Remembering at the holidays

The holidays are here again…times we are supposed to look forward to as celebrations of family togetherness, thanksgiving, joy and peace. But for those of us who have lost a baby or babies, this time of year can be anything but peaceful – difficult and devastating at times even for those whose loss was years ago. Our family and cultural rituals center around children and babies – the delight of decorating home and tree to perfection, finding just the right gifts, the songs about infants and birth, family portraits and dinners…All of these traditions too painfully remind us of what we don’t have: our babies, our twins (or triplets or more). And if we do have survivors the holidays can become an emotional tug-of-war as we try to make it a special time for our living child (for some, our first child after many years of trying) while being pulled to remember and grieve for the one⁄s who died. Others of us find ourselves in the seemingly unimaginable reality of having none of the twins or triplets or more here for the holidays, and for some, being alone with their partner after expecting they would have a “whole family” here at last.

Our first Christmas without Teddy (who was born and died in September of that year) was in 1987, and I have described it as “horrifying”. His twin sister Sophie was 3-1⁄2 months old and our older daughter Mia was 4-1⁄2 years, a peak age of Christmas expectations. Everywhere I turned reminders of what I didn’t have seemed to leap out at me – the little matching velvet brother and sister outfits and the big yellow toy trucks I yearned to buy – but who would wear or play with them? Writing cards was exhausting – feeling the need to write about our feelings for our son and explaining what had happened to those who hadn’t yet heard.

About three days before Christmas I wrote a letter to Teddy pouring out a heart full of sorrow: I desperately missed and needed my baby boy. The feelings of emptiness and desperation turned into a deep depression accompanied by a splitting headache which lasted all Christmas Eve, the time my family traditionally opens gifts. I knew listening to carols and platitudes would have disastrous effects so I stayed home from church services with Sophie, blankly watching the blinking lights and terribly aware of her “one-ness”. I felt hollow and wretched. Christmas morning was marginally better as my older daughter’s excitement at her gifts and the occasion carried us through. New Years Eve was dreadful – as the old year went out I felt like I was leaving my baby behind with it, that was his only year. To put it bluntly, the “holidays” were hell.

The next year came and we survived the first birthday and death day anniversary, and then again faced Christmas – and since then, many more. A lot of time and healing has taken place but I feel the key to getting through any of these days is to do whatever you want and need to do for your dead child or children. That sounds so simple but the reality is we often put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves by listening to an inner nagging voice (or possibly those of well-meaning relatives) that says: “I should ” …fill in the blank with your favorite guilt-trip: be over it by now, make this a “normal” day for my family and kids, not buy or make things for a baby who died, not dwell on remembering my dead child so as not to spoil the day for his twin…the list is endless. Unfortunately if we give in to these pressures and suppress the real needs to express the love and grief we feel for our child⁄ren (as I did that first Christmas) the emotional toll can be very high, not only ruining the holidays for us and possibly others, but possibly damaging our health and wellbeing too.

There are many healthy and creative ways to remember our children during the holidays. Special candles and ornaments and stockings are quiet but wonderful ways to include them. Our children can be mentioned in holiday cards or letters as part of the family, by name and⁄or as a symbol such as hearts, angels, teddy bears, etc. We can make or buy gifts for them that have special meaning– these can be kept, or given to a needy child of the same age – and we can also give gifts to family members “from” our child. Many parents have appreciated participating in a “giving tree” for a needy child of the same age. Family members can write messages on helium balloons and release them together (children love this one!). Many organizations sponsor special holiday memorials (a light on a Christmas tree, etc.) and many local loss support groups sponsor a special memorial service or other remembrance services in December. We can donate something to our favorite charity or a good book on loss to our local library in our child’s name. We can write holiday cards or letters to our child⁄ren who died. We can reach out to someone who has lost a loved one in the past year and is probably having a hard time at the holidays, send them a card that mentions their loved one. We can do whatever is most meaningful and suited to ourselves. The need to remember should be respected no matter how “long” it has been. Please give yourselves the permission to express the love and caring you will always feel for your child⁄ren, as the parent of twins or triplets or more, which you will always be.

We want to let you all know that we are remembering all of our children during these holidays. We want to express our thanks and gratitude to all those who have shared their stories with all of us in Our Newsletter. Every one of your babies is blessed with very special parents: the love you have for them is so obvious and true, it spills from the pages and touches many lives. We know that we won’t be able to give our child⁄ren the presents we would have wanted them to have, but that they have given us the kinds of gifts which are never lost or broken, the gifts that really matter.

We wish for every family that this newsletter reaches, the courage and strength to do their grieving day by day and through these holidays, for your twin or other multiple child or children; and hope that you may be able to find at least a glimpse of the peace and joy celebrated at this time of year, and see in that glimpse hope for greater joy in the future. As we move into a new year we have an image we’d like to share: it is of all of us carrying our living children in our arms, now or in the future if we don’t yet have them…while we carry the children we have lost in our hearts.

Lisa M. Fleischer

…In the next issue: Thoughts on the new year

Some other things that parents have done:
· thanked others for not expecting too much of them during the first holiday season since their loss
· placed a tree and⁄or decorations on their child⁄ren’s gravesite, and built a snowman
· gone away on a trip to someplace they’d wanted to go, to bypass the usual activities
· made tree ornaments with their babies’ names on them, with a new one each year
· lighted a luminaria and kept it lit during holiday activities and when it is dark out, and asked others to light a candle for their child or children too
· writing poetry or an ongoing journal