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Remembering our angel babies at the holidays

I've been asked to write a blog on grief/loss/remembering lost babies over the holidays. It's such a tough topic to handle for so many reasons. There are so many different ways to grieve, different ways to honor memories of our lost babies, and even so many different ways of celebrating that time encompassing Thanksgiving,  Christmas, Chanukah, New Year's, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and Festivus (did I leave anything out?).

I feel the need to give a disclaimer that whatever works for you, is the right answer for you. As I've said before, fear of criticism for saying the wrong thing has held

me back from writing about grief and loss.

The holidays are often a grief trigger following a loss, even if things have seemed to be "fine" or at least "better" for a while. Why is that? Sometimes it has to do with expectations we had of that holiday: showing off an ultrasound, baby bump, or our new baby in our arms. Sometimes it means being around a mixture of relatives, some of whom don't know about the loss and it feels overwhelming to tell the whole story allllllll over again. Sometimes it feels like too much to answer questions about what happened. And all too often, it's awkward because there are no questions; everyone acts as though nothing happened. "Please pass the turkey." It's the elephant in the room nobody talks about.

Or maybe it's because nobody knows that the loss occurred because we hadn't announced the pregnancy, and we preferred to keep the loss and grieving process private. It can still be difficult to face a crowd when you are mourning and no one knows why you are not quite acting like "yourself."

Sometimes we *want* to talk about it but we don't know how to bring it up or who will be a sympathetic listener. Or we don't want to be the one to ruin the family get-together. Or we don't want to be accused of being self-centered or making the event "all about me." Or maybe that was just what I heard from certain family members. Or maybe we don't want to ruin our makeup when we tried so hard to put on a brave face and attend this thing after all.

Sometimes it's hard to be around family or friends who were pregnant at the same time as us or whose child(ren) is/are the same age as our baby would have been by then. It's hard to hold their baby, even though we want to hold them and love them.

Sometimes it's simply hard to be around festivity when deep down, we don't feel terribly festive.

Think about what brings you comfort: privacy and curling up on the couch with your honey, or being surrounded by friends and family at a gathering that is bustling and takes your mind off things for a while? Talk it over with your significant other and see if you can find a compromise that works for you both. Would you feel most comfortable attending a family gathering but setting a time limit on it? Would it help to have a code word that means "I can't do this, we have to leave now!"? Maybe this could play out: "Where's the mistletoe, honey?" "I'll get our coats."

If you just don't want to attend, and if you would rather send the gifts by mail or give them to a family member to take for you, or even if you want to send your significant other (and/or kids) as your ambassador and explain that you weren't feeling well and you regret that you couldn't be there, that would be 100% true.

Some families opt to do something different altogether to ease the pain of the absence of the loved one. This could be a temporary solution for one year, or a new tradition to keep each year. It's a bit of a different situation, but several years ago, my friend's mother died on Thanksgiving day after dinner after a long illness, and her father died of cancer a few months later. For the following Thanksgiving, she and her sister took a cruise over Thanksgiving instead of attending dinner at extended family's houses. I thought it was a great idea. Since that time, they have celebrated Thanksgiving with various other family members, but it really helped them make that transition for that first rough Thanksgiving without their mother. Getting away for a while could be a nice way to reconnect and recharge the batteries, physically and emotionally. Alternately, a new tradition closer to home could give a new way to honor baby's memory at the holidays, such as helping others (donating time, money, or needed items to a local family or charity in need) or even some fun activity such as going bowling or ice skating as a family.

Some moms find comfort in making or buying a memento, whether it's a piece of jewelry etched with baby's name, due date, or loss date; a Christmas ornament; a suncatcher; naming a star in his or her memory; donating to a charity in his or her name; a piece of art (custom or one you find) that represents your memory; a doll, stuffed animal, or blankie; a birdbath, fountain, or garden stepping stone (perhaps with a phrase or scripture that comforts you). Some parents write a poem (and even frame it) or journal to help in the grieving process. There are endless options for finding a way to honor your baby's memory in a way that represents you, your family, and your traditions.

If you receive money as a gift or want to buy a treat for yourself, My Forever Child is a great company owned by a jewelry artist who has lost a baby as well. Here are photos of my pendant I received as a gift from friends shortly after my loss. If you have actual handprints or footprints of your baby, you can scan and email them to her and she will custom-etch the images onto a pendant or keychain.

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As for me, I wanted a Christmas stocking in memory of Evan, my baby who I lost in 2007. It is basically a place-holder, in my eyes. I didn't want to pretend he was never here. My mother-in-law made stockings for my husband and me when we got married, then gave a stocking of the same shape/pattern to each of our children for their first Christmas. I asked her in June 2007 if she would make a stocking in memory of Evan, but she said that she would not have time to do that. I asked my dear sister-in-law Candi if she would make a stocking for Evan, since she has my mother-in-law's pattern and this stocking would match all the others. Even though it was a sacrifice of time and effort, Candi took time every evening for several days straight to put together this stocking for me, allowing me to choose which fabrics I wanted and where. Her gift of love meant--and means--so much to me.

To mark the significance of the stocking, I added a Precious Feet pin, which is an accurate replica of a baby's feet at 10 weeks gestation. I lost Evan at nearly 15 weeks gestation, but he stopped growing at nearly 9 weeks gestation, so the pin is pretty close to the size of Evan's feet at the time we lost him.

Evan's stocking is the one with the snowman, in the middle.

All our stockings: the 5 children's, then mine and Rick's.

Having Evan's stocking as a physical way to honor his memory made the approaching Christmas season feel much more bearable. My children know whose stocking that is, and sometimes they tell visitors about it. It is a tangible witness to their baby brother's existence. They know that he was a real baby, that he is still their brother, and that he is in Heaven now.

I've put up Evan's stocking along with all the other stockings, each year. However, I also bought a Christmas ornament in Evan's memory in 2007, but this is the first year that I have felt strong enough to bring it out of its place in my memory box and hang it on the tree. I bought it October 2007 from a WV artisan at an arts and crafts festival, and the artisan inscribed it with his name and the year.

The underside of the blankie reads "Evan Michael DeGroff, 2007"

Maybe on a tree this size, no one else will even notice Evan's ornament, but I know it's there.

What are some of the ways that you or someone you know has handled the holidays after a loss?

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