The holidays are a big deal for me and my family. We are an extremely festive bunch, some might say annoyingly so. But when my son, Beckett, died in the summer of 2017 shortly after he was born, the holidays changed for me. Instead of my son accompanying me to holiday festivities, grief does instead.
The holidays look a lot different for everyone this year. For some grieving parents, the forced isolation may be a blessing in disguise, and for others, it will inevitably magnify their loneliness. If you know someone grieving their baby this holiday season, here are my 5 tips for how you can show up for them.
- Include their baby’s name in your holiday cards, and don’t shy away from bringing up their baby. Don’t be worried that you’re reminding them of their loss. Trust me, they are thinking about their baby every moment of every day. But if your holiday card includes a photo of your new baby or your pregnant belly, send a generic card with a thoughtful handwritten message. Pregnant women and babies (especially those that are around the same age their child would be) can be very triggering for bereaved parents.
- Include their baby in holiday traditions, and make new ones that revolve around their baby. You could make a donation in their baby’s memory, put an ornament on your tree with their initial or something that represents them, or light a candle for them. Beckett has a stocking at my house and at my mom’s. Every Christmas my mom/Santa stuffs it and puts presents for Beckett under the tree. Everything is for children that are the same age that he would be that year and we donate it all to charity.
- Don’t leave them out of plans, but don’t push, and don’t be upset if their plans change last minute. Social anxiety can be a real beast after your baby dies, even over zoom. But being left off the invite sucks. Extend a gentle invitation letting them know that you understand that they may not join, whether it’s for your socially distanced visit, zoom party, or family dinner.
- Follow their lead. If they want to talk about their baby, don’t change the subject. Listen to them, and don’t sugar coat (“at least you know you can get pregnant”), offer platitudes (“everything happens for a reason”) or give advice if they haven’t asked for it.
- Repeat, every year and for every holiday or special event. Grief doesn’t go away with time, it just changes. They aren’t just missing their baby, they’ve lost an entire future that they had imagined and planned; a lifetime of memories. There will always be someone missing from the family photos, a little one that should be helping decorate the Christmas tree or light the menorah.
Kieran Powers is mom to Beckett in her heart and Lincoln in her arms, and the founder of Becoln, which helps families find light in the darkness after experiencing baby loss, premature birth, or the NICU. Find her at www.becoln.com and on Insta @becoln_.