Family Traditions: Making Family Memories that Include Your Baby
By Emily Wilberg presented at SHARE retreat July 2007
I. WHY HAVE FAMILY TRADITIONS?
Look at a strong family and you are likely to find one with strong family traditions. Whether it is activities that the family always does, the everyday routines or ways they celebrate holidays and special occasions, these family rituals bring a sense of belonging, familiarity and routine to family members. In strong families, members become more committed to each other when they spend time together and create bonds. Traditions provide a sense of continuity, understanding, connectedness and love that strengthens family closeness. Family traditions are also opportunities for families to have ‘good times” and establish memories. Rituals touch the hearts of family members in a positive way and help members feel good about themselves and each other.
Family traditions reflect relationships between family members and how the family interacts with the community, culture or religion. Traditions help form the story line for a family’s unique history with each generation adding or deleting certain traditions that enhance the family story.
THEY MAKE YOU FEEL PART OF A GROUP: Provides a sense of belonging- a common language, common memories (Story- Christmas morning the kids all line up on the stairs to wait to go down to the tree. They did this when they were together as adults because it just felt like the “right thing to do”)
In times of uncertainty, families can strengthen their emotional defenses and relieve tension by creating special rituals and family times Gives you something in common. Something familiar and predictable in a hectic and ever- changing world. Family bonds are weakened by busy lifestyles. There is a tendency to entropy (lose energy and coherence over time- like a gas dissipating until it is all but gone)- traditions are the glue to cement you close.
Importance of traditions crosses economic, cultural and religious lines. Christians celebrate Christmas, Muslims celebrate Ramadan, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and across the globe families celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.
II RULES FOR SUCESSFUL FAMILY TRADITIONS
SUCESSFUL FAMILY TRADITIONS:
A. INCLUDE ALL FAMILY MEMBERS:
Remember family members that are not with you- (Grandma’s recipe, or family away at college) Your babies were with you just a moment but changed your family forever. They are still part of your family.
Our society doesn’t do a very good job at allowing us to remember. As soon as someone dies we are supposed to get over it, and move on. Some people think we are strange, or morbid. Grief is a very personal thing. You need to do what is right for you and your family. This doesn’t mean it may be right for everyone in your family, too. You have to allow each other the space to grieve as they need to. Invite spouses, grandparents, siblings to participate but give them permission not to if they can’t. Try to not get hurt feelings.
B. ARE FLEXIBLE: Don’t be rigid- evolve as your family does- as get married, start own families. Establish new traditions as you need. Do what feels right for your family and family members at this time. Your needs may change.
Some times it will feel sad. I think that is ok. Sometimes it may feel gentle, or peaceful, or strengthening. At different times you may need different activities. Sometimes you want a private quiet thing like writing a letter to your baby or buying a balloon and letting it go. Sometimes you are ready for a bigger community thing- March of Dimes or an area sports night
D. INCLUDE SPIRITUAL, EMOTIONAL, PHYSICAL ASPECTS. Some may be solomn, but it is also ok to have fun. Your traditions can include different aspects- physical (walking a labyrinth, March of Dimes, going somewhere special), emotional (attending bereavement conferences or a balloon release), spiritual (attend a mass or religious ceremony)
E. INCLUDE DIFFERENT SENSES: SMELL (scented candles, food), TASTE (food), TOUCH (different textures- sand, water), SOUND (songs), SIGHT (symbols)
G. OCCASIONALLY EVALUATE YOUR TRADITIONS: make a list- any you want to add? Any to get rid of? Have a MODERATE number. Don’t try to do it all. People do so much FOR their family they neglect being WITH their family. The house looks perfect but the people inside are irritable and frustrated from exhaustion. You may want to simplify. Keep the ones that are most important to you at this time.
H. ARE MEANINGFUL: do service as a family, do something together QUALITY TIME, handed down generations. Each year as they are re-enacted warm memories return
I. PHOTOS & STORIES- write it down, my familiy loves to look at scrapbooks- if you don’t have photos, keep an ongoing journal of ways you celebrate or remember. When you do something in memory of your child, write your thought in a letter to him or her.
III. WHEN TO HAVE TRADITIONS?
A. CONTINUED PARENTING: The first I heard of this was Kara Jones on kotapress.com. You still have a connection with your child even though your child has died. You are still a parent even if your child is not with you.
Have a special place for your baby- can be area of your home or garden. One reason I am attending this conference is that SHARE is the only place in the world I am known solely for being Gabriel’s mom. He has brought me many friends I would not have met otherwise. That is my place with him.
Special time of day, week or year- sunrise, full moon. Can be time of day or yearyour baby was born. Sunday candles
Wear Jewelry with special significance
Angel Gardens/ Butterfly Gardens- butterfly bush, stepping stones, painted rocks
Symbols that have special meaning to your family- butterflies, ladybugs
Quotes/ Poems collection- special book, journal or scrapbook
Sponsor A Child (overseas)
Kindness Project- do good deeds in memory of your child
Scrapbooking Your Baby- ongoing scrapbook with your letters to your baby, notes about things you do in their memory, photos of the sky
Family Photos- include your baby with a symbol or stuffed animal
There is often the sense that someone is missing. Especially difficult are family gatherings and traditional holidays. It is common to feel great loss at the realization that your baby will never experience these holidays and special days with your family. However, it is possible to make some memories that do include your baby. Let’s look at some holidays and everyday things to do to include your baby in your family’s traditions.
Whole first year is full of ‘should have beens’ as you experience milestone dates or holidays. It is very obvious your baby is gone. You can keep their memory close by by remembering them on these dates. There are also ways to remember them everyday in your family activities. Your baby does not need to be forgotten.
Visit cemetery, discuss resurrection
Leave easter eggs at cemetery on other babies graves with a kind word to their parents
Mother’s Day/Father’s Day
Gift from baby
Special jewelry items, bracelets, keychains
ORIGIN Mothers Day was originally intended as a call to unite women against war after the civil war. It was to remember Mothers whos sons had died in the Civil War. 1870 Julia Ward Howe wrote a proclamation as a call for peace. It started as a ceremony of bereavement and then as a movement for peace and action to stop the senseless deaths of children everywhere. The first such Mother's Day was celebrated in Grafton, West Virginia, on May 10, 1908, in the church where the elder Ann Jarvis had taught Sunday School. From there, the custom caught on- spreading eventually to 45 states. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war.
Kara Jones Quote: “Our society can commercialize all they want. Because in my heart of hearts I know the real meaning of this day came from pain, loss, and grief -- the same things I feel on any given Mothers Day. And from now on, when people urge me to celebrate the day, I will tell them this:
I'll celebrate with you as long as you will first mourn with me. It is the combination of the two that lends itself to the true meaning of Mothers Day!”
October- all month long, and particularly Oct 15th
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
Tie pink or blue ribbons around trees
Ask local radio and tv stations to have them announce that October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
Write an article and submit it to your local newspapers.
Sponsor flowers in memory of your baby in a church service or hospital.
Participate in a memory walk or memorial service.
Release butterflies, doves or balloons
Send off a pink or blue balloon with your Angel’s name and/or picture
Instead of Halloween, Day of the Dead
On November 1st in Mexico we celebrate the Day of the Death. Families create altars in memory of their loved ones and place in there pictures, their favorite foods and drinks, flowers. poems. Though the subject matter may be considered morbid from the perspective of some other cultures, celebrants typically approach the Day of the Dead joyfully. The traditional mood is much brighter with emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, and celebrating the continuation of life; the belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life.
send thankful letters instead of Christmas cards
have a toast to remember all those not sitting at the table with you
if it is too painful to attend a big family celebration SKIP IT this year! Do what you need to do
DEC 6 Candlelight Ceremony
Angel of Hope Statue: Candlelight ceremonies at Angel statues around the country. Can find more info at http://caseproof.com/rpe/angels.php as well as a list of locations.
Located in a quiet, garden setting, Blanchette Park, St. Charles, Missouri is home to the National Share Office Angel of Hope. The angel's face is that of a child, its arms raised as a child waiting to be lifted. In its wing is inscribed the word Hope. The Angel of Hope, an exact replica of the Christmas Box Angel statue, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, stands as a symbol of hope for all parents who have experienced the death of a child.
To honor our children's memories, memorial bricks are being placed around the base of the Angel of Hope statue with separate walkways extending in various directions from the base of the statue. The statue and surrounding area is intended to be a place of peace and healing for all bereaved parents.
The memorial bricks are placed around the Angel of Hope twice a year in a brick dedication ceremony, held in April, before Mother's Day and Father's Day, and in November, in time for the holiday season. (contact SHARE for more info on bricks)
Dec- 2nd Sunday National Children's Memorial Day happens every year on the second Sunday of December and is observed internationally to honor the 80,000 children who die each year.. Families around the world light candles at 7 p.m. in their corresponding time zones. As candles burn down in one time zone, they are lighted in the next, creating a 24-hour wave of light that encircles the globe. This remembrance ceremony provides the world with lit candles for an entire 24 hour period in order to honor the children we have lost, the children who lived and died, and who, even in death, continue to matter.
Ornaments- buy a special one for your baby
Stocking for your baby- ask friends and family to do an act of service in memory of your baby and send you an email. Place the emails in your baby's stocking and open them as gifts on Christmas morning
Angel Giving Tree- buy and donate gifts for children that will not get many
Christmas cards that include your baby- use a special punch or sticker in shape of star, butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug
C. SPECIAL FAMILY DAYS
Angelversary n. 1. This word denotes the annual date of a child's death. This day is just as important to a bereaved parent as a birthday, and stillbirth parents are marking both birth and death on the same day. So it is different than a regular birthday. While "anniversary" might work, that often seems to celebratory a word for this kind of day. Angelversary is our answer to describing this most difficult day. (excerpt from Dictionary of Loss)
watch the sunrise,
thank your doctor and nurses (if applies)
write a letter to your baby
Sky photos- sunrise, or sunset photos
Kindness project- Random Acts of Kindness, leave flowers anonymously
Attend a Mass or other religious events
Buy a brick engraved with your baby’s name (SHARE Angel of Hope statue)
Put an Ad in paper
Birthday cake- candles
Build a Bear
Stuffed animals in family photos
Write a letter to your baby
Kindness Project: flowers for random people, leave big tip for waitresses, pay for person behind you
D. SERVICE PROJECTS & FUNDRAISERS
Memory Boxes to hospital
Blanket projects- provide blankets to babies
Hospital Bereavement Projects- make gowns
Sporting Event: angelmaxch (Stacy) on SHARE mom to Maxwell Christopher s/b 6/27/03 at 26 weeks It is fairly simple to organize the night. I call the Phillies as soon as group tickets go on sale and reserve about 200 tickets (we usually have about 150 people attend). I put a downpayment on the tickets (it is non-refundable, so I have to be careful about how many I buy! lol). We send out the invitations to everyone we know with a response card and a stamped envelope. We need all of our responses 1 month before the game. I think the hardest part is doing the seating chart -- we try to put our families together and groups of friends together, so it gets a little crazy sometimes (like doing your seating chart for your wedding!!)
March of Dimes
Other ideas: donate rocking chair to NICU, books to library, buy a bench at a garden (butterfly bench)
A feeling of closeness and security doesn’t just happen in a family. Like anything else worth having, you have to work at it. When you think of ways you can help your family get a little closer, it’s not by telling someone to do something, and it’s by taking the time to share experiences- even small ones.
Wholesome family recreation is important in building successful families. By creating traditions that bring the family closer, parents can strengthen the bond between family members, fortify commitment to religion, and teach important principles they want their children to understand and live by.
Start a tradition- Not important WHAT it is, as long as it has MEANING FOR YOU