If you are a mom, you know that something about Christmas changes when you have a child. Even before your little ones are old enough to understand anything about the meaning of Christmas, there is enough different about this time of year for them to take notice. The lights, decorations, and music make for a whole different level of fun and wonder exclusive to the month of December. And you remember these feelings even as a grown-up.
That is one reason why the holidays are so hard for someone who has lost a child, whether in pregnancy, infancy, or any other stage of life. She remembers what Christmas was like in previous years, even as a child. She imagines what Christmas would have been like this year. She thinks about whose faces would have been in the Christmas family picture. She contemplates what presents she would have bought or how she might have announced her pregnancy in her Christmas card this year.
But these things won’t be happening, and so she pastes a fake smile on her face for the times when she has to go out into the Christmas bustle and she holes up at home as much as she can for the rest of the time. It takes energy to grieve, and energy to hide your grief, and that makes the holiday season exhausting. For many bereaved parents, the top of their Christmas wish list is to just survive the season and start over on January 1.
Do you have a friend going through Christmas without one or more of her children?
You can’t say or do or give anything that will fix your friend’s pain. It is too great, too deep, too rooted in love, for anything to fix. But you can say or give or do something that will soften the sharp edge of grief and help her feel less alone.
Here are five things you can do to bless her this year. (And no, I’m not forgetting the dad. But I am assuming that most of you reading this are women reaching out to a female friend, so the focus is “her”… although they are great tips for dads as well.)
1. Gift her with understanding.If she chooses not to decorate, or not to attend a party, or not to participate in a family gathering, give her a break. Don’t even raise an eyebrow about it. There will be other years. She needs to take care of herself right now without any guilt or pressure from friends and family. Don’t give her advice or tell her how she should be feeling or even point out all the blessings in her life. Just be there with her and for her. That is what she needs.
2. Gift her with something that remembers her child.A memorial ornament or jewelry is great this time of year. Don’t wonder if she will like it or if she already has one. Trust me, you can’t have too many. If you know her child’s name, include it. If your church offers poinsettias in honor or in memory of someone, purchase one and let her know. Or do it at her church, even if you don’t attend there.
3. Gift her with something that will help her heal.But be careful with this. Even if you have walked this path, what helped you heal may not help her, so offer it with gentle humility. Some ideas might be a book for a bereaved parent, or a CD with music that could comfort, or even a gift card for dinner out. If you know of a local support group, tell her about it. Offer to go with her.
4. Gift her by blessing someone else in the name of her child.It can be “adopting” a child through Angel Tree or even a longer commitment through a group like World Vision or Samaritan’s Purse. If the family has set up a memorial fund in their child’s name, donate to it or to another ministry in her child’s memory. If there is a local outreach to other bereaved parents, like Naomi’s Circle Mommy to Mommy Outreach, find out how you can donate or help this cause. It is a wonderful gift to know your child’s existence has encouraged someone else to make a positive difference in the world.
5. Gift her by not forgetting.Tell her, out loud or in a card or e-mail, that you are thinking of her child as the holidays approach. Especially if this is her first Christmas since her child’s death, but even if it isn’t. I am five years out from my first loss, my daughter Naomi. I am five days out from my most recent pregnancy loss. This time of year, I miss them both the same, and the other three I lost between them. Don’t worry about making her sad by “reminding” her that her child died. You won’t. You will be letting them know someone else remembers.
Whatever you do for your friend this Christmas, don’t do nothing. Don’t ignore her loss and grief for the sake of holiday pleasantness. Let her know that she and her child are not forgotten and that her child’s life made a difference in in yours. More than anything, that will help make this a Christmas that she wants to remember.
Are you or someone you love grieving a lost child this holiday season? What additional advice do you have?