By Molly A. Minnick, ACSW
“You just can’t escape the fact that Christmas is about children. It makes it hurt even more that my child is gone.”
These words have been echoed many times over the years as almost a universal response to bereaved parents at the holidays. In the religious experience of Christmas, we celebrate a very special birth. There is no escaping this. In the secular world, Santa Claus is everywhere and so are children. To the bereaved parent it can feel like there is no escape at the holidays.
“I have to spend the holidays with my extended family where no one will acknowledge my loss. Everyone will avoid asking how I am doing. I know I will feel very isolated and alone, even though I am with those who are supposed to love me the most.”
Parents often feel that they have to “put on a happy face” and pretend that they’re okay through the holidays. After all, isn’t this supposed to be a happy time of year? Such a huge discrepancy between how one feels and how one acts on the outside can lead to feelings of hopelessness, isolation and anger.
“It’s not just the first set of holidays that are awful. I know that they will always be hard. I will always miss my baby at this time of year and I will always fantasize about what we would have been doing with her.”
Many parents report that it is very difficult to have to revisit their grief at the holidays. However, they cannot escape the constant reminders of what they have lost. Parents also can continue to feel very isolated, as they don’t want to bring up their feelings of loss so many years after it has occurred—even though their feelings at the holidays can be very intense.
In addition to sharing all of those things which make the holidays difficult, we have also learned from parents what they can do to make it more meaningful. Here are a few suggestions:
- If you are not already attending a pregnancy loss support group, find one where a holiday memorial service is being held and attend that service. You will be able to openly acknowledge your feelings of loss and pain with other who will be supportive. The other parents will not expect you to be “okay.”
- If you live in an area where a pregnancy loss group is not available, try to attend a local tree lighting or memorial service sponsored by your local hospice or hospital. Almost all communities have such an event.
- If you’re having a holiday tree, buy or make a special ornament in memory of your baby, and hang it on the tree in your own private ceremony. Do this each year. Allow your baby’s short life to be acknowledged.
- Plan to surround yourself with supportive people who know about your loss and who will take the time to care.
- Acknowledge that the holidays will be different this year and don’t try to pretend that everything is the same. Instead of preparing a huge holiday meal, order meat and cheese trays. Don’t attend all of the events you have been invited to. Take time to slow down and to care for yourself and honor your grief.
- “Adopt” a needy child and make his or her holidays special. Do so in remembrance of your baby. There are countless ways to be involved with children in need during the holidays. Call your local Red Cross, Big Brother-Big Sisters, Family Independence Agency or other group involved with children in your area.
- If you have a supportive clergy person in your life, consult with him or her about your grief at the holidays. Many parents feel very angry with God and this is upsetting for them at the holidays.
- Keep a journal about your feelings. This is especially helpful if you do not have anyone you can talk to about how you feel at this time of year. Intense feelings of sadness, anger, regret, longing fear and hopelessness need an outlet. Writing can be one such outlet.
- Seek the support of a therapist. Therapy should be viewed as a gift you give yourself. The gift of having someone who will give you their undivided attention for one entire hour and who will listen to your every feeling without trying to take your pain away or tell you how you “should” feel. Make sure you select your therapist carefully. He or she should have training and expertise in grief and loss issues, at the very least, and in pregnancy loss if possible.
- Read. Go to the library or to a bookstore and get books on grief and loss. Reading them may allow you to feel less alone in your grief and more of a member of a community of grievers. You will likely learn that others hare your intense feelings at the holidays and that you are not “odd” because you feel the way you do.
- Most importantly, slow down and take extra good care of yourself. Allow yourself to grieve. Acknowledge that the holidays will be different. Find ways to share your feelings and to remember your baby in ways which are meaningful to you.