The holidays can be especially difficult following the loss of a baby as you had probably imagined what Christmas would look like this year, whether you were still going to be pregnant or whether you were going to experience Christmas through the eyes of your child. Thoughts of what presents to buy your baby, what your baby's first Christmas outfit was going to look like, mailing out Christmas cards filled your mind. But now all that has changed, and you aren't sure how to navigate the holiday season without your baby in your arms.
Right now, you may feel that you won't ever enjoy the holidays again. And while things are certainly not going to feel the same as they were, most people can find meaning in the holiday again given enough time. Just remember it takes energy to grieve, and it takes energy to hide grief. So, oftentimes the holiday season will exhaust you even more than in the past. Be gentle with yourself and don't feel guilty if you need extra time to rest.
Here are some ideas on how to handle the upcoming season:
Some families send out Christmas cards each year. If you have sent out cards in the past and decide not to send them this year, that's ok! But, if you do wish to send out cards, you can consider including your baby in some way. You may include your baby's name on the card. Perhaps include an ultrasound picture of your baby or place a special object or symbol in your family picture. For example, someone in your family photo might hold a teddy bear which can symbolize your baby. Alternatively, you may seal the card's envelope with a stamp or a sticker that bears a symbol acknowledging your baby. A butterfly sticker or an angel stamp, for instance.
Have a Plan...or Two
Try to have a Plan A and a Plan B for gatherings. Grief often changes how we feel about things from moment to moment. Having two plans gives you alternatives to tackle the day. Plan A should be that you will attend Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve celebrations, or other holiday gatherings that are planned. Plan B is for when you wake up that day and just don't have it in you to attend a large gathering. Ideas for Plan B could include going to a movie with a significant other or friend, working on a project in memory of your baby, or just going to a special place where you can reflect on your baby. Sometimes, just having a Plan B in place is enough to get you through the day.
Planning the Holiday
If you are usually in charge of planning, preparing, or hosting the holiday at your house, give yourself permission to take the year off. Let someone else host the holiday this year. Many people are probably asking what they can do to help you, so let them!
For some, planning the holiday keeps them busy, and they embrace the distraction. Do whatever makes you comfortable, but don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
If a traditional holiday doesn't feel right, try planning the holiday in a new way. Perhaps take a trip instead of staying home.
Asking for What you Need
If you choose to attend holiday activities, don't be afraid to ask for specific things you would like or need from your family. For example, you may ask that the blessing before the meal include your child's name. Or if you would prefer to not be asked about your baby, tell your family ahead of time.
If people ask what you would like as a gift, be honest. It might be something with your baby's name on it, a gift card for a massage, or other comfort items. You might ask that your family honor your baby by buying a gift for another baby through an "Adopt a Child" program or by donating to a charity in your baby's name.
Ways to Honor Your Baby's Memory Throughout the Year
Many families find ways to honor their baby's memory throughout the year. Here are some ideas:
Hold a balloon release/bubble blowing/butterfly release/ladybug release
Light a candle/say a special prayer
Volunteer for a special project or cause in memory of your baby
Donate to a special cause in memory of your baby
Remember and celebrate special dates (birth dates, anniversaries)
Plant a tree / make a rock garden / plant a memory garden as a place of reflection
The holidays can be a difficult time for families who have lost a baby whether that loss was recent or long ago. Keep in mind that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to grieve - especially during the holiday season. Be kind and gentle to yourself, and may the season bring you comfort and peace.
Journaling after a loss can be therapeutic, and we will try to incorporate this activity into each of our sessions. Here is one of the journaling topics shared by our first speaker, Jan Hale, LMSW.
JOURNAL IDEA: What I'm dreading most about the upcoming holidays...