Helping a loved one when the holidays Hurt

By: Kayla Leibner

As a bereaved parent, I am always searching for ways to weave peace and comfort into our daily lives.  Our family has survived heartache beyond words and experienced disappointment that we ourselves still do not fully understand.  We can’t really describe what has happened to us or how it has changed us, but the deaths of our babies have irrevocably changed us forever. We are each grieving differently on a daily basis, and the holidays are no exception. If anything, our grief and the emotions tied to it are amplified during this season. 

I would like to use my own personal experience to share some tips for being a supporter of a loved one who is grieving during the holidays.  It isn’t easy, pretty, or predictable.  It is, however, more necessary, and meaningful than your loved one could ever express.

If you care about someone who has lost a child, you can be assured that they struggle more during the holidays – even if it’s just slightly. 

I have heard grief described as love that painfully overflows because it belongs to someone that is gone.  This is all too true, which means that grief doesn’t end because our love doesn’t end.  This is possibly the most important thing to remember when supporting a bereaved parent because this singular idea will help you remember the other advice I have to share.  Because we will always love our children, we will always miss them.  Even if you can’t see our grief, it is there.  When a child dies, we miss every hoped-for-experience afterward – including holidays.  Our grief will impact more than just our first holiday season without them, because even if we’ve been through it before we don’t miss them any less.

Another thing to remember is that grief isn’t predictable, and therefore we cannot know when it will rear its ugly head and wreak havoc on our emotions.  Simply put, grief is messy.  Sometimes we feel it coming, but other times the waves crash in unexpectedly.  Because of this, we may feel compelled to change plans or suddenly decline an invitation at the last minute, but don’t take it personally.  Extend invitations without pressure or expectations and be gracious if those are declined – we are already so conflicted and feel guilty, but these changes are often necessary for surviving the added weight of our grief during the holidays. 

Be supportive of the choices of your grieving loved one during the holidays because each decision, great or small, is more difficult than it was before the death of their child.

I’ve found that people want to help, but often do so in ways that are unintentionally hurtful.  Remember that your loved one isn’t something to be fixed.  While part of them is broken, it’s deep and rooted in their very soul.  Part of them will forever be missing because of the absence of their child, but please don’t approach a grieving parent as a project or something you can repair.  Instead of unsolicited advice, maybe try offering practical assistance during the holidays by way of helping to decorate or shop.  What once brought joy can be difficult and even bring pain, and so it becomes a dreaded chore because of stirred up memories or longing for what could have been.  Instead of suggesting solutions for curing “the holiday blues” ask what you can do to make your loved one’s holiday season easier, and in doing so remember to listen without judging, trying to fix it, or offering advice – and absolutely do not minimize any part of their grief.  It isn’t yours so you don’t get to decide what it looks like, and honestly neither do they.

If you want to help your loved one remember their child during the holidays, there are special and meaningful ways to do so. 

You can send a thoughtful card letting them know that you recognize that this is a difficult time of year for them.  I’ve received many of these, and I can’t express how much it means for someone to reach out, even if they can’t understand the ways that I am struggling, to let me know they care and that they remember my babies.  You could also consider a memorial gift or a donation in memory of their child.  There are many options for this type of remembrance such as windchimes, special candles, figurines, memorial ornaments, memorial bricks, and so much more.  An intimate way to remind your loved one that you remember and that you care is to light a candle for their baby and letting it shine during a holiday gathering.  Having something like this available has such potential to make holiday events more peaceful and comfortable for them.  Gestures like these provide a truly impactful and loving support for bereaved parents any time of the year, but even more so during the holidays when they are painfully aware of that empty seat at the table.

Don’t hesitate to let them know that you remember and that you love them wherever they are in their grief.

The holidays used to be the most excitedly anticipated time of the year for my family and me.  While the magic is still very much alive, at times it is a bit dimmer in the shadow of our grief.  We push forward and give as much of ourselves as we can to make Christmas a truly wonderful experience for our living children, but the support and love of others fuels us to make the most of the holiday season and give our children moments to cherish as we celebrate and honor their siblings, too.  If you love someone who has lost a child, help them make the most of the holidays by embracing them in their grief and remembering their child with them.  It will mean more than you’ll ever know.

Happy holidays, and God bless.

About Kayla Leibner

Kayla is a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a preschool teacher.  She and her husband, Ben, have been married for five years and live north of St. Louis with two of their children, Jace (12) and Kiley (4).  They also carry two of their children in their hearts – Melody, and Jamie.  Kayla and her family have deep and strong roots in their faith and have relied heavily on God and His comfort in their journey of loss and grief.  Kayla hopes that her writing would be of help, comfort, and encouragement to families who are suffering this same tragic loss.

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