Except when your baby has died. Then, it can be the most awful time of the year.
By: Rose Carlson
As everyone around you goes about their joyful business of shopping and baking and shouting, “Happy Holidays!” or “Merry Christmas!” to everyone they meet, it can seem to you as if there is nothing wonderful about this time of year at all, especially if this is your first holiday season without your precious little one. You may wish you were able to hide away until January, and perhaps you can, but if that isn’t possible, there are things you can do to make the holiday season more bearable, even though it may not be wonderful.
One of the best ways to bring cheer to the holiday season is to find ways to include your baby in your family’s celebration. Doing so can help bring some meaning to the days and make them less difficult. There are many ways to do that, but following are some suggestions:
- Purchase a special candle and burn it during your holiday meals. If you are going to someone else’s home, take your candle with you. You may also want to use a candle from your baby’s memorial service or funeral or make your own.
- Start a tradition of making or purchasing an ornament each year. If you have a special motif that is meaningful or reminds you of your baby, look for ornaments with that symbol. If you have other children, try to involve them, and ask for their input. Many organizations sell ornaments this time of year; if there is an organization that is meaningful to you, start a new tradition of purchasing one of their keepsake ornaments each year.
- Decorate a small tree that is reserved for your baby’s ornaments. Light it with pink, white, or blue lights.
- Ask others to perform random acts of kindness in memory of your baby and share with you what they did. Save the letters, messages, or emails in a special box or stocking and read them all together as a family on a special day.
- Plant a evergreen tree in your yard and decorate it with lights and bows. Take a photograph of it each year and keep them in a small album.
And everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer”…
When your baby has died, cheer may seem like something you will never feel ever again, certainly not on holidays.
Sadly, when a baby dies, family, friends and acquaintances often do not realize the depth your grief and expect you to “be over it.” They may not understand why you are feeling sad during the holiday season, and they might even be angry or upset with you if you express your feelings of sadness and/or unwillingness to treat this holiday season as every other. Know that those who act as if nothing has changed for you really cannot understand what you are going through, and it is not uncommon for others to assume that celebrating and participating in the usual holiday gatherings will “cheer you up.” It can make the holiday season seem even bleaker when those you care about do not acknowledge your feelings. But, your feelings are valid, and many bereaved parents encounter the same opinions and have a very difficult time celebrating the holidays. Take it easy on yourself and do whatever brings you comfort and peace. It is most important to take care of yourself and your immediate family.
With those holiday greetings…
When your baby has died, happy holiday greetings can feel like a knife to your already wounded heart.
You may not want to send out your usual holiday cards and photographs. That is okay. However, if you do decide to send them, you may want to consider finding a symbolic way to include your baby. Perhaps you have a special stuffed animal or other item you or one of your children can hold in a photograph. Or you can purchase a small stamp or a punch of a meaningful symbol such as a butterfly or angel and add it to the signatures on your card.
Something else that is frequently difficult for grieving parents is receiving cards from others in the mail. It may be very painful when others send cards with photographs of their baby(ies). Other parents may feel offended and upset if family and friends do not send them the usual card or omit pictures of their children. Again, whatever your feelings are, they are understandable, so try not to be too hard on yourself. Try not to be too hard on others as well and realize that they likely are unsure of what you and your family are up to handling. Consider asking a trusted friend to open your cards and remove photos before you look at them if seeing them is too distressing.
There’ll be parties for hosting…
Except when your baby has died. Then, parties that you looked forward to in the past may bring on feelings of dread.
Most likely, the last thing you want to do when you are grieving and longing for your baby during the holidays is go to parties and other festive events. You may not even want to get together with your extended family. However, with careful planning, it may be possible for you to gather with your loved ones while still honoring your need for quiet time away from crowds and merriment. Keep in mind that sometimes, just the thought of spending time with loved ones who are happily celebrating seems overwhelming, but some grieving parents do find being around friends and family and beloved traditions comforting as well. In a time of sorrow, where so much of what you have experienced has been out of your control, participating in things you have enjoyed in the past and spending times with your loved ones may do your aching heart some good.
If you do decide to take part in some of your family’s usual holiday celebrations, there are things you can do to make it much easier on yourself. If you go to another home, decide ahead of time how long you will stay and tell the host so you can leave early if you need to. Be gentle but honest and tell everyone you care about what you are or are not up to doing.
Hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near…
Except when your baby has died. Then, your heart feels broken because your baby is not with you.
While the days during the holiday season can be some of the most challenging times bereaved parents face, by planning carefully, being honest with your loved ones and doing things to nurture your family as well as your spirit, it may be possible to find some moments of joy, thankfulness and peace. Many parents find it comforting to do something for someone else in honor of their baby. It is okay if you are not ready for this, but if you are, the ideas are endless, but here are some things to consider:
- Make a donation in your baby’s honor to an organization you feel connected to, or buy a gift meant for the age your child would be and donate it to a women’s shelter or hospital.
- Take some time each day away from the hustle and bustle to do something nice for yourself. Write a letter to your baby, have coffee with a friend, take a bubble bath, read a book, or just sit quietly and reflect on the small things you are thankful for, and the gifts your baby’s life gave you.
- Do something simple for someone who has been especially kind and supportive. Even something as small as taking a plate of cookies to your doctor’s office can brighten your day.
While it probably does not feel like the most wonderful time of the year for you this year, with careful planning of ways to include your baby in however you do celebrate, you may find that some of the new ways you celebrate become your family’s most treasured traditions.
About Rose Carlson
Rose is the Program Director at Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support. She 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. Her personal experience as a bereaved parent brings an invaluable perspective to her work. Rose manages the Share Memorial events, serves as an educator and is the Share Chapter coordinator.