Surviving the festive season when your child has died
If you have lost a child, Christmas can be a brutal reminder of how things should have been. I have survived two Christmases without my Lily. The first was awful. The second almost worse because I was worried people would assume we were ‘over it’. This third one, I am trying to find the balance between honoring my girl and creating the magic of Christmas for her little brother.
Over the last 2.5 years I have learnt there are some things that can make celebrations and festive moments more bearable, and I have met some lovely ‘loss parents’ who have shared their advice and supported me. It is a privilege to pass our learned experience on, in the hope that any of it might help. So here are my five tips to survive the festive season when you are a grieving parent.
- Anticipate the grief.
I don’t want to say it’s going to completely suck. But it is going to suck. Maybe a lot. However, there is nothing worse than being blindsided on Christmas morning and totally unprepared for it. If you know ‘the big cry’ is coming you can carve out some space to honour it. I am a big believer in giving your feelings some space to hang out. Bottling it up – that way leads to disaster.
So – check in with yourself.
Do it now.
You might have been growing more anxious without really catching onto why. Breathe into it and recognise the sign and signals your body is sending you. Are you feeling more emotional, more stressed? A lot of the time the feelings creep up on you. I know I had to have a little chat with myself this week after bursting into tears watching the Wiggles (note to self: Apples and Banana’s is not an emotional song).
- Talk to your friends and family about how you want them to remember your kiddo
So you have checked in with yourself, now it is time to check in with whomever you are spending the festive season. (Oh and don’t forget your partner – I was so busy checking in with myself the first year, that I let my husband be totally blindsided by his grief).
Communicate what you want your family and friends to do. I can’t say this enough. They might be really unsure if they should mention your kiddo, they might be longing to include them but just don’t know how. You need to take the lead. Let them know what you want. You can send an email or text if you don’t want to talk about it in person.
- Let loved ones know that it is going to be hard and that you might say NO to some activities.
Mostly friends and family want to be supportive, but they might think it best done smoothing everything over, or trying to make it cheerful and happy. Let them know it is going to be hard. Tell them that it doesn’t need to be happy the entire time. The best family connections can come in the quiet moments after allowing the tears to flow, and taking the pressure off ‘christmas cheer’, can make it naturally easier. And remember that you have every right to say ‘No thanks’, to anything at all. You don’t have to participate in things to make everyone else feel happy. Stay as long as you want and leave whenever you want (think about having a secret word which means ‘let get the hell out of here’ with your partner).
- Plan ahead and create a ritual or way to include your beautiful child into Christmas Day.
This might be lighting a special candle at the start of the day, writing messages on postcards, playing songs, taking ten minutes before eating to talk about your favorite memory. We have personalised Christmas decorations on our tree with Lily’s name and her photo on a star at the top of the tree. We will have a big bunch of lilies on the table, and this year we are talking about floating some flowers (lilies of course) out into the ocean on Christmas morning.
- Buy gifts for your family and invite those spending Christmas day to do so to.
Opening presents is a really hard moment, and extra sad if there is nothing under the tree for your child. Buy a keepsake or something which can be donated later on. It doesn’t have to be expensive or dramatic. This year I have bought the book ‘Claris the Chicest Mouse in Paris’ for Lily. It is all wrapped up with her name on it ready for Christmas morning. If you have other children, you could consider creating a tradition where you buy them a special gift from your missing child.
Our first Christmas, my in law’s registered a star in Lily’s name and it was such a precious gift that it has started a tradition of its own. We spend Christmas night gazing and looking for her star.
Blog post by Priyanka Saha from @thelilyflower_ and The Lily Calvert Fund lilycalvert.com