The holidays can be the most joyous time of the year. But for some of us, the holidays can bring so much heartache. Celebrating and remembering together can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be the source of so much pain.
If you’re reading this and you’ve lost a baby – I’m so sorry. My heart breaks with you and for you. Getting through the holidays will look different for every grieving person. But I hope after you read this post you will be reminded that there is no right or wrong way to do this.
The holidays can bring up so many great memories, but with a baby in Heaven – all I can think about is who is missing. It can be hard to look at a table full of kids and feel so grateful and so heartbroken all at the same time. And that’s what our lives are like after loss – grief and joy consistently walking alongside each other.
The question is – what do we do when the grief takes over and the joy cannot be found? I’d love to walk you through some things that really helped us during our first holidays after we lost our son.
Kaleb went to be with Jesus in September, so the holidays were not far off. The Lord was carrying us through that time, but there was just so much sadness and sorrow filling our days. The thought of celebrating anything at all almost felt wrong.
I’m one of those people that has always loved the holidays, especially Christmas. But the thought of getting in our Christmas jammies, baking cookies, and making gingerbread houses without our boy would bring me to my knees in sorrow.
But by God’s grace, we did get through those first few holidays. Here are some things that may help as you navigate the heartache of the holidays:
- Find a way to remember your baby. This will look different for every family, but bringing Kaleb into our holidays brought me so much joy. For Christmas, we got a stocking with his name on it. That helped us (and others) remember that he is still a part of our family even though he’s no longer with us. And while it’s hard to hang a stocking we won’t get to fill, it’s also keeping his memory alive – and that is what we all long for.
- Christmas card ideas. If sending a Christmas card this year doesn’t feel right, that is okay. There is no pressure at all to do so. But if you decide you want to, here are some ways to include your baby. You could take his photo to your Christmas photo shoot and have him/her be a part of the family photo. Another option is to include his/her name on the card signature. You can put their name with yours, or add it on a separate line and say something like: “Always remembering Kaleb,” or “Remembering baby brother Jack.” Again no right or wrong way to do this, what’s best for your family is what’s best.
- Start a new tradition that includes your baby. Traditions can be a source of comfort, even in the midst of heartache. For our first Christmas without Kaleb, we all wrote a letter to him in Heaven and put it in his stocking. It was so hard and heartbreaking to write that letter. But I am so incredibly glad we started that tradition. Another idea could be to light a special candle every Thanksgiving to remember your baby. This year we will be with a lot of family on Thanksgiving, and we are going to have a little notepad out if anyone would like to write a letter to Kaleb. While our grief is so heavy, I know when we bring others into it – they are able to also express their grief (as a grandma, uncle, cousin, etc).
- Embrace whatever feeling may come. Grief is such a rollercoaster, and you never know what the day ahead is going to look like. This is the same for the holidays. We cannot predict how we will feel until that day comes. Whatever you feel throughout the holidays, embrace it. Try not to fight the feelings that come, whether they be sorrow or joy. You are not wrong to feel one or the other or both.
- Find your person. While we can’t predict how we will feel, we can plan for what we will do if the sting of grief becomes too much. I would suggest asking someone that you trust wholeheartedly to be your go-to person for that day. Let them know ahead of time what your plan is. If your grief becomes overwhelmind and you just need to disappear for a bit, definitely do that. But let them know where you will be so that they can help others give you some space. You could also tell them if you would like to be checked on, or if you just want to be alone. So find someone to be your person, and have a place (room, spot outside, etc.) that you can have as a haven during the holiday gatherings. You can also ask your person to check in with you if you are in a long conversation. Maybe have a code word or motion you can do when you need out or it’s getting to be too much. If your person can be aware of this, they could help give you a break if you need one.
- Talk about your baby. One of our biggest fears as bereaved parents is that our baby will not be remembered or talked about. Those that haven’t experienced loss sometimes don’t know how to bring up your baby. They don’t want to upset you or make your day any harder than it already is. So they may avoid saying your baby’s name or even asking how you’re doing. If this is the case, and I know this is hard – bring up your baby if you can. Sometimes others need a nudge to know it’s okay.
- Be kind to yourself. We can often put this added pressure on ourselves to feel or not feel a certain way when we are grieving. We may feel the need to show up for events even when we know we are not up for it. If you are sorrowful and you’d rather be home than at a gathering – that is okay. If you feel like getting out the house would be helpful – that is okay too. There’s no playbook for navigating the holidays after grief. Whatever may come, be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone in this.
- Know your limits. If you are one that is usually doing a lot of the cooking and preparing for holiday meals – know that it’s okay if you are not up for that. Delegate what you can and communicate to others that you are not able to do the things you would usually do. On the other hand, if you think staying busy with cooking and preparing would be good for you – then go for it! Just like there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, there’s no right or wrong way to be on the holidays. It can also be helpful to tell your friends and family that you want to be invited to gatherings, but you’re unsure of what that day will bring and cannot commit ahead of time. There will be times when you want to go, and times when you don’t.
- Be aware of what makes your grief worse. For me, mornings were always the hardest time of day for my grief. And seeing newborn baby boys would bring the sting of deep, deep grief. If you can pinpoint what makes your grief worse – let your person know so that he/she is aware. If a family member has had a new baby and you know that will be really hard for you, ask your person to help distract you if possible. If the morning is the worst time for your grief, try not to make plans till later in the day. The holidays can bring up so much for a grieving parent. Do what’s best for you, and people will be understanding.
- Journal + Pray. Sometimes we aren’t aware of what we’re fearful of or anxious about until we write it down. Take some time to journal and express how you feel – this can help you understand your own grief and prepare for what’s to come. Then, take all those fears and anxieties and offer them up to the Lord in surrender. He has gone before you, and He is with you in your suffering.
One of the hardest parts of the holidays is being in a room that is so full, yet feeling so empty. A part of you is missing, and you are so exhausted from this road you’ve had to walk. It’s a time when it is okay to prioritize yourself and your needs. And know that if you are a mom or dad with a baby in Heaven – you are not alone in this pain. I wish this wasn’t your story, and I wish this wasn’t my story. But the gratitude on Thanksgiving comes when I remember that this is not how the story ends. The joy on Christmas comes when I think of how that season with my son is so much better than never having him at all.
Loss parents live in the tension of the both/and. Both joy and sorrow. Both hurting and healing. Both grief and gratitude. You’re not alone in your grief this holiday season, and you’re not alone in this tension. This Thanksgiving, you don’t have to choose grief or gratitude – there is room for both. On Christmas, it’s okay to feel weary and still rejoice. Whatever your grief looks like this holiday season – I hope you’re surrounded by loved ones that say your baby’s name, support you, bring comfort, and love you well.