Fresh grief is hard. Most of the time it seems like you’re merely surviving and the holidays can compound grief even more, especially the first holiday season without your child. Like it or not, the holidays will come. While you may want to crawl in a hole and wait for them to pass, you have to find a way to make it through. Here are a few things that I have found helpful in getting through the holiday season.
My due date with Thomas Roy was the Monday before Thanksgiving. Keith and I do not usually travel during Thanksgiving since both of our families are local. For this first holiday without our baby, we took off to Savannah for Thanksgiving. We should have been bringing a baby home from the hospital that week and I knew sticking around and having a “normal” Thanksgiving would be too much. I am grateful our families were understanding.
The hard truth is that this first holiday season after loss is not going to be normal. You were expecting to have your child with you (or be pregnant anticipating your child). If you have things that you always do during the holidays and it just doesn’t feel right doing them this year, then don’t do them.
Your family cannot read your mind, especially those who have never experienced the loss of a pregnancy or baby. Do not be afraid to communicate what you need from them this holiday season. If you need something to be different, tell them. If you do not want the subject of your loss to be brought up, tell them. If you do want it to be talked about or you want to do something special to honor the child you lost, tell them. They may not completely understand, but hopefully they will honor your wishes.
Grief can have an ugly way of sneaking up on you at the most inopportune times. Something can happen that reminds you of your loss or someone can say the wrong thing and before you know it you’ve lost all composure. Have a plan in place to just leave if things get too intense. If you can’t completely remove yourself from the environment, then take a time out. Go for a walk or a drive until you regain your composure. Some couples even have a code word to indicate to one another that it’s time to split.
For years my family has taken a picture with my parents and all of the grandchildren at Christmas. Knowing my baby should have been in that picture was hard. For several years after our losses, I had to leave the room while the picture was being taken and it was okay.
In general, finding a way to honor your child is healing in the grieving process. This can be especially helpful during the holidays. One idea is to donate to a charitable organization in memory of your child. You could also provide Christmas for a child through a local Angel Tree or other event.
Another idea is to purchase a special ornament each year to help remember your child. Some parents have symbols that remind them of their child (butterflies, dragonflies, rainbows) and get ornaments depicting those things. Last year I could not find anything that was fitting, so I made an ornament. Taking the time to do this was very therapeutic for me. This has become a new tradition over the years. I have made an ornament every Christmas in memory of my babies.
The most important thing you can do this holiday season is to take care of yourself. The loss of a pregnancy or baby is hard. It is unfair. It is something no one should have to endure. But it is something you can endure. If only for a moment, do something good for yourself. Instead of thinking of the needs of everyone else in your life, think about yourself. Get a massage. Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy. Treat yourself to a yummy meal. Crawl in that hole if you need to, just don’t stay in there for too long. Try to find something to enjoy this holiday season and don’t feel guilty for doing so. Even though it may not feel right at times, it is okay to enjoy life after your loss.
I pray these tips are helpful as you navigate life after loss during the holidays. My wish for you this holiday season…