As a parent, you want what is best for your child. Yet if your adult son or daughter has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or another type of death of a child, you may feel at a loss of how to help or even unsure of what to say. The holidays may exasperate this sensitive situation. It is a season that emphasize children, family and togetherness. All the things bereaved parents yearn for.
It is helpful to pause and reflect on what your bereaved son or daughter may be feeling. When his or her baby died, no matter what the age of the fetus or the child may have been, moms and dads are left shaken, shattered and searching for hope. When my son, Zachary, passed away in my arms just moments after entering the world, I felt like my heart was torn in two. Even though those moments I had with him were heartbreaking, I also treasured each and every one. Nothing, I discovered, could part a parent from the love they have for their child.
What I didn’t learn until later, however, was that losing a baby very tangibly means the loss of their future. I knew this conceptually, but on a practical level, this translates into the absence of touchable objects, photographs and mementos. You can’t save their first drawing, report card or Christmas photo with Santa. While I have bursting memory boxes for my living children, Zachary’s box is mostly filled with air.
I did save the blanket Zack was wrapped in after birth. The baby hat that matched the onesie we dressed him in also lives in his box. I was fortunate to have a Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photographer at his birth. That one small album of pictures is another object I treasure. But besides these things, there is not much I can physically cling to on the rough days. This is why memory-making is so important in life in general, and especially after the loss of a child.
As a bereaved grandparent, honoring your own loss while being present for your child in his or her season of mourning are incredibly important. As an artist and writer, using my passions to help me remember Zachary comes very naturally to me. In the six years since his death, I have experimented with creating many kinds of keepsakes. These are things I add to Zach’s box, replacing the air with objects that help me remember. Whenever my parents or other family members have joined me in these projects, I feel supported and that the life of my child is valued beyond my own personal grief.
The holidays are a great opportunity to spend quality time with your bereaved son or daughter, to get creative together and celebrate the short but important life of your grandchild. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1 – Sew
Make a stocking to hang on the mantle for the baby that died. Visit a fabric store and choose meaningful colors, patterns and textured fabrics. Cut out the first letter of the child’s name and sew it to the front of the stocking.
2 – Art
Cut a large piece of cardstock into a circle to make a collage wreath. Include photographs of the family and the baby if you have them, along with magazine clippings, drawings and meaningful words. Use a hole-punch at the top and then loop through a ribbon to use in hanging the wreath.
3 – Make
Buy a candle making kit and create candles that you can burn every holiday season in memory of the baby. Choose colors and smells that bring you and your son or daughter positive associations. You can also include little objects like sea shells or pieces of jewelry in the candle so that when you burn it, these small keepsakes reveal themselves over time.
4 – Write
Buy or make a Christmas card or write on holiday themed note paper. Write a letter to your grandson or granddaughter and encourage your adult son or daughter to do the same. In these letters, he or she can share memories from the child’s birth, how he or she is coping, and what brings joy at this time of year.
5 – Photograph
Start a tradition of taking a holiday picture while holding a photo of the deceased baby, or a blanket, urn or other memorable object. This symbolically shows that the child is still a part of the family and honors his or her life.
6 – Craft
Decorate a Christmas ornament for the tree. You can incorporate a photo, the baby’s name and even symbolic words to you like forever, love, hope, joy, remembering. Some ornaments can be opened to allow a photograph or small object to be placed inside. You can also use acrylic paint, glue, sparkles and scrapbooking stickers to create all kinds of meaningful designs.