It begins with Halloween, the costumes, the jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, witches, ghosts, and skeletons. The pumpkins, leaves, pilgrims, cornucopias, and turkeys of Thanksgiving. The numerous Christmas trees, stockings, holly berries, wreathes, nativity scenes, and mistletoe. And the lights. The never ending lights. Orange and black lights, white lights, colored lights, icicle lights, lights, lights, lights! I absolutely love to decorate for the holidays, a process that begins in September and ends around New Year’s Day. But each year as I open the tote of decorations for each holiday, I am greeted by a sadness.
Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, providing an opportunity to engage one’s creative side and for one night you get to be whatever your soul desires. I envisioned breaking out the sewing machine and serger to make the cutest costumes for my future children, something totally Pinterest-worthy (even before Pinterest existed!).
Thanksgiving food always brings me comfort. The smell is reminiscent of childhood days at home with family sharing in gratitude. What is better than sitting around a table eating, laughing, and feeling the love of family?
And Christmas, as Andy Williams would say, “The most wonderful time of the year.” A time to celebrate the birth of our Savior and demonstrate compassion and caring for family, friends, and even strangers. The one time of year I sip hot cocoa and I wish for snow.
So why then do I feel sad each year during the holidays? To understand that is to understand the loss of a child. The loss of all hopes, dreams, and visions of what life would be like for that child. Of how our family would create our own holiday traditions involving our child.
I was 5.5 months pregnant on Halloween, 6.5 on Thanksgiving and 7.5 on Christmas. During each holiday I would envision how we would spend the holiday the next year with our son. I thought about his first Halloween costume, would he be a pumpkin or a pea pod? I thought about introducing him to solid food on Thanksgiving – what kid wouldn’t like mashed potatoes smothered in gravy? And above all, I thought about his first Christmas. We have a tradition in my family of getting a new ornament each year, and I could not wait to get his “baby’s first Christmas” ornament.
But God had other plans.
Our angel was called home after only three short months on this earth. And the holidays have never been the same. For the first few years my husband and I turned off all of the lights and literally ran from our house on Halloween. At Thanksgiving we are reminded that there is an empty chair at the table where our son should sit. And each year when I hang the stockings (with care) I cry because there is not one with his name on it. And don’t get me started on sending out family Christmas cards or I will be bawling uncontrollably. Rather than take you on my emotional roller coaster, I’d like to give you some advice on how to help others who have experienced similar loss, love the holidays again.
Remember their child. They do, so should you. Pretending like any holiday is the same after the loss of the child is simply ludicrous. There is an ache and a longing that needs to be recognized and all it takes is a simple gesture of remembrance. Whether it be asking how they are coping with the holidays, addressing a card to the child, donating money to a cause in the child’s name or simply sending them an email or social media message letting them know you are thinking of them and the child this holiday season. These small gestures can go a long way to bring comfort to the family.
Say the child’s name. It’s like the elephant in the room, should you say the child’s name aloud? Will it bring them to tears? Yes, it just might. And maybe not for the reason you think. Hardly anyone, besides my immediate family and a handful of close friends, says Braden’s name. Saying the child’s name affirms that his or her legacy is still alive and that someone besides yourself remembers that child’s precious life. Will it be awkward to talk about? It might be, but is it awkward for you or for the parent? Most parents are more than willing to talk about a lost child because they rarely get to do so. Especially around the holidays when people tend to be the most reminiscent about the past, it is a very appropriate time to talk about memories of their guardian angel.
Give them a pass. It doesn’t matter if it has been a few months or years, parents who have lost a child get a pass during the holiday season. Grief can hit you when you least expect it and you should not have to explain yourself to anyone. The act of hanging stockings for me is overwhelming. Our stockings were handmade and embroidered by my husband’s grandmother who has since passed away. Each year when I open the tote that holds those precious stockings I am flooded by the wonderful memories of Grandma and her crafts and then the tears well up when I see that I have stockings for our dogs but not our children. The most straightforward holiday activity can be unbearable to some parents. When they excuse themselves or decline an invitation to something you think they should have been at, just give them a pass.
These few small acts of kindness and remembrance will go a long way to help a grieving parent learn to love the holidays again. By reaching out and showing compassion you single handedly remind these parents that they are not alone. I will probably always experience some type of grief during the holidays but knowing that my son is still in the hearts of others makes that grief much more bearable. Holidays are a time for family, friends and angels.