When I explained why I’d chosen the first decoration, Elodie was annoyed with me. “But I’ve got lots of joy in my life,” she told me. “It feels wrong not to have an angel for Juliette like we usually do.” She’s quite right. She chose this one on the left, but while she was looking, another one had caught her eye.
A few days before Juliette died, we all visited an otter sanctuary in Suffolk. It was one of those magical English summer days days where the sun rippled on sparkling clear water, otters heads bobbed and dragonflies and kingfishers flashed through the reeds, The children gathered feathers to turn into native american head dresses later, and Juliette brimmed with health. The colour and brilliance and brevity of the dragonfly is a beautiful symbol, and though the vivid purple hue is not one often found in the creature, it was one of Juliette’s favourite colours. So here it is!
Once in hospital, Juliette made me a purple, blue and pink brooch from a kit in the shape of a dragonfly. I keep it in a drawer next to my bed.
I set off on my annual mission to find a new decoration for Juliette and our tree last week, but didn’t find one. Maybe I was in the wrong mood, but none of the little faces appealed to me, or to anyone else in the family. Iwas ready to give up for the day when I saw the decoration on the right, and imagined Juliette urging me to choose this one. It sparkled prettily under the shop lights (I think I have magpie blood) and spelled a word that has been a bit elusive over the past year or so. It’s been spinning amongst the fellowship of angels since then, but my eldest who is sixteen now, said she’d like to choose a “proper” angel when she went shopping with her Dad today. I hope I can manage to upload a picture of what she came with…
Juliette was diagnosed with leukaemia just before Christmas, ten years ago. What had been a glittering rush of normal preparations became hospital, blood tests and chemotherapy. Nurses wore tinsel, flashing Christmas earrings and presents arrived every hour for the sick children on the ward. For a bubbly three-year-old oblivious to to what her illness could mean this was very exciting, but for her parents the only decorations we could think about were the smiles we hung on our faces. We were breaking up inside, but Juliette had to be protected from our horror and fear.
She made it through that Christmas, and a second one. The following year she had left us, and we were thrown into a festive season which felt all wrong. As the gaudy wheels whirred in a frenzy of commercial joy I felt like shouting, “Don’t you know what’s happened? How can you all pretend that it hasn’t?” I shopped because I needed to. Our other children did not deserve a dark Christmas, but there were moments of torture when in a shop I would pick something up thinking, “I’ll get this for Juliette, she’d love it,” before remembering.
Gradually over the years, Christmas as with other things has become easier. For us, as with many families who have lost children, the rituals we’ve found are what get us through the tough times. That first Christmas I chose a beautiful new angel for the tree, but I cried so much when I got it home. It felt like such a paltry, hollow gesture. I wanted to be able to buy presents for Juliette – to watch the face I knew so well light up, and hear her laughter.
Finding a new angel every year has become our way of keeping Juliette as part of the family’s Christmas. Sometimes I ask our other children if they want to help me choose, but often they leave it to me. Some years I feel Juliette poking fun at my choice. In others I see her face in the little figure I’m holding, and know that I’ve chosen the right one.
If you’ve found your way here, perhaps you’ve been affected by the loss of a child. If this is true, I’m really sorry. We know and are told over and over again that the world is on its head when our children die before us. Natural order has been mucked up. It seems wrong and cruel that we are still walking and breathing when they no longer can.
I’ve had eight and a half years to think about life and how fragile it is since my daughter died. I suppose what I write here is my attempt to make sense of some of the glorious rainbows and deep, dark pits of despair that have been my experience in that time.