Whether your friends just recently lost their child or whether it’s been several years, they always will have hard days, and often the holidays can be harder. It’s easier to see the empty chair, so to speak. The place where the baby should be, the activities and rituals they should be a part of, not to mention the intense “family togetherness” side of it (and one person is missing).
However, there are things you can do to support loss families like ours during holidays. Some of them are small, but you never know when something that is small to you means a lot to the recipient.
First of all, as always, be sensitive to the wishes of the parents. The things I say are what fit many families but may not be right for all. Communication is key! These items are based mostly on my personal experience, though I’ve included some ideas based on what I’ve read or heard other loss parents talk about. Be open to the parents when they tell you what would be helpful or meaningful to them. It might not match what you had thought it would be, or it might seem either too minor or too grand. Trust that the parents are talking to you from their hearts.
Many families (us included) just want the child who died to be remembered and included. They may do things themselves (like hang a stocking or have special ornaments), but it’s also wonderful for me when people include my son Charlie’s name on the Christmas card (number one), or get us a gift with his memory in mind (number two), or tell us they lit a candle in his memory (number three)… Some people have said that it’s great when people do a donation in memory of the child and then let them know (number four). Even just saying the baby’s name is a wonderful thing! (Number five) We know he lives on in our memory but it’s reassuring in so many ways to know he lives on beyond just us.
Be patient with us (number six) and just be aware that our child is on our minds. It’s perfectly possible for me to be happy and enjoying myself and at the same time miss having Charlie here to enjoy the holiday with us. Some years this means that certain events, gatherings, or traditions may be painful and a loss parent may need to opt out. Please understand that this is for our emotional and mental health and is not meant as an insult to the host.
Next – and this one may be more varied, so just communicate well and ask – some families like to share about their memories of the child related to the holiday (number seven). This could be pregnancy memories, or talking about what they’d planned and not gotten to do, or it could be talking about the traditions they’ve established since to honor the baby’s memory. Ask! And then really listen. It’s so rare that anyone wants to actually talk about the baby as a person that we have memories of and had hopes for.
Bonus tip: remember family members besides just the mom. Dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings… This baby was loved and missed by many people.
Sending love to all loss families this holiday season.