By Jodi Weaver & Patti Kenney
Happy Thanksgiving…Merry Christmas . ..Happy New Year…! We will be hearing these clichés a lot over the next two months and we will often find ourselves wanting to say “What’s there to be happy about?” or “What is there to be thankful for?” The months of November and December are typically the hardest for parents who have lost a baby or child to get through. There is so much cheer and so many festivities surrounding us, we just want to scream and tell the world to “STOP!” When all we want for Christmas is our baby. Among the holiday masses and “joy of the season” this time of year can be very lonely. It is easy to desire rejecting every part of the season. Relentlessly, no matter how we feel, the holidays will come at their usual scheduled date, as well as birthdays and anniversaries dates. We can’t stop them. However, with a little thought and preparation, we can get through the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s in a productive and valuable way.1 Remember that usually the days before the dates are typically harder than the actual day.
Here are some strategies that may be helpful to help you survive the Holidays:
Plan Ahead— It’s okay to do something totally different and change your tradition It could be for just this year or you may find you want it to be a new tradition for every year. You may want to keep it small and be with your close immediate family for dinner and then get together with relatives for dessert, or you may feel a need to be at the extended family gathering rather than facing it by yourself.
- If you usually attend a particular church service, you may want to choose a different one this year. You may decide to go and serve a holiday dinner at a homeless shelter, to reach out to someone else and get your focus off yourself and on to others who are in need.
- You may want to change where you eat your holiday dinner, have it at a different time or choose a different menu. You may want to exchange gifts at a different time or day. You may even decide to go away for the holidays.
- Accept Your Limitations—Grieving is exhausting. The holidays will place additional demands on your time and emotions. You don’t have to participate in everything that takes place. Let others do the activities you normally have done but feel incapable of this year. Lower your expectations and commitments. Give yourself space and time for regrouping and for yourself. A lack of concentration is part of grief. A daily list may help remind you of things and make shopping easier.
- Make it out the night before or in the morning. Try to do your holiday shopping on less busy days, as early in the day as possible. Ask a friend to go with you to help shop, as decisions can be difficult when grieving.You may want to entirely avoid the hustle and bustle of the merry shoppers at the crowded malls and department stores. You may consider doing your shopping online or through a mail-order catalogs.
- Inform Others of Your Needs—Give family and friends the understanding they need to help you through the holidays. They probably won’t know if you don’t tell them. Let them know that your child’s absence is glaring to you when the “whole family” gathers, it seems to emphasize the incompleteness of your immediate family.
- Let them know this season will be difficult, that you will need their support and grace with the decisions that you make even if they don’t make sense to them. Family and friends probably will hesitate to mention your baby’s name for fear of “spoiling” Christmas for you. Give them permission to bring up your baby’s name.
- Be Prepared for Insensitive Remarks—Some sincere friends & family who do not want to watch you suffer, may try to hurry you through your grief. Others may give you unwanted counsel on what you should or shouldn’t do. As Jo Ann Taylor put it “Don’t let people ‘should..’ on you. Things like: ‘You should put up a tree’, ‘You should go see your parents’, ‘You really should get out more.’ Don’t let anyone “bully” you into feeling guilty because you are not up to doing things the way they have “always been done”.
- Include Your Child—-Many parents find it important to symbolically remember their child on these special days in a special way. An ornament for your tree or a stocking with his or her name on it is a possibility. Set a place at the table for your child. And when the dinner begins, light a candle in your child’s place. Decorate your child’s grave with holiday items. For some, the greatest comfort comes from doing something for others. For example, giving a gift in memory of your child to “Toys for Tots” or an angel tree program. Donate the money you would have spent on your child’s gifts to a particular charity. Adopt a needy family. Buy a poinsettia and donate it to your church in memory of your child. Some have also found that attending a special Memorial service that remembers their child is very healing during the Holidays. All of these are very constructive ways to remember and honor your child.
- If you Have other Children At Home— Carol Ruth Blackman stated “Children view celebration of special days as evidence that their happiness is still important to their parents, that they are loved, and with hope that their family stability will return. Birthdays and holidays are significant occasions for children that bring heightened expectations that their family will demonstrate their love for them. Grieving children need to know they are valued and special. Many feel they are not as valued as the one who died since their sibling’s absence has caused the parents so much sadness and pain. Because grief can cause parents to be emotionally out of focus towards remaining children, sometimes the only feeling conveyed is pain, so the remaining child(ren) may feel abandoned or rejected. Be sure to spend time with them assuring them through words and actions of your love. Rather than buy extravagant gifts for children, give them extra time and attention as nothing purchased can replace the loss in their lives. You might want to create a special card for your living child, listing why they are so special and reassuring them of your love, maybe include some special reminisc-ing. Explain that your grief doesn’t lessen your love for them. Be careful you don’t hold an idolized image of your deceased child as your other children will feel overwhelmed, knowing they can’t measure up. Don’t dampen your remaining childrens’ ability to enjoy themselves by spending the day reminding everyone of the deceased child. Let your living children have their place in the sun. This is not betrayal towards your deceased child.”
This will be the forth Christmas for Jodi since her twins, Isaac and Jacob, were born. She says in many ways it gets easier—the key here is the “er”, but in others it seems to get harder. When she shops, she can’t help but look at the clothes they would be wearing or toys that they would be playing with, and imagining what it would be like if they were here. There are several ways that she has found to help remember her twins and make it easier for her and her husband. Every year they buy presents for them and wrap them and put them under the tree. They hang a stocking with their name on it. They have a special ornament for the tree for each year. After Christmas, they donate the presents to their church nursery. They always do the poinsettias at the church and try to find a needy child about the twin’s age to buy gifts for. No, this is not a perfect solution, and it is not the same as if the twins were here, but it helps Jodi & Tom feel as if Isaac and Jacob are still a LARGE part of their holiday tradition.
Our hope for all of you this Holiday season is that you will do more than just get through. We hope and pray that you will gain comfort and strength in knowing you do not have to forget your baby, but that he or she can be a part of your life during the holidays and always.
(1) Handling the Holidays, by Diane Anthony from Heartline Newsletter Fall 1988, www.preciousparents.org
(2) How to Handle the Holidays, by JoAnn Taylor, Operation Angel http://fly.to/OperationAngel
(3) Holiday Suggestions for Bereaved Parents, by Carol Ruth Blackman [Reprinted from Nov. 1991 Bereaved Parents Share II; revised by Carol 11/95; edited by Hannah’s Prayer 1/99] http://www.hannah.org/resources/holiday.htm