Do you know someone who has lost a child? Are you surprised at how much they are struggling during the holidays, especially if it has been over a year since their loss?
As someone who has experienced this deep loss, please allow me to shed some light on this for you.
There are so many memories attached to the holidays, especially based around our own personal and family traditions. These can be triggers over and over again as in-our-face reminders that our child is no longer here on earth and will never again be part of these traditions. Our memories with that child are now all we have, and there will never be another opportunity to create new holiday memories with that child, which is so very wrong, and so very painful.
Things like Christmas shopping can be almost impossible, as we are constantly bombarded with gift ideas that make us think of our child for whom we will never be able to buy another gift.
Some family gatherings will probably be unattended, as it is impossible to watch the other children (young children, teens or adult children) and not to be immersed in the painful emptiness of our child who is missing and who will never again be joining in the laughter, festivities and seeing the growth and changes from year-to-year like everyone else is with their children.
But we are not just thinking of ourselves. We would rather stay home and allow our loved ones to celebrate without the presence of our grief dampening the joyous time for everyone else, as we have learned it is our job to make everyone around us comfortable with our grief (which can be very draining).
As a parent who is on this path, I would like to offer you three suggestions on how to help the pareavor in your life during the holidays, which can be very difficult, no matter how long ago that loss happened.
- Give them lots of space and lots of grace
Losing a child can be compared to having an amputation. Part of our very being has been cut off from us.
The daughter we lost, Becca, had her left leg amputated when she was only three years old, so we had a front row seat to what it was like to live with an amputation. (You can read about her story here.) There are so many things one doesn’t think about unless you have been in that position, such as what size shoe do you buy when one foot grows and the other does not (until she gets her new yearly-made leg to keep up with her growth)? Every morning she had to decide if she was going to put on her leg as she got out of bed, or if she was going to hop around on one leg for a while. (Yes, she had a little walker when she was young and then crutches, but she rarely used them unless she was unable to wear her leg for some reason.)
The same is true for parents who have lost a child. There are so many things that come at us as daily reminders of our child who is no longer here, whether we want them to or not. We are constantly navigating through what is normal day-to-day life for everyone else, but are grief triggers for us.
It will also be helpful for you to know that for most bereaved parents, the second year is worse than the first. This is because the fog of grief has lifted and the weight of the loss hits us full force. The third year and beyond is when we begin the journey of figuring out how to live with our child being amputated from us, and for most of us it takes a few years to figure that out. I am five years into this journey, and pareavors who have been on this road for twenty or thirty years will tell me it is still fresh for me and that I am still in the early stages.
- Find a way to honor or remember their child
Since memories are all we have now, anything that helps us remember and honor that memory and life are very precious to us. Some suggestions are:
- Have a tree ornament made with that child’s name, picture, or something significant
- Have one of the child’s shirts made into a stuffed bear
- Give a gift in their child’s name.
- A donation could be made to a charity associated with something about the child no longer here
- A group/family could put their money together for something that would be seen by the public, such as a park bench
- Make a donation through an organization like Compassion International, such as purchasing a goat for a needy family in another country
- Place a memorial brick in a memory garden or memory wall in your community
- Have a piece of jewelry made that has the child’s name engraved on it
- Have a blanket made with a favorite photo of their child
You can easily do an internet search to find places that will do these things for you, or you could search for more ideas.
- Don’t just talk about them, but pray for them
It is very easy to sit around and talk about us with others; about how we are still such a mess and it has been over six months (or two years or eight years…), how we never go out any more, wondering when we will be back to normal, about the weird things we do now, and on and on it goes.
That really doesn’t help us. In fact, that could be considered gossip, and adds to the way people tip-toe around us and even say these hurtful things directly to us.
When we come to mind, or come into a conversation, pray for us. We are very, very broken, and need to be held up before the Lord in our woundedness. Only God can heal a broken heart, so help that healing by bringing us before Him often, not just a week, a month, or a year down the road, but for the rest of our lives when you think of us.
I would like to add one more thought here. Many people are concerned about saying the wrong thing; something that will actually sting a parent who has lost a child instead of comfort them. If you are one of those people, I have put together a list of bad things to say, and a list of helpful things. You can find the list here.
Let me close by saying thank you. Thank you for wanting to help someone close to you during the holidays. Thank you for being someone who doesn’t just get frustrated with us grieving parents and turn away, leaving us in more painful isolation. Thank you for not just saying that you care, but for actually going out of your way to take the time to read this, finding out what you can do, and acting on it.
May God richly bless you, as you bless and serve with love the one you know who has lost a child from this earth.