The holidays can be an especially difficult time for parents who have lost their children. So many holiday routines and activities revolve around the gathering of family and friends. Yet, bereaved parents may not feel up for celebrating as usual or embracing holiday traditions that they have in the past. Instead of feeling a sense of loss over what the holidays were supposed to be, we can take this as an opportunity to recreate what they will be for our families from now on. The following are tips for enjoying your holidays in the face of grief:
Simplify: Don’t expect to do everything you have in the past. Pick and choose what you’re up for. This will give you the chance to think about which traditions hold real meaning for you and which you have simply observed because of old habits or other people’s expectations. Communicate with your family and friends. They will understand if you need to “take a break” from past expectations. Let them know what your plans are and what you might need from them in return.
Honor Your Family: You most certainly had hopes and expectation for what the holidays would be like. And now things have changed. It is alright to acknowledge that loss. Many holiday traditions like gift giving hold special significance for parents and children. It can be hard to think of yourself as a parent when your child has died. Be sure to remember the many gifts you gave your little one while they were with you and the gifts they gave to you.
Make Room for Your Feelings: Slow down and allow yourself time to think about and remember your baby. Talk about your child. Let other people know how you want your child to be talked about and remembered by showing them with your words and actions.
Create New Traditions: Holidays mark special milestones in a family’s life. Think about how you will remember the life of your child in your family’s history and traditions. Change the focus of your celebration. Revisit why you celebrate a particular holiday and what its significance is in your life. This can give traditions and rituals a renewed depth of meaning.
Be Generous with Others: Do things that help you feel connected to the people you love. Spend time with the people you want to be with. Nurture those relationships. Give of your time, talents and skills. Sharing can lift spirits and ease burdens.
Be Generous with Yourself: Expect that you will feel sad sometimes. Or angry. Or alone. These are all appropriate feelings and are an acknowledgement of the intense love you hold for your child. Allow yourself to be happy. There is nothing selfish about celebrating or feeling joy. The capacity for joy is what connects us to each other. It’s what the holidays are all about.
Erika Goyer is the mother of three boys and a family support navigator with Hand to Hold. Her oldest son Carrick Michael was born at 27 weeks gestation and weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces. Carrick died soon after his birth due to complications of prematurity. Erika went on to have two more high-risk pregnancies and two healthy sons, one of whom has developmental delays. Reprinted with permission from Hand To Hold (www.handtohold.org).