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From the moment the photographer captured that final shot, I knew we had a keeper. It was 2012, just three weeks before Christmas. I had set up a little holiday photo session for my family as I knew it would provide for great memories. My three year old daughter and six-month-old son were sitting happily on our bed. Julia had her arm lovingly wrapped around her new baby brother, Owen. It was absolutely precious; even more so because their big brother got to be part of the photo shoot as well. In a big picture frame, on the wall behind them, was little Liam. All three of my children in one fabulous picture. Liam may not have been there physically but he was very much there in spirit. Liam was our firstborn son and he died at only nine days due to a congenital heart defect. With our little angel around us, the holiday card was now complete.

In 2008, my husband Brian and I spent our first holiday as parents in complete devastation. Liam had died that September. We were both in a state of shock. Even so, it didn’t change the fact that we still had a baby boy. We wanted to find a way for family and friends to remember Liam during the season.  On Thanksgiving Eve, I decided on a picture card of Liam with a note inside relaying our sadness and a request for prayers. It broke my heart to have to do it but I knew it was a beautiful gesture. It was something I took great pride in doing; therapeutic in a way. I did realize that it might be hard for some of our family and friends to look at. That being said, I wasn’t at all prepared for the reaction that followed.

According to one recipient, the card was a very “unhealthy” way to express our grief. Another one said that although it was a nice picture of Liam, we were basically saying, “Merry Christmas! We are miserable!” The harsh words were not only hurtful, but untrue. They were also spoken by people who thankfully never had the horrible misfortune of burying a child. Who were they to say whether we were grieving in a healthy manner?  Furthermore, how were we supposed to be grieving? What was acceptable? What hurt the most was the idea that it was somehow inappropriate to remember our son.  After a lot of tears, we stood by our card. My husband put it best when he said, “If opening that envelope made them sad for five seconds, how do they think we feel every moment of every day?” I agreed. At least everyone else could go back to drinking their eggnog. We, on the other hand, were shattered.

Just one year after our loss, our “rainbow baby” Julia Grace entered the world. Her very first photo session was just after Thanksgiving. I relayed to the photographer the need to have our Liam remembered in some form. And so it began: with baby Julia in a basket and her brother Liam’s picture in the background. It was nothing less than perfect.  Interestingly enough, some of the same people that had issues with our first card were okay with this one, as we had another child now. That seemed to make it all better. Little did they know that our sadness was still very strong, we just had some happiness to go along with it.

As Christmas quickly approaches, we plan to do another card with all of our children. It has definitely become a family tradition. I really feel that in each picture, it shows how much Liam is looking after his siblings. I will also continue to decorate our tree with all the ornaments that we have purchased in his memory. When I think of Liam, I also think of all the other angels that have gone too soon. I will also remember all of the families who have had losses, especially during the holiday season. This is not an easy time for many of us. I am grateful that we have Liam as a gift. And, for his love every Christmas, I thank him.

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This is a reader submission. 

(Image: Getty images/ authors own)