Friday, December 11, 2015

12 DOC: Day Eleven: Maureen Schaefer

*This post is part of our Twelve Days of Christmas series. You can read more here.*

by Maureen Schaefer

Holidays are supposed to be a special time of joy, remembrance, family, faith, and fun. Holidays as a bereaved parent,though, can be just the opposite; grief filled, with faith hard to find, little fun, and a constant reminder that our children are gone.  The focus is so much on family and togetherness, but every fiber of our being is crying out that part of our family is missing.  The rest of the world wants to just carry on with their normal celebrations but that feels incredibly wrong to us.  How can they celebrate while our hearts are crushed?  Worse, how can they expect us to join them in their celebrations?

Especially if this is your first holiday season after loss, I encourage you to remove the word “should” from your vocabulary.  No, you should not feel obligated to go to the huge multi-generational gathering at Great Aunt Ida’s where there will be 100 screaming infants. No, you should not think you have to do every tradition that you have done in years past. No, you should not have to go to midnight mass surrounded by happy families looking like they just stepped out of their Christmas card.  Please don’t let anyone else pile expectations on you and how you should spend the holidays this year.

This year, of all years, give yourself permission to make no obligations but to just decide your plans in the moment. Truthfully, you don’t know how you will feel at the big family gathering. It may turn into a source of strength and support, if your family is particularly empathetic and you are in a place to receive it.  But it also carries the risk of having serious damage done in your family relationships when some unthinking relative asks if you are “over it” yet.   I am not saying that you absolutely should stay home; it's not my place to tell you what you should do either.  But I would suggest that you only give “maybe” as an answer about your attendance to any event and only consider attending events that are local so that you can quickly make an escape back to home if the event proves to be too much.

The holidays may trigger your grief in unexpected ways.  Your favorite Christmas classic movie may suddenly turn into a crying fest when the thought crosses your mind that you won’t be sharing this movie with your son.  Or the Christmas cookies may suddenly taste like salty tears as the idea of never getting to bake them with your daughter won’t leave your mind.  It is impossible to predict everything that will bring your grief rising to the surface.  Please try to let yourself feel those moments; suppressing your grief will only make it worse.

Incorporating your child into your holidays can bring comfort and help you do some intentional grieving.  There are craft ideas in the previous year's articles and new ones shared this year. You might consider making ornaments for the tree that honor your child or making a stocking for your child. However, if you find the actual doing of these projects is too much for you this year, then maybe just save a favorite idea for completing next year.

Give yourself grace to live in the moment this holiday season and do what will nurture you.  If you need to avoid all things Christmas, that's okay!  Share that need with your spouse  so that you can make a plan together.  At our house, I’m planning a Star Wars marathon so I can avoid all the sappy commercials on TV but will still make my husband the traditional meal that he wants. This is our first year staying home but I am looking forward to not having to be "on" for a family gathering. If you can make new traditions for just you and your spouse, then that’s even better so that it can draw you closer together.

Know that you are not alone; we grieve with you this holiday season.

~ ~ ~

Maureen Schaefer (known as Reen to her online friends) has been married to her husband since March of 2011. They started trying to add to their family shortly after the wedding but soon found themselves batting infertility and recurrent miscarriage. Maureen found information and solidarity in her online support groups and eventually began to help moderate a group for those pursuing advanced methods of trying to conceive. She also co-founded a group for those actively trying to conceive who have experienced two or more pregnancy losses or babies born still. Now, after five pregnancy losses, Maureen is coming to terms with living a childless life. She writes for Still Mothers. Join her on BabyCenter: Actively Trying with Repeat Loss, and Still Mothers – Living Childless after Loss.


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