By Nina Bennett
When I was young, New Year’s Eve was always magical. It was the only night my brother, sister and I were permitted to stay up late. We would watch the ball drop in Times Square on television. We made New Year’s resolutions, even though we had no idea what a resolution was.
As I moved through my teenage years, New Year’s Eve presented a dilemma. I wanted to go to parties with my friends and the special someone in my life, but families I baby-sat for throughout the year were willing to pay what at that time seemed exorbitant amounts. By then, I knew what a resolution was, and I actually wrote them in a notebook.
As my siblings scattered across the country, we started calling each other at midnight local time, stretching the end of one year and the beginning of the next over the three-hour time difference.
When I had children of my own, New Year’s took on a new magic as I recreated the traditions of my childhood. I made hot chocolate and we snuggled on the sofa. I saw the drama of the ball dropping through their eyes . Eventually there came a year when midnight found me sound asleep and my brother woke me up when he called to say “Happy New Year.” I realized that each new year meant that twelve more months of my life were over, months in which I didn’t always feel as though I had accomplished much.
Some years I couldn’t wait for December 31, thinking that the next year certainly had to be better than the one drawing to an end. Resolutions now were sweeping statements written in holiday cards about spending more time with family and friends. Always, there was the symbolism of New Year’s Eve, a night given almost mythical meaning in terms of renewal and second chances. It was as though the end of one year erased all of the bad things that had happened, and with the beginning of a new year came the opportunity to correct poor decisions.
Time passed, and once again I found myself baby-sitting on New Year’s Eve. My pay for this baby-sitting job was the unconditional love and devotion of my grandchildren, their warm, soft bodies melting into my arms as they fell asleep.
When my youngest son and his wife announced their first pregnancy, I was overjoyed. As the mid-November due date approached, my family was busy making holiday plans that would accommodate a brand new baby. Those plans came to an abrupt halt on November 12, when my granddaughter, Maddy, following a healthy full-term pregnancy and normal labor, was born still.
Our family was stunned; we had no idea how to even begin to pick up the pieces of our now shattered plans. The holidays that year passed me by. I alternated between numbness and hysteria. I dreaded the approach of New Year’s Eve. I felt as though each day that passed was taking me further away from Maddy. I did not want to move forward into a year that didn’t include my granddaughter. The symbolism of the New Year, of leaving the past behind and embracing the time ahead, left me even more bereft.
Reluctantly, I progressed through my Year of Firsts. Bereaved families use this term to describe the first year after their loss; the events are not just widely recognized holidays, but dates such as the day in March when my son called to tell me of their pregnancy; the first time my daughter-in-law felt the baby move, the shower we planned.
I found myself becoming even more introspective as the long sweltering days of summer subtly started changing. The evenings seemed shorter as daylight faded at an early hour, the nights no longer held the heat, and mornings were crisp and clear.
November 12 finally came. It was the day I should have helped a one-year-old blow out candles on her birthday cake. Instead, I was lighting a memorial candle. I made a pot of coffee, read, and wrote in my journal. I realized that much of what I was writing sounded familiar, like the resolutions I used to make.
The anniversary of Maddy’s stillbirth was imbued with all the symbolism of New Year’s Eve. I found myself thinking about how this experience had changed me. I thought about the actions I could take which would honor my granddaughter, and I contemplated my need to have her remembered. My task for that first year was to grieve; every ounce of energy I could muster was spent mourning.
Now I faced what in some ways seemed to be an equally monumental task. I needed to redefine normal as it pertained to my life, and find a way to incorporate my grief journey into my life journey. I acknowledged that the other members of my family deserved more than a shell of a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother. If I lost my way, I was also losing Maddy. By permitting myself to be held captive in the quicksand of despair, I was effectively eliminating any chance of exploring the life lessons presented by Maddy. It occurred to me that the truest, most heartfelt way in which I could honor my granddaughter was to reinvest myself in living.
As the months accumulate into years, I am determined not to lose sight of the resolutions I made on the first anniversary of Maddy’s stillbirth. I am certainly changed, but in ways that aren’t readily visible.
My new normal includes a conscious appreciation of the beauty in my daily surroundings. I take delight in sunrises and sunsets. I am astonished by the brilliance of the stars in the velvety black night sky. I realize that to fully engage in living does not mean forgetting about Maddy; she leads me every step of the way, showing me that life is indeed beautiful and worth living. I approach each day with the joy and hope her parents had during the nine months they spent with her. Maddy has taught me a vital life lesson-the ultimate beauty is found not in the destination of the journey, but in the scenery along the way.
At first, I thought of Maddy’s birth date as my personal New Year’s Eve, a time for reflection and insight. However, I have come to understand that for people making their way through the twists and turns of grief, every day is New Year’s Eve. Each new day is another chance to make the resolution to fully engage in living a joyous life, which is the ultimate act of remembrance. As I continue on my journey, Maddy is not left behind. Her heartbeat is contained within mine, my exhale becomes the breath she never drew, and her voice will be heard through my words.
© copyright 2005 Nina Bennett
This article was first published in M.I.S.S.I.N.G. Angels, newsletter of MISS Foundation, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2006