Facing Loss During the Holidays

Those of us who have lost children can dread the holidays (by which I really mean Christmas/Nativity). The focus seems to be so much on family togetherness and yet here we are with empty places. The temptation is to mourn (inappropriately) and feel self-pity. Granted, Christmas can be a difficult time. I myself buried a baby 10 days before Christmas last year so I know whereof I speak. But we really must beseech God that we not fall into temptation during this time. Orthodox know that there are always greater temptations during the fasts. We are also vulnerable to temptations during times of great grief. The demons do not have the holidays off.

Accept that some people will suggest that you need to “move on” by which they mean “forget you ever had that child”. In all honesty no one really wants to be around someone who is grieving at Christmas. It’s uncomfortable and makes you feel sad instead of happy. This sounds overly simplistic, but that’s really at the heart of the matter. I have said many times that it is easy to watch someone grieve compared to actually grieving with them. Grieving with someone is hard work but an act of mercy.

Be vigilant in prayer. You will be braced for the obvious triggers of grief but there will always be little surprises. When I got out the stockings last year to hang for my living children I saw the “baby stocking” that had been mine as a child. In our family it is always the property of the youngest. I had expected it to belong to someone else that year, not our five-year-old. Stockings also triggered grief for my sister. She suffered an adoption loss and that year when she got the stockings out there was the one for the child she was not able to bring home. God is there with open arms to comfort you when you feel those intense stabs of grief. Always turn to him.

It is folly to think you will be able to forget your child(ren) at Christmas. You’re not going to forget and you can do some very silly things trying to. It is better to face it head-on. Say to yourself, “What am I going to do this Christmas to remember my child(ren) in a good way?” I had to face this last Christmas for the first time when I was remembering not only the child I had just buried, but the child I buried before Pascha the same year. Here are some suggestions:

  • Purchase or make an ornament for your child. Hang it on the tree every year.
  • If you choose to hang a stocking for your departed child, make sure you do not leave it empty on Christmas morning. This will cause you a lot of pain. Fill it with something to give to someone else as an act of charity. You can make this a tradition too.
  • On Christmas Eve sing the troparia for everyone’s patron saints. Include your departed child(ren) as well.
  • Perform acts of charity in memory of your child(ren). Donate things to a women’s shelter, a pro-life organization, a shelter for pregnant women, a hospital’s NICU, etc.
  • Donate an icon to your parish in memory of your child(ren) (with the blessing of your priest).
  • In general, doing something for someone else less fortunate is a classic way of feeling better yourself. The possibilities here are limitless.

[Please leave any additional suggestions in the comments.]

If you are the friend or family member of someone who has suffered a loss and you are trying to help, look at the above list for suggestions. I was incredibly touched that people made ornaments for my boys last year. To receive a card saying, “a donation has been made to X in memory of (your child)” would be a lovely thing too. Be sensitive when thinking of things to do. I do not suggest making a stocking or other item usually intended for a living child unless the person has asked you to.

Remember that your child is spending Christmas in Heaven! He or she is singing with the heavenly host. Christ will always help those who turn to him. Acknowledge your pain and ask Christ to comfort your grieving heart.

h/t Lost Innocents

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