By: Brooke Taylor Duckworth
When my first daughter, Eliza, was stillborn, I felt paralyzed. Even a few months out from her death, I still didn’t know what to do that would feel like a proper way to honor her. Eventually, we did a variety of different things to honor her memory—and we continue to do so even now as we approach her eighth birthday.
Here are some possibilities for honoring your baby:
- Have a brick engraved with her name in a place meaningful to your family—the Angel of Hope garden at Blanchette park, the botanical gardens, the zoo, the butterfly house, or anywhere else that allows for this type of commemoration.
- Run a marathon—ask for donations to a group like Share that supports bereaved parents or to stillbirth research
- Host a 5K
- Donate baby blankets or tiny clothes to the hospital for babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth
- Host or assist with a fundraiser for medical research or grief support
- Create a garden at your home
- Place a memorial bench in a public or private spot
- Repurpose something that belonged to your baby. A crib can be turned into a chair for your own use; baby clothes can be made into a quilt
- Practice random acts of kindness
- Get a tattoo of your baby’s name or a meaningful symbol
- Inscribe a piece of jewelry with your baby’s name and birth date
- Keep a journal
- Write a poem
- Visit the cemetery
- Pray or meditate in a special place
- Create a space in your home to display pictures or artwork that remind you of your baby
That first year as Eliza’s birthday approached, I was overwhelmed with dread. I didn’t know how to honor the anniversary of her birth and her death. My grief was heavy. Nothing felt like it would be significant enough to recognize that we had lost some of everything when we lost our daughter. She had been taken from us in a way we had never expected, and we were left with a life that looked like it would simply be a series of might-have-beens, as we marked every milestone with what Eliza would never do—smile, crawl, walk, say her first words, have her first haircut, attend her first day of school. I could not imagine a way to commemorate our daughter that would fully represent the extent of our grief and our love for her.
I finally came to realize that nothing would.
Over the years, I discovered that I took great comfort in ritual, and that the way I felt like I could honor Eliza’s memory was by incorporating her into traditions that feel right for our family. I have watched in awe and admiration as friends of mine have raised money for stillbirth research, run marathons, founded nonprofits, hosted 5Ks, written books, and produced gorgeous artwork in honor of the children they have lost. And I have also come to see the ways that honoring your baby does not have to be a public event. While it is wonderful to hear your child’s name spoken by someone else, or see it printed in a program or other public space, the private rituals and family traditions that we practice are another way of honoring them.
Eliza’s birthday happens to be the same day that SHARE holds a candlelight vigil for bereaved families who have lost children, and we have come to incorporate that ritual into our annual acknowledgement of Eliza’s birthday. In my mind, I always envision carefully choosing the perfect flowers, eating together as a family at a restaurant, and attending the vigil as a solemn and spiritual occasion.
In real life, there have been years when I found myself grabbing a bouquet of flowers at the grocery store, eating fast food so that we wouldn’t be late to the ceremony, and ducking out of the ceremony early because it was so cold I literally lost feeling in my toes.
The execution of the day may never match the vision in my mind, and will never measure up to what I had wanted that day to be, but what’s important to me now is the ritual. This is what we do. Some years will be better than others, but we honor her by showing up. By creating a family tradition that becomes part of the fabric of our lives, and that holds Eliza’s place in our family.
In my experience, honoring your baby’s memory means making space for that memory
amidst the deluge of heavy grief in the early days or the hustle and bustle of life years later. It means prioritizing that memory above all other things, at least for a brief moment. This doesn’t have to happen annually on your baby’s birthday—it can be a daily prayer or meditation, a seasonal visit to the cemetery, a candle lit at each family meal, or a random act of kindness that only you will know was in memory of your child.
What I think it means to honor your baby is to let their life give yours purpose and direction, to feel and acknowledge the pain of loss and the joy of unconditional love, and to be gentle with yourself when you feel that nothing you do could be enough.
No ritual will ever be enough to represent adequately the significance of your child and his or her brief life. Nevertheless, we honor our babies as we carry their memories, as we allow grief and love be our teachers, as we carry forward with ordinary activities and new family traditions.