Navigating Christmas After Loss

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The holiday season can be especially hard for grieving families. Here are a few suggestions for helping families include and honor their baby or babies in this season. PLIDA reposted the below article, Navigating Christmas After Pregnancy, Baby and Infant Loss, from Vicki Culling Associates. 
This resource was originally created for Sands Taranaki

When a baby dies, whether during pregnancy, around birth, as an infant or toddler, we mourn both their absence and the absence of future possibilities, opportunities and promises. And if there’s one time of the year that our precious baby’s (or babies’) absence is amplified – it’s at Christmas.

The foundations of Christmas celebrations may be the birth of Jesus, but it is marketed in the 21st century as a time for families to come together and share the day. And herein lies the reasons why Christmas can be so challenging and even painful for so many bereaved parents. There is always someone missing – always.

It’s common that when we first suspect we’re pregnant or discover a baby is due, we immediately project ourselves into the future – he’ll be six weeks at Christmas, we’ll have a three-month-old when we fly up north, she’ll be the first girl on our side of the family – and we start to imagine how life will be with our baby in our family and in our lives. Our brains are wired that way, as are our hearts. We start to know this little life, both physically and narratively, we start to plan for their presence in our lives, they are included in our individual story, in our story as a couple and in our family story, from the very beginning.

Christmas, then, can present us with encounters that can be painful and challenging. The absence of our baby can feel so much more pronounced when all the family is together, because for us, it’s not all the family. And in the busyness and joy of presents, celebration and connection, it can feel as though our absent and much-loved baby has been left out, forgotten or, worse still, ignored. 

So, what can we do to include our baby or babies in our Christmas gatherings and celebrations? Here are a few suggestions you might like to consider…

  • Light a candle – mention to your family (and/or those who are receptive to talking about your baby) that you are lighting a candle to burn throughout your time with the family to acknowledge your baby. This can be a subtle way of including your baby in the day or you can say it loud and proud and perhaps have a candle for each family member who has died, and you want to remember. You can make the candle more representative of your baby with a photo, a toy or the letter of their name beside the candle, so it feels as though it really is representing him/her/them.
  • Make or buy a special ornament for your baby – take it with you if you are spending time with others and put it on the tree where you’ll be on Christmas Day. Put an ornament on your local Sands Christmas Tree or on a Christmas Remembrance Tree in your community, in honour or your baby/babies.
  • Buy a present for a baby or child at the equivalent age your baby would be and donate it to a charity that provides for kids in need – this can be a very emotional but positive act of kindness that includes your baby and acknowledges him/her/them. You can include others in your immediate family in choosing your present or even ask your extended family if they’d like to contribute a gift in your baby’s name. Donating a bunch of toys for a child who is your baby’s age could become a family tradition as well. 
  • If possible, let others know what you can or cannot do this Christmas. Perhaps there’s a family tradition that you had imagined doing with your baby or child, and this year it just feels too hard. Let your family know that you just can’t do it this year and ask for their understanding and grace. 

Finally, be kind to yourself this Christmas. Grief isn’t a scheduled experience that arises when we ask it to, or sits low on our radar when we’d prefer it to. No, grief can ambush us when we least expect it and fill up our hearts when we think we’re going to be just fine. So, take things slowly and gently if you need to. 

And know there’s a community of bereaved parents throughout New Zealand navigating their own Christmas Day, who are missing and loving their babies, and perhaps make contact with them through Sands or another support organisation. Sometimes just knowing we’re not alone can make all the difference.

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