By: Rose Carlson, Share Program Director
For most people, thinking about the holidays brings thoughts of joyous celebrations with family and friends. But for someone who has had a baby die, thinking about the holidays brings on feelings of dread instead of feelings of excitement. A time that you may have looked forward to celebrating with your new baby has now become just another nightmare you must endure. Perhaps you would rather just curl up somewhere and sleep until January, but since sleeping for two months really is not feasible, you need some other options.
First of all, keep in mind that everything you have experienced since your baby died has seemed insurmountable, but somehow, you have been able to survive every ordeal.
It is understandable, and normal, to feel depressed when the holidays are looming. So much of what you deal with after your baby/ies has/have died makes you feel as if your life is spinning out of control, however, with some careful planning, you can be in control of how you spend the holidays. If you plan ahead for what you do and do not want to do, it will be easier for you to face the days ahead. Talk with your partner and/or other loved ones about the holidays and decide together how to celebrate.
When you are trying to determine how you want to spend the holidays this year, only commit to those activities and events that you really want to participate in.
Now is not the time to do things you feel obligated to do. If you cannot bear the thought of crowded malls, try to do your shopping early, or shop on-line. Do not feel guilty about reducing the amount of gifts you buy if that will make it easier for you. If being surrounded by your family and friends will bring you comfort and peace, then join in their celebrations. If you want to limit the get-togethers you take part in, or if you want to be by yourselves, that is fine too. The most important thing is to be easy on yourself and let your feelings guide you.
Once you have decided how you will spend the holidays, tell your family and friends. You may find it easier to write everyone a letter explaining what you will and will not be doing. Let them know what a difficult time this is for you and your family, and also let them know how they can help you. If you are honest and sincere, most people will understand your desire to spend more time alone.
Be firm, and do not let anyone make you feel guilty about the choices you make.
The best way to make even these sad holidays special is to find some ways to include your baby in your holiday traditions. Here are some suggestions:
* Start a tradition of buying or making a special ornament each year.
* Buy a gift and donate it in your baby’s name to a hospital or women’s shelter.
* If you have a candle from your baby’s memorial service, light it during family meals and other special times throughout the season. If you do not have such a candle, pick one out and make it your baby’s candle.
* Buy a live Christmas tree, or any evergreen tree, and plant it in your yard. Each year take a picture of your family next to the tree.
* Purchase holiday cards that perhaps symbolize your baby, i.e. teddy bear, angel, little tree, or purchase a stamp that symbolizes your baby, to use on holiday correspondence.
Whatever you choose to do, be creative and make it special for your family.
If you have other children, try to find ways to use their input in planning your activities. Let them make a card or decorate a stocking for their brother or sister. Have them help you pick out an ornament for the baby. If you plan on a smaller, quieter holiday, be sure to explain this decision to your other children. Ask for their suggestions as to what activities they want to do and which ones they would not mind giving up this year. It will be much easier to deal with the stress of the holidays if everyone feels their wishes are taken into consideration.
You may regret it if you decide to ignore the holidays altogether.
The familiarity of some of your established routines and traditions may bring you some comfort during this emotionally chaotic time. If you have other children, they may need to see that even though the family has been through a tragedy, their lives are still stable.
Finally, even though you possibly are feeling miserable right now and may think you will never be happy again, it is possible to have moments of joy and thankfulness.
Stay away from the hustle and bustle, and do something nice for yourself each day. Take a bubble bath, read a book, enjoy a cup of hot tea and write in a journal at night when the house is quiet. Spend some time reflecting on the little things you are thankful for, even though what you would be the most thankful for is having your baby with you. Think of something simple, but special that you can do for someone who has been especially kind to you.
The holiday season is a stressful, difficult time for someone who has experienced the death of a baby. However, with a bit of planning, you can at the very least cope with the holidays. Soon, they will be over, and in years to come, the traditions you start now may become some of your family’s most treasured holiday memories.
Rose came to Share in 2002 as a volunteer and eventually joined the staff in 2004. She has a BS in Psychology with a minor in Sociology and her personal experience as a bereaved parent brings an invaluable perspective to her work. Rose does much of the research for Share materials and has published articles in several professional journals throughout the country.