By: Rose Carlson
‘Tis the season to be…thankful?
What if you don’t feel thankful, or think you have anything to be thankful for this year? What if you feel guilty about not having an “attitude of gratitude?”
Others may tell you, “Just be thankful for what you DO have,” which can be hurtful and make it seem like they do not understand or care about what you have been through since your baby died. You may indeed know in your heart that you have plenty to be grateful for, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a difficult time showing any feelings of gratitude.
You may want a quieter Thanksgiving than you have had in years past, and that is all right. If you feel up to it, though, it can be helpful to start some new traditions, especially those that acknowledge your grief and allow you to include your baby. Doing so can generate some positive feelings, even if you are not feeling at all grateful.
The following are a few ideas if you would like to try something new, but please be easy on yourself if you are not up to doing any of them.
*Purchase a real or artificial white pumpkin. White pumpkins have become a meaningful symbol for those who experience the death of a baby and making them a part of your décor can be a special way of embracing and honoring the memory of your baby. Tie ribbons around the stem and put a small basket or bowl of permanent markers next to it. Have your family or any guests write something they are thankful for on the pumpkin. You can also use it to jot down gifts your baby’s life has brought to yours. If you use an artificial pumpkin, you can display it next year, too.
*Make a thankful jar. Purchase a pretty jar and some colorful paper. Cut the paper into small strips and decorate the jar with ribbons and stickers. Have everyone write something they are grateful for on a strip of paper, fold it and place it in the jar. Leave it out throughout the season, not just on Thanksgiving Day, and ask anyone who stops by to add to your jar. At some point, read each strip of paper, perhaps on a quiet evening with just your partner and/or other children.
*Create a paper chain out of strips of paper with what everyone is grateful for written on them. Drape it on a mantel or window ledge, and again, continue to add to it.
*Make a thankful tree. Cut some branches from trees or bushes in your yard and place them in a vase. Use paper to cut out leaf shapes, poke a hole in them and tie a ribbon or string through the hole. As friends and family write what they are thankful for on the leaves, hang them on the branches.
*Provide flat river stones and markers or paint for your family and/or guests to write or draw something they are grateful for. Keep them in a basket so you can look through them whenever you are feeling down.
*Write a heartfelt letter to someone who has been especially kind and helpful to you since your loss.
*Start a family gratitude journal. Purchase a blank book or even a simple spiral notebook and encourage everyone to add something to the journal every day.
You may be reading this list thinking, “I have nothing to be grateful for, and these are dumb ideas!” That is understandable; it may be too soon for you to try any sort of gratitude activities. Know that whatever emotions you have surrounding this season of gratitude everywhere you look are OKAY! You may have high expectations for yourself and how holidays should be; others may have high expectations of you, as well. But for now, put those expectations aside and give yourself permission to spend the day doing, or not doing, whatever is easiest on your grieving heart. And even if you do decide to incorporate some gratitude into your life this season, that does not mean you will no longer be sad or missing your baby. It’s okay to feel some peace and joy while at the same time feeling sadness and longing.
And know that all of us at Share are here for you as is our community of other grieving families who have likely experienced some of these same feelings and thoughts. Please reach out if you are struggling as we head into the winter holiday season.
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.