By Lara Gillham, Jackson’s Mom
Doing Something in Memory of Your Child
When your child dies it’s only natural to want to do something in their memory; after all, they were your focus every day! You fear people will stop talking about them. You fear they will be forgotten. You fear life will go on without them. Since losing our firstborn, Jackson, we have done many things in his memory. These things not only help us keep his memory alive, but they help us to feel as if we still have a growing connection with him. Here are some examples of things that we have done for Jackson over the past two years.
We put photos of Jackson everywhere. In our home, our offices at work, the car, my purse and wallet. You name it, there is probably a photo of Jackson there. There are a variety of photos ranging in age, but I like to use the most recent photos of him because that is how I remember him. I often stick his memorial card in random places- the visor of my car, my bathroom mirror, and my purse. I even created a (very large) photo album of almost every picture we ever took during his short 6 months, which we keep on our coffee table. For our home, we created two areas specifically for Jackson. The first is an area in our bedroom to hang keepsakes. We put together shadow boxes with one of his outfits, his favorite binkie and a few of his favorite toys. We also hung canvases with his hand and foot prints. This is where we keep his urn as well. The second is a small shelf in our living room with a few of his favorite books and photos hanging underneath of it.
We also try to incorporate a photo of Jackson or a symbol of him, like the color orange, into new photos, especially family photos. We have friends who have a butterfly pillow in honor of their daughter that they include in photos.
We built a garden in our backyard about 6 months after Jackson passed away. We purposefully made it larger so we could sit in it. We have spread his favorite color, orange, throughout the garden- the plants, the chairs, the potted flowers, and even the umbrella. We also received many small statues at his funeral and have incorporated those into the garden, as well as a few of our own. On difficult days, I like to sit in the garden and feel like he is there with me.
Special days were one of the hardest things for me to figure out. I wasn’t sure what to do about birthdays and holidays, or even the hard days, like the anniversary of Jackson’s death. Honestly, I think this will continue to evolve over time. So far we have had two birthdays without Jackson. This was especially hard for us because he never made it to his first birthday so we’ve never had a celebration with him here with us. For Jackson’s first birthday we had a unique opportunity to go to Florida because Ben had a business meeting. Because his first birthday was so difficult for us, we thought it would be a good idea to be somewhere else. We are very glad we made that call. We went to a restaurant named Jaxsons (his nickname was Jax), saw lots of orange everywhere (his favorite color), and were able to enjoy time with each other. When we got home, we invited close friends and family over for a casual barbeque and had orange incorporated throughout. We had orange balloons, an orange cake, orange popsicles for the kids, and orange sherbert, to name a few. For his second birthday, we were in the covid-19 pandemic with a newborn. We weren’t able to celebrate with family and friends so we kept it low key and wore orange, ate orange foods, sat in Jax’s garden, took the baby on a walk, and looked at photos of Jackson.
For the first anniversary of Jackson’s death we took a road trip through several places named Jackson and even went to a place called Orange Beach. We purposefully planned the trip to be during the timeframe we were in the hospital with Jackson through his death, which included Thanksgiving. Being somewhere else during that time allowed us to really focus on remembering Jackson and celebrating his life, as well as grieving.
We also bought a candle holder with a “J” on it and we try to light it on any special occasion as a way to include Jackson.
Random Acts of Kindness
On our trip during the first anniversary of his death, we handed out some Random Acts of Kindness cards in Jackson’s memory with his picture and a link to a facebook page about him. Any time we saw someone who made us happy or reminded us of Jackson, we gave them a card with some money. An extra tip for a waiter, paying for someone’s meal, or buying a toy for a little boy. We also gave our close family members some cards and money to hand out as well.
Finding a Symbol/Color
We have incorporated the color orange into so many facets of our lives because it reminds us of Jackson. Even though he was only 6 months old, he loved the color orange. We look for it everywhere! I used to dislike orange quite a bit, but now I have it everywhere. We bought orange chairs and planter pots for the patio, and we used orange ribbons to hang his photos on the wall. We both have bought a TON of orange clothes. Shopping has been somewhat therapeutic because it gives my mind something to focus on and everyone looks forward to something new, and just wearing the color makes me feel a little closer to him. We also pay attention to places or things with his name. Streets, restaurants, etc… and try to go there if we can. We have friends who have other symbols for their children- a giraffe, a butterfly, a cardinal, a hummingbird, feathers, or a specific flower. I’ve found that having a symbol for your child gives you a continuing connection with them, even if it’s simply a reminder of them.
We haven’t gotten a tattoo for our son, but we’ve talked about it and plan on doing so in the future. I know many other bereaved parents who have gotten meaningful tattoos in remembrance of their child- footprints or handprints, a heartbeat, a specific symbol, or a photo of their child.
Talking About Your Child
The most important thing for us is that we talk about Jackson all the time and to everyone. We share memories, just like you would of your living children.
We now have a beautiful 3 month old daughter named Violet. We plan to tell her all about her brother as she grows up. She loves looking at the collage of photos we have of Jackson on the wall and smiles at them all the time, which melts my heart.
We’ve also met other bereaved parents of infants and have become quite close with a few of them, which allows us to talk about our children free of judgment and with others who understand.
Creating an Organization or Event
Part of the drive for me and my husband to create Just Enduring is Jackson’s memory. We want to help other bereaved parents navigate their grief, but it also allows us to continue telling Jackson’s story. We have friends who have organized trivia nights, runs, golf tournaments, or other events to raise money for a charity related to their child’s diagnosis or the hospital that treated them. Being able to contribute to something, especially something closely connected with your child, keeps their memory alive and allows family and friends to be involved as well.
There is no wrong way to celebrate your child’s memory. Each person should do what they feel comfortable with. Some will want to start right after their child passes, others will find the strength further along in their journey. Do what feels right to you.