This is the continuation of ‘The Thirteen Days of Arthur,’ a series of writings by Melissa Mouzin-Bennett, mom to Arthur Hancock…
Arthur was born the week after Thanksgiving, so he came to us during a time when our family was joining everyone else in getting ready for Christmas. Several people told me that it was a shame that he was born so close to the holidays because combining grieving with holiday stress is sure to turn anyone into a Grinch. People do tend to get more down in the dumps during the Christmas season, I think they just put too much pressure on themselves to have a perfect holiday. They want to find the perfect gifts for their friends and family, they want to have the perfect outdoor lighting for their neighbors to be envious of, and they want to decorate the perfect Christmas tree. I used to be like that myself and it was an absolutely stressful time of the year to me. I would become nauseous at the thought of one light strand burning out somewhere that I couldn’t get to right away. Then Arthur came along and taught me that the holiday season is about enjoying time with your family and sharing a laugh or two. Even though I miss my little man so much that it physically hurts some days, I have had the most relaxing and beautiful Christmases of my life for the past two years. Earlier this evening we attended our local downtown Christmas celebration where I shared some laughs and hot cocoa with my family and a very dear friend, a great start to yet another beautiful holiday season.
The Christmas we were preparing for when Arthur was with us was not such a jovial time. I certainly hadn’t laughed and don’t believe I had even smiled with any level of sincerity since the week before I was given Arthur’s diagnosis, when my regular OB reported to me that he thought my baby had a problem that was way over his head and refered me to see a specialist. Not that I was angry or weepy necessarily, I was just very distant and robotic. I didn’t want to decorate for Christmas the weekend before I was due to deliver because I just didn’t feel like doing anything other than sitting by my myself and staring into space, so our house was pretty unfestive when we brought Arthur home. I was content with just ignoring that Christmas was coming soon and I think I had everyone else talked into humoring me that year until I got a phone call a few days after we got home with Arthur. It was the social worker from Hospice who had been at the house to do our intake just a few days before. She said she made contact with a wonderful organization called “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” and asked if we would be interested in their services. This is a group of professional photographers who will come to the home or hospital room of stillborn infants or babies with terminal illness. They will conduct a photo shoot of the child and their families for no charge and give the family an uncopyrighted digital album of hundreds of keepsake photos. It is an amazing program and since we felt like we might not have enough time with Arthur to be able to make and keep an appointment at a photo studio during the Christmas season for family pictures, we were thrilled to take advantage of the offer. The problem was, the photographer was due at our home in two days and we felt that we should have at least a corner of the house decorated so as to have a festive backdrop for pictures. Since I was just a few days postpartum and still on some lifting restrictions, Roy volunteered to put up the tree and some greenery around the mantle. I was sitting in a dining chair holding Arthur in one arm and pulling ribbon and ornaments out of the storage box and laying them out on the dining room table with the other hand as Roy assembled the artificial tree and carefully string the lights. I then told him that the ornaments I wanted on the tree were on the dining table, which also happened to still be decorated from Thanksgiving with two candlesticks in the shape of pilgrims. I think Roy was operating between being frustrated with my pickiness when it came to what should go on the tree and just wanting me to behave like my old self again, so he charged over to the table, grabbed some old garland out of the box, and threw it at the tree. It stuck in an odd droopy shape, so he next snatched a wad of ribbon and hurled it at the tree as well. I started to giggle, and it felt good to finally see humor in something. With that little bit of encouragement, Roy reached for the pilgrim candlesticks and tossed them at the tree one at a time. I laughed until I cried and will still laugh myself to tears thinking of that day, three years ago today. I believe that was the turning point where I knew that whatever happened, Roy and I would be fine as a couple because he could do something that no one else could, make me laugh even when things seem hopeless. After we finally composed ourselves, Roy took the pilgrims out of the tree and arranged the ribbon and ornaments properly. Our tree looked beautiful and was a gorgeous backdrop to some of our most cherished family photos.
Arthur taught us that laughter is important, not only to lighten a stressful situation, but to strengthen a relationship. Roy taught me that the thing I need most from my life partner is to share laughter and joy, the night he decorated the tree for me was the moment I confirmed my suspicion, that he is the love of my life.