Deborah writes in: My infant grandson passed away on the day of his birth, and the anniversary is coming. Do you have any suggestions on how to celebrate this day? Mom and Dad are sooo sad. Thank you for your help.
Monica Novak, author of The Good Grief Club, responds: Dear Deborah: I am so very sorry for the loss of your grandson. The year following the death of a baby takes a family through such a wide range of emotions, often culminating on the first anniversary of that death, that it can be difficult to decide how to spend the day.
There are many ways to celebrate and make it a special remembrance, and the key is finding what feels right for your family. If there are other living children in this family, a fun activity could be planned with them in mind. If not, I would suggest the parents find something enjoyable to do together or with other family and friends who will understand their sadness and provide support while offering love and upliftment at the same time.
When the first anniversary of my stillborn daughter’s death came around, I felt I should do something, but didn’t know what. Because Miranda had been cremated, we didn’t have a cemetery to visit. My mom remembered it was Miranda’s day and called to invite me and my 2-year-old daughter to the beach for the day. That night, after looking through Miranda’s memory book together, I put a candle in a cupcake and my husband, daughter, and I sang Happy Birthday to Miranda. It was a nice way to enjoy the day, while still remembering the importance of it. And I so deeply appreciated every card or phone call that came from other family and friends to let me know they remembered Miranda too.
Friends from my support group celebrated in various ways. One family had a meal at a restaurant down the street that had given them balloons one year earlier to release at their son’s funeral. Some made special trips to the cemetery where their babies were buried, either taking flowers or releasing balloons. One family took cupcakes to share with medical staff who had cared for their baby. Another family donated three tape recorders to the NICU where their triplet babies had lived and died, so the staff could play music for other sick infants.
Some families light a candle and let it burn all day. A wonderful way to commemorate and honor the baby’s life is to plant a tree or flowering shrub. My dear friend Cathi Lammert of the Share organization spent the first anniversary of her son Christopher’s death gathering with family at a church Mass in honor of their son, followed by a brunch at their home. They were given the gift of a small blue spruce ,which became their symbol of Christopher every day. The tree became such an important part of their lives that when they moved five years later, they had the tree moved to their new home just in time to decorate it for the Christmas season.
It’s okay to spend a quiet day in reflection, and it’s okay to invite family and friends to share in a celebration of your grandson’s life. What you choose this year might become an annual tradition, or you might find that in time, the remembrance will evolve into something else. On the anniversary days that followed the first year, as the intense grief subsided, my support group friends and I sometimes gathered at someone’s home for wine and dessert, or held cemetery picnics with food, games for the kids, and a balloon release.
It’s important for the parents to give themselves permission to treat themselves with care on this special day, taking the day off of work if possible, and doing something that allows them to treasure the gift of their son’s life, which hopefully in time will bring them more joy than sorrow.
Monica Novak is the author of The Good Grief Club, a memoir about her friendships with six other women that carried them through the ups and downs of grief and motherhood following the loss of their babies in miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. She also serves as editor of Open to Hope’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss page. For more information about her book, and for pregnancy loss and infant death resources, please visit her website at www.thegoodgriefclub.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.