By Kelly Polci, MSW, RSW, Social Worker in the Women & Babies Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
The holidays are a joyful time of celebration and coming together with friends and family. But for families who have lost a loved one, the holidays can be especially difficult. Old memories and traditions offer reminders of loved ones no longer there.
Families who have lost babies can find the holidays particularly bittersweet. Not only are they missing their baby, they also grieve for the future and for the memories that they did not have the opportunity to make with their little one. Coupled with family responsibilities, looking after other children or parents, and meeting holiday commitments, getting through the holidays can be a very daunting challenge.
While every family finds their unique path through their grief, we offer some suggestions for getting through the holidays from families who've been there before:
1. Establish a holiday tradition in your baby's memory
- Give a holiday donation or give back in another way to a charitable organization in your child's name
- Decorate or visit the gravesite
- Name a star, light a candle, or purchase a wreath/plant in baby's name
2. Acknowledge the holiday to the extent that you wish
- Consider shopping online or with help from family
- Give yourself permission to limit decorating or social gatherings
- Share mementos of your child with friends or family
3. Take care of yourself
- Plan relaxation time, exercise, or engage in a creative activity
- Take a vacation! Perhaps for the first year or two following the loss, it is best for you to be away and/or not participate in certain holiday activities
- Spend time with another grieving family
- If you are participating in therapy, consider an appointment at this time to process your emotions
4. Ask for what you need
- Inform trusted friends and family about how this holiday season is different for you
- Ask someone else to host or inform others of your limitations in terms of contributing to any gathering this year
- Perhaps write this in a letter or appoint a person to communicate a message to others about what is helpful and what is unhelpful to you
5. Consider siblings
- If your baby has any siblings, consider their need to maintain certain traditions
- As appropriate, communicate to them about any changes that you intend to make in terms of celebrating this year
- As appropriate, involve them in any new holiday traditions in baby's memory
6. Give yourself permission to feel whatever emotions are coming forward
- Anger, sadness, or resentment are more strongly felt by some at the holiday season and that's okay. It is also okay to feel joy. You are entitled to laugh and feel happiness.
A few tips for friends and family too:
- Acknowledge the loss. Simple words like "I am thinking of you" can go a long way. Consider that silence or "business as usual" at a holiday family gathering can be perceived as dismissal, fear, or abandonment.
- Don't forget about dad. He is grieving, too.
- Be patient and kind. Limit your expectations of your loved one to be cheerful or to participate in family gatherings.
Read more health tips and information from Sunnybrook experts at health.sunnybrook.ca
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