ornament, stockings on a mantle, santa holding a picture frame of a child

Celebrating the Holidays When Someone Is Missing

By A Few Bereaved Parents

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” – that phrase cuts pretty deep after you become a bereaved parent. The Holidays become yet another time that feels impossible to get through when your child is no longer here and it certainly does not feel like “the most wonderful time.” We get that feeling. We have been there and we are there with you this year and every year. As you approach the season again this year we have compiled some ideas families who are Just Enduring have done to help ease the pain of the season.

Cards and Holiday Mail
For many of us the first thing that becomes difficult is figuring out how to send cards. Not only do the messages of “joy” and “happiness” ring a little hollow it is hard to figure out how to sign cards when someone is forever missing. Families approach this differently, some will just sign their family name: “the Kohns” or “the McGeehon family” knowing that everyone who knows the family knows who that includes. Others find comfort in being able to write their child’s name and see it in print. Both the McGeehon and the Gilham families choose to include their children in this way by signing “and Always Everly” or “and Always Jackson.”

Another way to remember your child is to decorate with ornaments that are significant to you. Some people choose to include these ornaments on their family tree while others will put up a tree in memory of their son or daughter and hang the ornaments on that.

The Gillhams have a special “Pout Pout Fish” ornament that they hang on their tree in memory of Jackson that reminds them of their time reading that book with him.

Pout Pout Fish Ornament Hanging on a Christmas Tree

The first Christmas without Everly the McGeehons decided to gift friends and family with ornaments that reminded them of Everly with this message included:

“While we will never have a chance to decorate a tree with her, we hope that each year as you decorate your tree you take a moment to remember our sweet Everly. We are eternally grateful for your support, friendship and love.”

Pictures with Santa
This is a tradition that had become treasured for the McGeehons, and when they realized they would never get that picture of Santa and Everly they decided to take a framed picture of Everly to get formal pictures with Santa holding the picture. In following years they have included Everly in this tradition by having their other kids hold their “Everly Bear” or a butterfly in her memory.

Many families also find it comforting to have a stocking for their baby hang among the rest of the families. For some simply having the stocking hang with everyone else’s is enough; others find the empty stocking difficult so they fill it with a variety of things.

The Gillhams have a special orange stocking just for Jackson. This is the first year they will hang the stocking and are considering filling it with notes of memories with him or gifts that can be donated to other kids in need.

Last year the McGeehons asked their friends and family to do an act of kindness in Everly’s name and then send a letter telling them about it. They filled her stocking with the letters and then read them over Christmas dinner.

Christmas Stocking with Letters to Child Who Passed Away

Other families will put items in the stocking to take to their child’s grave or ornaments to hang in memory of their child.

Other traditions
A few other ideas that families have done to include their children in the holidays:

  • Taking a special stuffed animal to church and family gatherings.
  • Setting aside a special spot at the dinner table by hanging a wreath with your child’s name on it.
  • Raising money for a special cause in lieu of gifts that would have been purchased for your child.
  • Lighting a candle on the holidays and other special occasions as a way to represent your child’s light.
  • Shopping for gifts for the age your child would be and then donating them to children in need.
  • Visiting your child’s grave or significant location on the holiday as a way to be with them.

While these are ideas that have worked for some families, remember that whatever you choose to do is okay. Only you can know what you need to get through the tough days.

No matter what you choose to do, we hope that the holidays are a gentle time for you and your family.

Special thanks to the Kohn and Kenski families for sharing their traditions for this post.

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