Holidays and grief are often inevitable after losing a baby. There will be several times during the year which are very difficult for bereaved families – birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, to name some but probably the most difficult holiday will be Christmas. Automatically the mind conjures up ‘family’, presents, food, noise and a festive air! For bereaved families, this can be a very difficult time of year.
The following are some ideas that may assist you through stressful milestones and special occasions.
- SIMPLIFY! Christmas Holiday stress, even in good years, is from the long list of ‘have-to-do’s’. Reexamine your priorities to begin some new, healthier traditions. Only attend parties you feel are truly important. Ask family members to exchange gifts only for children in the family rather than the adults (or encourage them to make a donation in your child(ren)’s name to a meaningful children’s charity, POMBA Canada or CLIMB, for example. Stop shopping for the adults in the family who probably already have everything they need. Consider not sending cards this year.
- Do things differently than your normal routine. Attend your religious service at a time other than you would have normally. Visit your relatives rather than having them visit you. Or, you may take a vacation over this time period.
- Begin to build a pleasant time with family and friends. Don’t feel guilty if you do have a good time.
- Make sure that there is a balance in your life – eat, sleep, rest, pray, read, work and relax.
- Responding to happy greetings can be difficult. To a “Happy Holidays” wish, you may respond, “I’ll try” or “the same to you!”
- Do some volunteer work in the name of your child(ren). Visit someone who is unable to get out, make a donation or send flowers in your child’s name.
- Light a special candle in remembrance to your lost child(ren).
- Donate a new toy or clothing to a children’s shelter.
- Try to keep in mind the feelings of your other children and to make it as joyous for them as you possibly can. Speak freely to your family members of what you feel capable of coping with or being involved in.
- You may wish to keep a journal of your thoughts at this time, or even as a letter to your lost child(ren).
- There is no right or wrong way to handle the day. You may feel ‘safer’ following family traditions or you may wish to begin some new ones or just to deviate for the time being. Your wishes can change year to year.
- It is best to try and do what is most helpful for you and your family. If a situation looks especially difficult over the holidays, try not to get involved.
- Try not to imagine the future. Take one day or even one hour at a time.
- Allow yourself time to cry, both alone and with your loved ones.
- Some hospitals may allow you to hang an ornament for your child(ren) on their tree.
- SHOP EARLY! Don’t leave it to the last minute and end up feeling overwhelmed.
- Holidays and special occasions magnify feelings of loss. It is natural to experience the sadness that these occasions can bring. Try not to block these feelings as it is unhealthy. A good cry to release built-up sorrow can leave you better able to face your day-to-day holiday stress.
- Hold onto HOPE! – the anticipation of the holiday is often worse than the actual holiday. Future years will most likely bring some healing and ability to enjoy this time of year again, in ways that are hard to imagine when you are weighted down by sorrow.
How to Help Ourselves Through the Holidays; Bereaved Families, Ottawa
Canadian Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths
With contributions by: Elizabeth A. Pector, M.D.