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Real Stories

New Christmas traditions

Christmas is an emotional time for Kathie and her family, but she’s found ways to make it special for the whole family, including Annabelle.

Kathie’s eldest daughter, Annabelle, was just three and a half years old when she was diagnosed with DIPG – a rare cancer of the brain stem.

Annabelle lived for two years after diagnosis, but died in January 2019, leaving behind her parents and her younger siblings, brother William and sister Juliette. Since then, baby Vivianna has joined the family – her name means “alive Anna”, after the big sister she didn’t get to meet.

Christmas is particularly triggering for the family, but Kathie has found ways to make it special for the whole family, including Annabelle.

One thing we did when Annabelle was immobile before Christmas, was make lots of decorations. She would sit on the couch, and she would make little pipe cleaner sparkle decorations. We now put those on the tree every year.

Our first Christmas without Annabelle, I wanted to do something really special. I found a whole heap of beautiful photos that we had done for Annabelle for a Christmas shoot one year and we made them into Christmas decorations.

What we think is most beautiful about that is Annabelle was such a caring sweet child, but she also had a wicked sense of humour and I just think she would find it hilarious that we have decorated our Christmas tree with her. The kids and I mostly put the Annabelle decorations on, but then my husband will also choose and put some. It’s a fun time, but it’s also very reverent. It’s definitely not all joy, it’s sad and happy. It’s now a Christmas tradition.

On her last Christmas, as Annabelle was very unwell, she became so overwhelmed by the chaos and by noise that we stayed at home and opened presents slowly over the whole day. That’s now another tradition. We stay at home now on Christmas so the children can take the entire day to open their presents slowly. We don’t force them to go to any big overwhelming events. Anyone’s welcome to come over, but we take things slowly and peacefully on Christmas because that’s what the children like to do, and that comes from Annabelle teaching us that not everyone likes to be overwhelmed with presents.

In saying that, we have a gift from Annabelle under the tree for each of the children each year, because she truly loved giving more than receiving and she loved planning what she was going to get for people. We usually try and get an Annabelle-style present, so it’s something usually cute or quirky.

I love talking about Annabelle, it means she was here, and she existed. I’m so grateful that I have friends and family who allow me to talk about her. I know that a lot of people who have lost children, don’t have that support.

It will always, always be a huge loss to us, and no moment ever feels complete. But we do try and still focus on the happiness and the good things. And we feel so blessed to have had her. She was such a special little girl.

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