The holiday season is upon us! As the weather gets chilly and we bundle up in our warmest attire, we are reminded of all the reasons we celebrate. This time of year is often associated with bright lights, love, laughter, joy, spreading cheer, gifts, and a time for family. Despite all the wonderful things and fond memories many of us share, this is also a very difficult time for others - especially those in the stillbirth community. The holiday season is often a painful reminder of the loved ones we lost and their absence in our lives. This time of year, it is important to show your love and give some extra strength to these family members and friends whether they are missing their baby or another loved one.
A big question is “How?” Perhaps you are unsure of how to show love and support for families that lost a child through stillbirth, miscarriage, or infant loss. It’s a sensitive subject matter and you may find yourself racking your brain on what you can do for these loved ones. Here are some helpful tips on how you can help make the holiday season a little brighter for them during a very difficult time!
Listen to them. Listening is an often overlooked but very meaningful gesture that can help tremendously. A family or friend may just need to speak about their loss. You don’t need to initiate this conversation, as some people may not be ready to speak about the loss of their baby, however, if a family member or friend engages you about the loss of their child, simply let them speak. This simple gesture can lift a significant weight off their shoulders and can offer a cathartic relief. It can be a pivotal step on their path to healing. Harbor a safe environment for them, let them know you are there for them, and offer your shoulder if they need to cry.
BUT… Choose your words carefully. When speaking to a loved one who is grieving, refer to the baby by their name if the family chose a name. Refrain from calling the baby “it.” Miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss is not an easy subject to discuss. You may feel uncomfortable approaching the subject with someone who has recently lost their child. It’s normal to want to be objective or distance yourself from such a sensitive subject, however, this can be extremely hurtful. Remember: they lost their child, a person that they were anticipating and preparing to welcome into the world. Even if the family didn’t have a name chosen, it’s better to address the baby as he/him or she/her, unless the family states otherwise. And think twice about comparisons. Avoid statements like “I know how you feel, I lost my dog last year” or “You can always have another baby” or “Don’t worry, I had a miscarriage too and I was able to get pregnant again.” Although you are coming from a good place by trying to show empathy and relating, these can come off extremely insensitive. The family may not have vocalized a history of fertility issues or previous losses to you and it’s best not to assume you know the whole story. Remember, everyone grieves differently. Be mindful that something that was easy for you to overcome may be extremely difficult for someone else. Simple words are usually best; even just “I’m sorry for all you’ve been through” means a lot.
Support with simple gestures. Losing a child is a traumatic experience for all parties involved. Birthing parents are experiencing physical, mental, and emotional traumas that are unique to them. However, the father or non-birthing parent and any surviving children in the family, as well grandparents and extended family, are all impacted by such a devastating loss. Simple gestures like offering to take the children to school/activities, helping with chores such as cleaning and laundry, and grocery shopping are a huge support during this time. You can always offer or bring a home cooked meal for the family as well. Nothing quite shows how much you care for a person like sharing a meal. It also alleviates a lot of stress and pressure that the family may not be able to handle. But also respect the boundaries that the family sets up and honor their requests, even if they don’t make sense to you; remember there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
BUT… Don’t throw things away. If you are helping support a loved one who recently lost a child, be cautious about making decisions on their behalf. You may think it will help them alleviate the pain by removing “reminders” of their loss, but different families have different preferences, and those preferences may change over time. Putting away or throwing out a crib, clothes, blankets, toys, cards, flowers, or anything they bought or were given for their baby is something that is up to the family to decide.
Acknowledge the baby. This is extremely important. Whether a loved one lost their child around this time of year or any other time, they are certainly missing their baby right now. Rather than treating their loss like a taboo subject, reach out to the family and let them know that you’re thinking of them and their baby. When speaking with a loved one, acknowledge their loss and the baby. If you are having guests over for a holiday party or dinner, you could light a candle or leave an empty chair at the table to let them know that you are including their baby during the holidays. If addressing a holiday card, be sure to include their baby’s name the same as you would a living child, or write “Remembering [Name]” on the card.
BUT… Respect the family. A loss is a difficult subject to navigate no matter what the circumstances. It is important to make sure that you respect the family’s wishes. Whereas the previous tips are a good reference, the most important thing is remembering that every family is different. Do not force anything upon the family that they are not comfortable with (for example, religious beliefs, or expecting them to show up to large gatherings). Try not to be offended if the family asks you not to discuss the subject, asks for space or declines an invitation, or asks you to change a gesture like removing a candle you may have set out. Please know that it’s always better to say/do the well-meaning “wrong” thing than to say/do nothing at all.
Gifts are another great way to acknowledge and support a family this holiday season. There are many wonderful and thoughtful gifts you can get for a loved one suffering a loss (and don’t forget to show fathers/non-birthing parents that they are in your thoughts as well!). Here are a few items PUSH families have received and would recommend:
Earth Mama Organics offers a beautiful Baby Loss Comfort gift selection, including a variety of herbal teas that can help soothe and heal a parent’s body after a loss, aromatherapy candles to promote hope and offer a light in a dark time, and “Seeds of Hope” Forget Me Not flower seeds with a thoughtful affirmation on the back. Can’t decide? Try the Healing Hearts Comfort gift set which includes all of the above plus a rose quartz heart.
Touching mementos are available from a variety of artisans. The Cooper Project, Every Mama’s Heart, Eve Amara, and My Forever Child all provide beautiful remembrance jewelry made by a loss mama. La Belle Dame offers a variety of thoughtful jewelry for both mothers and fathers who have lost a child; check out their sterling silver band that can be personalized with a name or meaningful phrase. RaspberryRippleGifts offers thoughtful gifts for parents who don’t necessarily care for jewelry, such as his and hers keychains for a beautiful gesture that mom and dad can carry everywhere with them. And The Remembrance Shop, another loss parent artisan, makes unique handcrafted glowing orbs. PUSH’s nonprofit store also carries customizable #StillCounts gear such as t-shirts, mugs, water bottles, doggie bandanas, teddy bears, and more that you can add a baby’s name to; all proceeds benefit our mission to #endpreventablestillbirth.
Weighted teddy bears are a unique way to gift your partner something one-of-a-kind and intimately comforting (note: we do not recommend purchasing a weighted bear for a parent who is not your partner, unless they request it!). Molly Bears and Momma Bear are websites that offer customized teddy bears to the specifications of your child.
For more thoughtful gifts to give during the holiday season or anytime, check out our For Families > Loss Resources section. Scroll down to the “Jump to…” section and click on Memorial Items. You will find a variety of keepsakes to choose from including art, greeting cards, ornaments, and more, including some of the items mentioned above.
Finally, charitable memorial donations are always a thoughtful way to honor a baby who has died. Ask the family if there is a particular nonprofit they would like you to give to, or if you know they are passionate about stillbirth prevention, PUSH’s donation page enables you to request a personalized notification email or note in the mail to acknowledge your generous gift.
Remember, the holiday season is a time of family and love, and for anyone who is grieving can be a painful reminder of the person they are missing. Be sure to send some extra love and strength to those who need it.