Parents: Getting through the Holidays

Cultural and Religious Holidays

Holidays in general, and the winter holiday season in particular, are always difficult times for bereaved parents. They bring back vivid personal memories of happier years and inspire painful daydreams about what might have been. Even worse, by giving the world permission to go out and have a good time, they seem to make a mockery of the bitter facts of our lives. We try to protect ourselves, we try to mind our own business, but even for those who are in no mood to celebrate there’s no escape. The symbols of celebration are on every street corner and everywhere we go we are insistently exhorted to be merry, to be happy.

Getting through the holidays is hard, there is simply no getting around it. We can make things a little bit easier for ourselves, however, if we are realistic both with ourselves and with relatives outside our immediate family about what we will and will not be able to do. The first step is to set priorities – to decide what is important to us about this holiday and what is not. Do we really need to send out greeting cards this year? Can we dispense with some of the baking and decorating? Would it be okay if someone else hosted the family dinner? Ideally, all members of the immediate family, including children, should be involved in the making these decisions.

A change in the normal holiday tradition can help to minimize painful memories in a way that is surprisingly effective. We may want to consider spending the holidays away from home, for example. On the other hand, we may find that scheduling the festivities for a different day or attending religious services at a different place of worship is enough of a change. Perhaps we will discover that our experience of the holiday has deeper meaning when we reach out to others in need by making a donation in memory of our child, volunteering our time for a worthy cause, or inviting a foreign student or senior citizen to share our abundance. Who knows, perhaps we will decide to incorporate some of the alternatives we have explored into a brand new holiday tradition. Some hints:

If gift-giving is part of your holiday, be sure to make out the entire list ahead of time. On one of your “good days”, you will find the list helps to get the shopping done quickly and with less confusion. Shopping by catalog is another way to protect yourself while fulfilling the obligations of the season.

While sending out holiday cards, you may realize that some of the people on your mailing list are still unaware of the baby’s death. Enclose a simple memorial card or add a brief acknowledgment of your baby’s life and death after your signature: “…and in loving memory of our son, David ” or “…and our daughter, Marie, who died at birth on …”.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

Understandably, the two days set aside by our society to honor the state of parenthood are like proverbial salt rubbed in our wounds. For those of us who have no surviving children, these two holidays also bring up many questions. Will anyone acknowledge that we are parents? Will we allow ourselves to acknowledge that we are parents? In the stationery store there are Mother’s and Father’s Day cards for wives and husbands, for aunts and uncles, for people who have “been like a mother or father” to the sender. But there are no cards for parents like us. Are we parents? Of course we are! Daughters and sons do not stop being daughters and sons when their parents die. We are mothers and fathers whose children have died.

Special Memories

Holidays provide opportunities for memorializing our children in special ways. Here are a few of the things we can do:

  • Take a wreath, decorated tree, Menorah, dreidel, etc. to the cemetery.
  • Light a candle representing the baby and let it burn all day.
  • Donate a few hours of service to a favorite charity.
  • Hang an ornament or decoration for the baby.
  • Put thoughts and feelings about your child on notes and wrap them up or tie them to the Christmas tree or put them in the baby’s special stocking. This is an excellent opportunity for younger children to express their feelings.
  • Send flowers to a hospital or nursing home in your child’s memory.
  • Make a contribution to charity in your child’s memory.
  • Donate a new toy or article of clothing to a children’s shelter.
  • Plant a tree or shrub and watch it grow as the years pass.