Christmas is a really tough time for bereaved parents. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first Christmas without your child or your tenth, it’s a time for families to be together and there is always somebody missing in ours.
We have an 11-year-old and a seven-year-old, but we always include our late son Charlie in our Christmas traditions. Every year, without fail, we have three stockings hanging up on the fireplace and a decoration with his name on up on our tree. One of our friends very kindly bought this for us and it is just one of the ways you can support bereaved families at Christmas. My Dad always sends a card for Charlie and hangs a ribbon on the Meningitis Now tree in memory of him. It is gestures like this that make us feel he is still recognised as part of our family.
I would strongly suggest including their name when you send Christmas cards or messages. Even if you just write something like “and remembering Charlie” or “Charlie is always in our thoughts” in your card, it will make a huge difference to someone who has lost a child. I know people worry that they will bring up an upsetting memory by mentioning him, but believe me, it’s never something we can forget. Charlie is on my mind daily, so other people acknowledging him doesn’t bring up anything that isn’t already in my thoughts. It actually makes me happy that they’ve remembered him and included him.
Many of our family and friends donate the money they would have spent on a Christmas present for Charlie to his charity. Again, this is a positive move and shows us you are thinking of him, whilst also giving money to a good cause in his name. A lot of people now donate to charity, in lieu of sending Christmas cards. If you don’t have ties to a particular charity, then why not ask a bereaved family if you can donate to one of their choice? It’s another way of recognising their loss and showing your support.
I can’t speak for all bereaved parents, as we all have different views on it, but if in doubt, ask. There’s a big fear about speaking to someone about their child who has passed away, but for me it’s a release and I’m always happy to talk to people about him. I lost many friends after Charlie died because they avoided me, they didn’t know what to say. I don’t care if you say the “wrong” thing, if at least you have made an effort. I do care if you cut me out of your life because you feel awkward, or cross the street so you don’t have to talk to me. That is something I won’t forget.
Even if you don’t have the means to donate to a charity or give a gift, then just be there to listen. I have good days and bad days around Christmas. There are times where I feel lucky to spend time with the children I do have and then occasions when I feel angry that I don’t get to have all my children with me.
Sometimes remembering the child who is not there is the greatest gift you can give to a bereaved parent. If you make an effort to include them at Christmas time, then you might just make a difficult period that bit more bearable.
This was first published on the Huffington Post UK website.