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Helping Families Heal During the Holiday Season

Holidays and anniversaries can be an overwhelming time of anxiety and sadness for those of us who have lost a child. Sometimes this grief is called “shadowing grief” and can surface at unpredictable times. The images of family togetherness and being home for the holidays may leave us feeling alone and isolated. While the world around us is celebrating, how can we manage the pain and navigate this incredibly difficult time? Try to acknowledge that the holidays may be very difficult for you. Consider scaling back. Together, as a family, create new holiday traditions. If you have other children, ask them what they would like to do. Then, as a family, decide the best way to spend the holidays. Children are often the forgotten mourners. Talk to your children about their feelings. Children need to express their emotions as they adapt to life without their precious brother or sister. Allow them to celebrate the holidays. Look for ways to include the memory of your loved one in your holiday celebration. Encourage your children to make or do something meaningful. This could be making a holiday card or a special gift, lighting a special candle, creating an ornament, volunteering with a children’s charity or donating toys to those in need – all these can be beautiful ways to honour your child’s memory. Giving something of yourself to others can be healing during the holidays. Also look for ways to honour your child throughout the year. Many families visit their child’s final resting place on special occasions such as the anniversary of the child’s birth and death and special holidays. Parents find a sense of peace knowing that their child is always with them in spirit. Give yourself permission to feel your heartache. Your memories of your child will help you cope. Seek solace in others who share your pain. Find comfort in someone who can listen. Many hospices offer special workshops to help parents and siblings get through the holiday season. You may find that your support network changes. Some of those closest to you may not understand the depth and pain of your loss. You will find strength in those who share your loss – with bereaved parents, siblings and families. Choose those people to be close who can hold your grief, let you cry your tears and share your pain. You may find yourself needing to distance yourself from those who are insensitive to your grief. Our society does not handle loss well, and those who have never experienced such tragedy may not understand it. Have faith. Grief is a process of letting go of what was and accepting what is. Grieving is excruciatingly painful but it is also your salvation. Grieving is how you can come to terms with your child’s death. I have learned that you don’t recover after the loss of a child. You adapt. You come to a place in your life where you can carry your loss forward and incorporate the loss within you. Grief takes us on an unpredictable path. I have learned that there is no detour. There is only one road, and that is through … And I have found this to be so true. In the years to come, we will look back and discover what grief teaches us about life. Our understanding of life will deepen.

“There are moments amidst their celebrations – the lights and the magic and the laughter – when I bow my head and turn away. Tears crash down my cheeks, and all I can do is remember how deeply I love and miss you.” Joanne Cacciatore, Dear Cheyenne: A Journey into Grief

At this year's Paediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT) Candle Lighting Service of Remembrance at SickKids Hospital, Toronto, each family illuminated a candle in memory of their precious child while listening to the very touching words of the Team who cared so deeply for each child.

At the recent PACT Candle Lighting Service children were given the opportunity to create loving keepsakes in memory of their sibling with Child Life specialists and trained volunteers. Ella and Sarah each made a picture frame and glass candle holder with a photo of their brother. Families were united together before and after the service, a special opportunity to connect with others who also shared their loss.

One of our annual family traditions is attending a Blue Christmas evening carol sing at our local memorial park.

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