In the best of circumstances, the holidays are a crazy and overwhelming time. In holidays after pregnancy or infant loss, it’s a crazy and overwhelming time with a bunch of grief and guilt piled on top. It’s rough.
And yet, somehow, year after year, many of us want to participate in holiday traditions. Maybe we feel some joy from them, maybe we like to spark joy for family and friends, or maybe we feel some pressure to keep up the holiday magic for our living children. In my case, it’s usually a combination.
Our family sends out holiday cards. We do this because we like to connect with loved ones – near and far. We like receiving cards, so we hope others feel some joy and merriment receiving ours. Since Oberon died, we’ve handled holiday cards a little differently (and sometimes avoided them completely). It’s always a bit tricky, so I thought sharing some strategies I’ve used personally or seen from others may be helpful for sending holiday cards after loss.
1. Include a photo of your baby who died.
It’s the most straightforward, but it can also be very complicated. My son, Oberon, died at 33 days old, so we do have pictures of him alive that we had already shared. Including these pictures on holiday cards was meaningful to us and felt like a family rite of passage. It felt right to us, but that doesn’t mean it’s right (or possible) for everyone. One way to include a photo of your baby is by holding a large print or canvas in family pictures.
2. Represent your baby with a symbol.
My family often includes pictures with our Molly Bear or with an “Obie O” reminding us of his place in our family. Any special item can be used to represent your baby, and it can be either obvious or subtle, whatever feels right to you. Subtle references could be an extra mug of hot cocoa or an extra stocking in the background.
3. Include your baby’s name.
It can be that simple. When you list your family members, include them. Dying didn’t remove them from your family, they are still very much a part of it and it can make sense to include their name.
4. Include your baby’s name in memory.
If it doesn’t feel right to you to simply add your baby’s name on with living family members, you can include it on a separate line or a separate place in your card. Some phrasing I’ve either used or seen include:
- Always remembering Oberon
- Remembering big sister Esther
- In loving memory of baby Cian
- With Eveleigh forever in our hearts
5. Include a symbol or doodle as your baby’s signature.
One mom shared that she adds a heart with a circle around it representing her stillborn son when she signs a card from the family. Other moms draw a star or include their baby’s footprint. I’ve used a simple bee doodle (bees are Oberon’s symbol) or a yellow heart.
6. Edit your family photo to represent your baby.
There are many creative photo editing ideas to include your baby who died – from shadows to impossibly bright stars.
7. Include your baby in an illustration.
Not all holiday cards are photos (although that has been a huge trend especially for families with young kids). Some are graphics or illustrated representations of a family. You can indicate that your child has died by adding angel wings and a halo or using a special symbol like a bear or a star.
8. Decorate your baby’s special place for the holidays.
It could be your baby’s gravesite, their special shelf in your home, a framed picture, or whatever that special place is. Add some festive decorations that make it feel like “the holidays” and include that picture on your card.
9. Send a card at a different time.
Do you like the idea of holiday cards, but it’s just too much right now? There’s no rule against sending an annual (or however often) update at another time. Maybe it’s a birthday update for a living child (or yourself!). Maybe it’s every spring equinox. Reaching out to our loved ones doesn’t have to only happen in December.
10. Don’t send one.
Maybe you’re just skipping a year because it doesn’t feel right. Maybe you’re opting out of the idea entirely. Those are both legitimate, adult, totally fine choices to make. My family didn’t send out holiday cards between my son’s death and the birth of my subsequent child. I decided the next big card thing we would do would be a birth announcement – whenever that was. That was my choice, I didn’t owe it to anyone. I did it because I wanted to, and I do holiday (New Year’s, actually, come on 2021!) cards because it brings me joy. If it doesn’t bring you joy – please consider why you’re doing it. You have enough going on – you have enough grief work to do without adding things that aren’t helping.
What strategies and ideas have you used for sending holiday cards after loss?
Happy New Year!
Special thanks to Elizabeth R., Lindsay G., Sarah B., Rachel M., Sarah M., Destaney B., Krista Z., Angela K., Lauren V., Melissa P., Amanda K., Bridget H., Lydarose M., Valerie M., Emily L., and Beth S. for sharing your holiday card traditions with me.