‘Tis the season for holiday cheer… or is it?
With November comes the wave of Christmas and holiday, well everything. No matter where you go from now until December 25th, the barrage of music, Target decorations, and Black Friday store ads can be overwhelming for any person. Especially when a person is grieving the loss of their child. I can already feel the pressure of being cheery for the snow to settle and to count my blessings for Thanksgiving day.
Here’s the thing, I’m not excited to make snow angels or say what I’m thankful for around the dinner table. I don’t want to see children my son’s age opening up their Christmas presents and sitting on Santa’s lap. On the other hand, I don’t want to feel like the Grinch stole this holiday season away from me honoring my son and how far I’ve come in my grief journey.
I’d like to share with you some activities I did in my first year of surviving the holidays that really helped me. Last year I shared this article about how to honor your child during Thanksgiving, but I wanted to branch out on how to make the most out of an extremely difficult season of grieving.
Reach Out for Support Online or in Person
Okay, I know this one is pretty much for all year around, but it is so crucial during this time of year.
Last year, I can remember feeling so bad when I would tell someone I was feeling down when they were so happy. I didn’t want to bring them down so I kept quiet. There were a lot of tears last year, but I eventually did let my family and friends know how I needed to be supported during this time. I also found online support and talking to other loss parents during this time beneficial in knowing my actions or thoughts weren’t ‘crazy.’
Share your child’s name during this time, let people know how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to reach out. You’re doing the best you can.
Journal Your Thoughts and Feelings Throughout the Holidays
Not all of us are writers or artists, I get that; you would too if you saw me try to draw. In my experience, I get all these negative thoughts and emotions stuck in my head. Writing or creating something has helped give me an outlet to clear my mind. A journal can be one where you write or one where you paint or do something artistic. Even if it’s just an angry scribble or random words you write over and over again, they’re going somewhere other than your head. Believe me, I know the weight of grief during the holidays. It needs to be out.
Don’t know what to write or create? There are many journal prompts on Pinterest and groups on Facebook or Instagram. Courageous Mothers is also providing a prompt a day through their program ‘Grief Journaling through the Holidays.’ The prompts began the first of November, but you can join through anytime. They also have a group on Facebook where you can share your thoughts on the daily prompts or just to go there for extra support during this time. Make sure to check it out and see if you would be interested.
Go to a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Holiday Gathering
I am always amazed when I go to Pregnancy and Infant Loss events. The amount of people that attend can be so… heartbreaking, but each individual there provides so much hope and support. Last year, I was able to attended two events. Both were completely different and just as healing. The one was an outside event by the Angel of Hope in Stow, Ohio. Here parents, families, and support people were invited to light a candle throughout the ceremony. During this time, poems were read and a speaker talked about holiday grief. We were also allowed to present flowers to the angel or place them on the child’s brick, while being able to say their names. I blogged about this night on this post. For my parents who went with me, they really enjoyed being able to celebrate Jensen there and felt connected to our community. It was healing for them and me, which is so important.
The other event I went to last year, was inside and more formal. It was in a huge church. They had a program and showed pictures of children gone too soon. The speaker there last year was absolutely amazing. It was a father whose son died from SIDS at daycare and just hearing him talk about his soon was heartwarming. He shared how tough the holidays are, but how they are able to honor him throughout them and their everyday life. I also blogged about this event, here.
Events like these are individual to where a person lives. If you’re involved in a local loss in-person support group, they might be able to point you to gatherings near you.
Join an Ornament Swap
Before last year, I had never participated in an ornament swap; unless you count the ones in elementary school. I’m not really sure how I was introduced to the one I joined last year, but I am SO glad I was. Pretty much, you sign up for a swap, which deadlines are coming up soon, and you give what you would like to have in an ornament. Of course you give details about your child, what holiday you celebrate (religious or not), and how you decorate during the holiday season. Oh! The most important thing is every ornament in the swap is handmade. A few days later, you’ll get who you’re making an ornament for and learn about their child. It’s so healing to be able to connect with a person and their child that you’ve never met before. You are presenting them a way to heal and honor their child. That’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone who is grieving. Your child is also being honored and remember by another family.
You don’t have to be super crafty to participate, just do the best you can do. This year and last year, I requested the ornament to be made with whatever came to them. It’s my belief that Jensen will work his magic in getting the perfect ornament for him. I also blogged about this experience and what happened when Jensen’s ornament arrived home, here.
Want to join an ornament swap, but don’t know where to go? Check these two out:
Remembering Together Swap
Include Your Child in Holiday Cards
When I was a child, we rarely sent out Christmas cards. I only did a few times when I worked at a retail store and gave them to my coworkers. Instead of taking one with my whole family, I took pictures of me with my dog (who still lives at my parents). I always wanted to be able to send cards when I had a family of my own. When the first holidays came, I wanted to do something to honor Jensen and I. No, I didn’t send them out to family and friends, but I did share on here and social media. It was so healing to represent my little family and be apart of a holiday tradition I always had planned on.
If you do take holiday pictures, feel free include your child. You can do this by holding their picture or Molly bear during your picture. If you don’t feel comfortable with those things, I have seen loss families add a certain symbol to all their pictures such as a butterfly or bird. When you sign from your family, add their name too. They are as much as a family member as anyone.
Donate a Gift in Your Child’s Name
I was pregnant with Jensen during Christmas time. That year, I was constantly in and out of the mall buying gifts for my family and of course, Jensen. Every time I would go to shop, I would pass a giving tree and he would start kicking. Eventually, I took a tag off the tree and decided to donate a gift in Jensen’s name to a child who wouldn’t be getting the Christmas I was always used to. So, that began my tradition of honoring him. Of course, I didn’t know that it would be a way I could honor him then, but I continued my tradition last year.
It felt really nice to be able to help someone in Jensen’s name. That’s what I try to do everyday. Knowing he is making someone smile after all the pain and heartbreak death caused, helps me keep going.
You can find giving trees in local malls or you can even donate to churches or homeless shelters in your child’s name. Some Pregnancy and Infant Loss holiday events even take presents and clothes to children’s hospitals that you donate too.
Make a New Holiday Tradition
After loss, life completely changes. The way you do things or see the world is altered in ways you didn’t think was possible before. This most definitely includes the holidays.
You and your family might have done a tradition since you were born and you don’t want to participate this year. Guess what? That’s perfectly okay. You are allowed to make your own new traditions. This means you might not feel up to going to certain holiday gatherings or putting up a tree. Instead of eating turkey for Thanksgiving, order pizza. No matter what you do, you’re doing what is best for your heart. That’s all you can ask from yourself. Don’t feel like you’re letting your child down or even your family members.
Some examples of new traditions I did last year and maybe they’ll change again this year is making an ornament for Jensen (I didn’t want to buy one and go into the mall), setting an empty plate for holiday dinners, putting up a tree that represents your child, decorating their headstone or special place in your home, and writing their name in the snow.
No matter how you decide to survive the holidays, know that there is a whole community ready to support and help you along the way. You are never alone in this journey.