When You Don’t Feel Like Celebrating

By: Lindsey Wimmer

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!  Or so the songs tell us.  The holiday season gives us opportunities to see friends and family, attend parties, exchange gifts of love, be thankful, celebrate our faith, or many other special activities. 

Unless you’re grieving the death of your baby. 

Then it can be a time to see friends and family who are pregnant or have new babies who would be the same age as your baby.  Or decide if you want to attend a party and explain dozens of times that your pregnancy didn’t go as hoped.  Or put on a happy face even though you’re feeling less than thankful.  Or try to reconcile the faith messages with a faith you are struggling to trust.   It can expose you to well-intentioned people who will try to offer comfort but offer an insensitive platitude instead or back away awkwardly like you might be contagious.  It can be reminders of the experiences you hoped to share with a new baby. 

Being surrounded by the joy and love of the holidays might seem to be a good thing for a grieving family.  But it can also be extremely challenging.   

If you are dreading the season, you probably aren’t alone.  Above all, be kind to yourself.  Grief takes a lot of work and when it peaks with these moments, it can be all-consuming.  It’s ok to take time to treat yourself or be alone with your thoughts.  Be honest with the people who are wanting to help you.  If you don’t have the energy to attend a holiday party, tell the host that you appreciate being invited and thought of, but it’s more than you have the ability to do for now.  If going to lunch with a dear friend would feel good, tell him/her what you’d like!  I’ve learned that those around us really do understand and want to be helpful if we can tell them what we need.    

Many families find it comforting to honor their baby with a special activity. 

This might be volunteering at a shelter, making a donation in his/her name, or contributing a baby-type gift to organizations like Toys for Tots that can help another baby.  Maybe you’d like to include your baby in your family traditions.  It can be as simple as lighting a candle during the meal.  If you’re creative, you can make crafts that have your baby’s name and can be used as holiday decorations.  The important part is to make it meaningful to you.  It can be something for the public to see, or something that only you know exists. 

If you love someone who is grieving, it can be difficult to know how to help. 

It is best to simply ask because every family is different.  Many people don’t know what they need, so you can offer some suggestions of things you’re willing to do and see if one of them is a good fit.  Maybe you can bring them a cup of coffee, help them wrap gifts, take the dog for a walk, or do some shopping for them.  Invite them to events you normally would, but don’t be offended if they aren’t able to do it or need to leave early.  Most families like to hear their baby’s name and know that their baby is being remembered, so don’t be afraid to mention them.  You can also offer to help them honor their baby by giving them a gift that includes the baby’s name or initials, making a donation in their baby’s name, or going with them to volunteer at a community event.  Be one of the people in their lives that isn’t afraid to sit with sadness if that is what is needed. 

One of the hardest parts might be if sadness isn’t needed.  Sometimes a good, hearty laugh is what everyone needs!  And that is ok, too!!  Give yourself permission to enjoy those moments without guilt or regret.  One of my favorite quotes is: ‘Grief is another name for love.’   Loving someone involves ups and downs – and so does grieving someone. 

The holidays are a major milestone in the grief journey.  We only get to the other side by going through it.  My holiday wish is that you can find small moments of peace, joy, gratitude, and love along the way. 

Lindsey Wimmer RN, MSN, CPNP, CPLC, is the Executive Director of Star Legacy Foundation. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN and a Master of Science degree in pediatric nursing from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. She is a pediatric nurse practitioner with 11 years in a primary care setting and 5 years in an emergency care setting. She most recently taught in the nursing department at St. Catherine University.  Ms. Wimmer is certified in Perinatal Loss Care (CPLC) and frequently presents on perinatal loss prevention and bereavement care. Lindsey and her husband, Trent, are the parents of Garrett, their son who was stillborn at term in 2004, Grant, Bennett, and Austyn.

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