Last year I couldn’t watch my two earthside children get their photo with Santa done. 7 weeks before I gave birth to our beautiful second son. 6 weeks before we had to hand him over and took him home not in our arms as a baby but as stardust. In the weeks leading up to Christmas Ashton would tell me he was going to ask Santa for his brother back. When we gently told him Santa can’t do that, when someone dies nothing can bring them back he pleaded “but Santa’s magical! Maybe just for one day, maybe just for Christmas he can come back?” breaking my heart in more pieces than I thought could be possible.

That day I sat in the food court and cried while my sister and husband stood with them in line and picked the photo. I sat worried Ashton would actually ask Santa his brother. I sat worried his heart would be broken even more if he heard it from the big man himself. I sat with my belly empty when it should have still been safely housing our baby and my arms aching to hold him again. I sat as a mother of three with only two who would ever have a photo with Santa. I sat wondering if it was normal or right to include a bear to represent our passed away baby in the photo. I sat scared that I’d be judged for it.

A year later our oldest son now understands what forever means but he doesn’t like it anymore than he did last Christmas. When we were putting up our Christmas decorations, after we were all dancing and laughing in the lounge room he stopped and out of nowhere threw something and yelled “I just want my brother! That’s all I want!” and sat by himself next to the tree not wanting anyone near him for a while.

Everyday for the last month he has told me that he misses his brother and wishes he was here. Most days he has asked me to tell him how and why he died trying to understand something so against the natural order of things. I have to go through time and time again why he was born too early (because just telling him he was isn’t enough for him) and what that meant for body and why he couldn’t survive. Each time I relive in my head the way he screamed at me “Why did you let him be born too early?” in the weeks after it happened when he blamed me. Every time I hear him say he wishes his brother and every time I have to go through explaining his death it kills me inside. Every time I wonder how I am still standing. Every time my walls get higher and thicker because my children need me and falling apart is just not an option.

Yesterday we faced the Santa photo again. This time I was braver and more resilient. This time I didn’t care if it was considered normal or if I would be judged to have his bear. This time I knew that the right thing to do is simply what’s right for our family. This time I stood in line with my husband, two of my children and Elliott’s bear. It didn’t hurt any less than it did 12 months ago, my heart is still broken and my arms still ache but I have become better at dealing with it and hiding it from the outside world.

As we waited in line a staff member asked “Just these two?” to which I said yes. Emma looked at me angrily and whispered “Three Mum!”. I told her,

“I know darling, he meant how many children for the photo. And sometimes it’s just easier to say that”.

She teared up and said,

“Well we are taking his bear for him, you should have said three”.

She’s wildly protective of his memory and hates it when he’s not included by others and she especially hates it if I don’t. I felt like I had betrayed him and her with just one word. As I hugged her while she tried so hard not to cry I said, “let’s have a beautiful photo for Elliott, we can put it on his shelf for him, I think he’d like that” which stopped her tears and made her want to smile.

The Santa was amazing, he knew exactly what the bear represented as soon as he saw it. He gave us a knowing smile which touched my heart at a time that it needed it. The photographer asked if the bear was to be in the photo and at the same time the children said “yes”, Santa said “oh yes I think it’s for the photo”. He said to them reaching out for the bear,

“Is this Elliott’s bear? It’s such a lovely bear. Should I sit him on my lap next to you?”

So there they sat, two children still mourning and grieving their brother, with his bear, beaming with smiles on Santa’s lap. A bittersweet moment as so many are now.

While Santa can’t give our children what they want more than anything he did give them a great gift- a welcomed space to sit as three siblings together, acknowledging the importance of Elliott’s place in their hearts and our family which brought smiles to them, and smiles to us.

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