) sharing the beautiful letter and where to get it from – the incredibly talented @polar.post.
- Dave and I bought Mummy and Daddy cards for one another and we also bought Dexter Christmas cards, we bought ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ cards and ‘Christmas 2017’ cards; I wrote one, Dave wrote another and we opened them together on Christmas Day morning. If I’m honest, that was incredibly tough but I’m also incredibly grateful we did it as those cards are treasured, tucked away in Dexter’s memory box and a very real acknowledgement of Christmas 2017 being Dexter’s First Christmas – cards we’ll treasure forever.
(*None of the above items were gifted (unless by friends) and I haven’t been asked to share these but I know how much the above items meant to us and I wanted to share them in case they offered the same comfort that it did and has for us. And also – these wonderful small businesses deserve all the support they can get – especially at this time of year).
Obviously having a son who’s middle name is ‘Bear’ enabled us and continues to enable us to have something tangible and bears are often everywhere, especially at Christmas but I know many families have something that they can relate to their child with; be it penguins, stars, rainbows, bears, robins – all of which can be Christmas related. Being able to find bears has brought us a smile through the tears, has often dragged us through some dark times and although my heart has often felt that pang of ‘if only/what if/should have’, it really has helped to fill my heart too – it has allowed me to think of Dexter and smile, to imagine what he’d have been doing, wearing, watching, playing with etc and as hard as that is, it has also helped me to smile and imagine those memories that I so wish we were making.
Don’t get me wrong, there were many MANY tearful moments throughout last Christmas – I remember standing crying at the farm we bought our Christmas tree from, uncontrollably, couldn’t pull my shit together, tears. Tears for those shattered dreams of Dexter being with us helping to choose what should have been his first Christmas tree. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed on Christmas Eve, because after all, this was not how it should have been. There will inevitably be many tears this year too, it’s still shit, Dexter’s loss is still a reality (like it forever will be) and he is still missing at our Christmas table. But I know last year was made easier by ‘Advent To Remember’, by including Dexter in as many ways as we could throughout the festive period and by feeling proud of Dexter and all the random acts of kindness that were carried out in honour of him.
And one final thought – what did Dave and I buy each other for Christmas last year? Well, we bought each other Mummy bear and Daddy bear pjs that we wore all day, we bought each other Mummy and Daddy Christmas cards and some bear related gifts. But do youknow what our best gift was? Really? Well, it was……….NERF GUNS!! I kid you not – we thought, why the hell not? After the year we’d had, why couldn’t we just buy NERF guns for each other and have a fight round the house? That was exactly what we did and it was hilarious, obviously until Dave hit me in the face and gave me a fat lip (!!!!!) but it brought us some unadulterated, pure and utter hilarity and I know Dexter would’ve been cheering us along!
I truly hope this post is helpful in some way, even if just to one person – and if you’ve got to the bottom of it, then well done you, I don’t half warble on sometimes!
If you are missing someone this Christmas then I am so sorry and from the bottom of my heart, I hope the festive period is gentle on you.
Thank you for reading.