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Coping With Holidays and Celebrations
By Sherokee Ilse

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years - celebrations that bring families together. A time to appreciate friends, God, family and the gifts of life. They also serve as reminders of who will not be with us when our family comes together.

Holiday times can be bittersweet for families who have had a loved one die, particularly a child. There are ways for you to gain some control and minimize the difficulty of the often tense, yet special time. Long before the day, make plans, speak up about your needs and desires and follow your heart. In your decision-making process do take into account the rest of your family, but remember it's okay to put your needs at or near the top of the list.

If you decide you want to do things differently this year, let your family know your desires (either personally or through a note). Be tactful and use "I" and "we" statements. For instance, "We are feeling the need to do things differently this year. We miss our baby so much that we can't imagine sitting around a dinner table without her. Please understand that we do not want to hurt anyone's feelings. We ask for your support during this difficult time and request that you not challenge our decision."

As you attempt to discover what seems right for you during the upcoming holiday(s) ask yourselves, "What usually happens in our family to celebrate this holiday or family event? If there were a few minor changes could we handle it better? What do we want to do differently?" If you come to the conclusion that you want to make changes, maybe you will find some of these suggestions helpful:

  • Buy or make a special ornament or item that could be put on a shelf, on the tree, on the wall or some other place. Put your baby's name on it along with significant dates.

  • Get a candle that you can light during the festivities as a reminder of your baby. Either tell others the significance of the lit candle or write a poem or note to set near it to explain.

  • Make a donation to a children's hospital, Toys-for-Tots program, your church or synagogue or some other charity in memory of your baby. Or volunteer your time with a local charity.

  • Take holiday decorations to the cemetery.

  • Seek advice and input from clergy, your faith, community, and the Bible. Maybe you will find comfort in the Lord and that your baby is under God's care.

  • If you feel a strong need to get away rather than joining the family, do that. Let your family know that it is hard right now and that you need to alter your plans to help you cope during this holiday season. Hopefully, it won't always be like this. Pick a place you have wanted to visit. Plan some quiet time as well as some activities to keep you busy.

  • Set aside some time to remember. Cherish the memories - keep them alive. Write a note or a poem to your baby. Make a present or ornament for them. Say a prayer for them.

  • Write a holiday letter to your family and friends telling them what has happened and how you are coping. Ask them for support by being specific about how they can help. For instance, you could tell them you hope they will keep saying your baby's name out loud. You could invite them to make a donation to a favorite charity in memory of your child. Be brave and open about what you are going through.

  • If you have other living children, be sensitive to their needs. They may think that their sibling who died is getting more attention than they are. Find special ways to include them. Yet, be honest and open with them if you are having a hard time coping.

  • If you feel it best to not talk about your baby during a certain time of the holidays make that known to others. Maybe they will want to bring up your baby and you prefer that they don't.

  • Use your creativity to express your emotions. You could write, play or create music, sculpt, paint, draw, make something out of wood, work in your yard, weave, do needlepoint or any number of other creative activities. Either keep what you make or share it by giving it to someone else.

  • Avoid holiday shopping by buying from catalogs or online. Go shopping early in the season or during times when crowds are lessened.

  • If you find yourself getting quite emotional during holiday gatherings, escape to a quiet room and consider telling the hosts you need to leave early.

  • Take one day at a time. Don't push yourself too hard. Deal with the moment and what you can do today. The tension and anxiety of worrying about the tomorrows will not help you cope with today.

Many of the above ideas are discussed further in the short booklet, Coping With Holidays and Celebrations by Sherokee Ilse. It is published and distributed by A Place To Remember, deruyter-Nelson Publications, 1885 University Ave, Suite I 10, St. Paul, MN 55104, 612-645-7045.

Sherokee Ilse has suffered the loss of three babies and is an internationally known consultant, author and trainer on the subject of infant loss and bereavement. She has authored many books and booklets including her ever-popular Empty Arms: Coping With Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death. Sherokee is also the coordinator for the National Coalition for Positive Outcomes in Pregnancy.

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