This time of year is filled with memories. Memories of holiday celebrations as a child. Memories as a teenager. Memories of my husband’s and my first years as a married couple before children. Memories of our children and their first holidays.
This time of year has always been my favorite season. There is a sense of hope and wonder. A time with family and friends reliving old memories and creating new memories.
Our twin boys were born on Halloween morning in 2009. We lost our son Campbell a few days before Thanksgiving that same year. As we approached Christmas 2009, Joseph remained on a ventilator with no hope of coming home anytime soon.
I wasn’t sure I could enjoy the season – my favorite season. I remember making ourselves put up our Christmas tree a few days before Christmas just so we could make ourselves feel like the holiday season was upon us. Usually I had our tree up weeks before the holiday.
Everything I had dreamed of for my child’s first Christmas just wasn’t going to happen. No matching pajama photos. My child wasn’t going to be gazing at the lights on their first Christmas. No photos with Santa.
My child was on a ventilator in the NICU.
To try and find some sort of normalcy, I made a Santa hat for Joseph. I put it on his tiny, tiny head and made pictures. That was as close as I could get to my child having a photo with Santa.
For the first several holiday seasons after Joseph was home, we would take a photo of him with the tiny hat on his head. It was amazing to see just how much he had grown from year to year.
A few years ago, the small Santa hat went missing. We couldn’t find it anywhere. I began to think it had accidentally been thrown away in the hustle and bustle of the holiday one year. I always hoped we would find it. Maybe I put it “in a place where I would remember it.” Only, I couldn’t remember where it was.
This year, after a move this fall, we were putting decorations up in our home. My husband brought all the boxes upstairs from the basement. I opened a box that wasn’t labeled at all to find it filled with Christmas items. As I dug through the box, there it was. The little Santa hat that Joseph wore in the NICU in 2009 was placed ever so neatly at the bottom of the box.
I resumed the tradition of taking Joseph’s picture with the little hat on his head this year. My, oh my, how he has grown since the last picture a few years ago. It was quite a moment to share the hat and story with Joseph.
Throughout this holiday season, the little Santa hat has remained on our mantle. It is a reminder of Joseph and Campbell’s birth at 24 weeks gestation. It is a reminder of our precious Campbell and the 23 days he lived on this earth with us. It is a reminder of Joseph’s first Christmas in the NICU. It is a reminder of the countless hours of therapy he has gone through and will continue to go through. It is a reminder of the numerous surgeries he has endured. It is a reminder of all of the doctors and nurses who have cared for Joseph. It is a reminder of our family and friends who have loved us, and continue to love us, unconditionally as we raise a child with special needs.
It is a reminder all of preemies – those on earth and those who have gone before us. It is a reminder of the preemie parents who so lovingly and tenderly care for their preemies in order to give them the best life possible. It is a reminder of the doctors and nurse who care for preemies day in and day out as if they are their own child. It is a reminder of the therapists and teachers who work with preemies.
From all of us at Graham’s Foundation, we wish you a wonderful holiday season.