The holidays are undoubtedly some of the most difficult times for families who have lost a child. As you watching everyone count their blessings, you are thinking of the one who is missing from your Thanksgiving table. You see all of your friends fill Christmas stockings, and become hyper-aware of the one left empty next to your tree. Finding ways to honor your precious child is a great way to help make the holidays a bit gentler on a grieving heart.
- Buy a Special Ornament – Every year, we buy a new Christmas ornament for our rainbow daughter. We also make sure to pick out a special ornament for our son as well. Hallmark makes some beautiful memorial ornaments that are beautiful hanging on the tree.
- Adopt a Child for Christmas – A beautiful way to remember your child at Christmas and help those in need is to adopt a child for Christmas. The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree project is one of many organizations that allow you to pick a child to buy gifts for at Christmas. I often look for a child that is the same age as our son would be or find one that shares his name. It feels good to know I’m honoring his memory and helping someone in need at the same time.
- Create a Memorial Tree – Another special way to remember your baby at Christmas is to decorate a special tree. Hang special ornaments, framed photos of ultrasound pictures or photos of your baby, and some simple strands of lights. The glow of the twinkling lights can help remind you that their love, their spirit still glows brightly even through the dark and cold days of grief.
- Visit Their Grave – Placing a wreath or flowers at their gravesite is a simple way to continue to remember their all too short life.
- Include Them In the Christmas Card – Our family sends out a Christmas card each year. As I sign our family’s names to the back of each card, I include a J inside of a heart as a simple way to honor our son, Joshua. Another easy way to include your baby is to include them in your holiday photos. Many have a special photo, stuffed animal, or other items that represent their child. Bring it with you when you take family photos and include the photo on or in your holiday card.
- Slow Down, Keep Busy, Do What Feels Right – It is okay to skip that holiday party or to distract yourself with a full calendar. Remember that life after loss looks different for everyone. Remind yourself to not feel guilty if how you choose to grieve and remember your child at this time of year doesn’t fit into the perfectly wrapped box that people around you think grief should look like. If you feel the need to keep yourself busy with tree lighting, hot cocoa, and ice skating, that is normal. If you feel the need to stay close to home and avoid the business of the season, that is normal too. However you grieve, however you remember your child is okay and if anyone tells you otherwise, tell them to go away.
- Take Care of Yourself – If your loss was last week or 53 years ago, it makes no difference during these special days. Milestones, holidays, these days are always hard. Sometimes they may become gentler on your heart with the passing of time, but these days the what-ifs, the wondering, and the absence of memories always seems a little bit bigger. Just as everyone will tell a new mother to make sure she is getting enough rest, eating healthy, and taking some time for herself, this is important for you too. Take the time to let yourself feel, to rest when needed, and to politely retreat into your family, your partner, your friends, whoever is your support system. Take care of yourself.
From my family to yours, I’m wishing you a gentle holiday season.
Photo Credit: Victoria Denney