Surviving the holidays after child loss can be daunting at times. I use the word “surviving” purposefully because once you’ve experienced a loss sometimes surviving is all you can do.
The holidays exacerbate ALL of the feelings, creating a very unique experience that is hard to relate to unless you have lived it.
Here are a few strategies on surviving the holiday season after child loss:
I lost my son Lennon on the sixteenth of October, just before the holiday season started. The feeling of dread washed over me at the very idea of mingling with people.
I hated the idea of plastering a smile on my face and feeling the joy of the season so soon after I had to say goodbye to my sweet boy.
That first year, I avoided the holidays. I said “no” to anyone who asked me to attend a party.
There was some backlash to our choice to put our emotional health first. In response to my avoidance, I actually received one drunken phone call from a family member accusing me of manipulating them. I had said I would not be attending their parties but they could visit us if they so desired.
Even knowing I made others upset, I refused to budge. I was walking through the first stages of grief and I knew that my own mental health, my self-preservation was more important than someone else’s hurt feelings.
Some may think it’s selfish but in loss sometimes you need to put yourself first.
Sometimes locking your door, turning down the lights and just sitting in the quiet is the only answer.
The following year after loss came some relief. My emotional needs were no longer front and center for the holidays.
I became mindful of wanting to find ways to integrate my son into our regular routines. Going to parties was still hard because Lennon was not a factor in the traditions of extended family.
He was on my mind though, he was also on my husband’s mind and my children’s minds and that’s all that truly matters.
We bought a lantern with his name on it and turned on the light of the battery-operated candle on those special evenings.
We said a prayer for our son and for all the other babies who had passed too soon during Christmas mass.
We gave our children thoughtful gifts from their brother, Lennon, who was watching over them.
We chose small things that meant something to us and created a tangible space for our son’s presence to reside.
There are many more options out there for any loss parent to use to honor their child during the holiday season. From ornaments to Molly Bears, loss parents can integrate their sweet little one into holiday festivities in ways that speak to their hearts.
This last option may be my favorite. Create all new traditions, throw out the old.
This year for Christmas, my family and I are heading to sunny Florida! No snowball fights, no more need for hot cocoa (we may still drink it, we just may not need it to warm up).
There will be no huge extended family parties; just me and my husband, my children enjoying each other and the sun.
This year we will do a little integrating as well. We will follow some of our old traditions, we will still turn on Lennon’s candle, we will have all of our children in our hearts and minds.
Also, we will create new traditions. It’s a new adventure, a break from the norm and a way to just do the things that make us happy without the added pressure of outside expectations.
Grief is a never-ending journey. The holiday season is rife with opportunities to experience high highs and low lows.
The single most important thing to do this holiday season is to be mindful of avoiding things that will make you uncomfortable.
Instead, do the things that bring you joy and never, NEVER be afraid to just play hooky if needed.
This is your life and your grief and your holiday memories.
No explanations needed.
Morgan McLaverty, a world traveler that has taken roots in southern New Jersey where her husband Sean was born and raised. Now, a stay at home mother, she cares for her three living boys; Gavin Cole(5), Rowan Grey(3) and Holden Nash (1). She also is a mother to Lennon Rhys. Lennon was born still at thirty one weeks and five days. His loss spurred on a need in Morgan to write her feelings, share her grief and help others in the process. She hopes her words will help shed the silence and taboo nature of discussing pregnancy and child loss.