Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Family Traditions: Making Memories that Include Your Child

This is my workshop presentation I gave at the Bereaved Parents of the USA Conference 2009, and also at the SHARE conference 2007.

My name is Emily, and my son Gabriel was stillborn at 21 weeks in 2001. For a long time I waited for things to get back to ‘normal’ but I finally realized that I now had a ‘new normal’. I have spent a lot of time online reading message boards (particularly SHARE) and lately discovered blogs.
I think the reason I spend so much time reading other people’s stories is that it helps me to know that I’m not alone in all this- that I’m not crazy for what I feel. I had attended the SHARE conference a few years ago and really had a great experience so I’m glad I had the chance to attend this conference this weekend.

Family Traditions: Making Family Memories that Include Your Baby
By Emily Wilberg presented at SHARE 2007, BP/USA2009


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; to 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.



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. On Gabriel’s first angel date my husband did not participate- it was too hard for him.

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 family 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.

IF YOU DON”T HAVE PHOTOS, you can still make ways to remember you baby. I have a few photos of Gabriel, but not ones I often share with just anyone. When we were asked to submit photos for the slideshow tonight I kind of stopped for a minute, but then I remembered my sand photo my sister took for me. She lives on the Windward Shore of Hawaii and there is a beach there designated as a place of ‘quiet reflection’. I love how it turns out- I’ve used that photo when I made a collage of my kids photos. It is a way to include Gabriel in our family photo collage.

I like to do scrapbooks, and on his angel day I take a picture of the sky that day and then I scrapbook that.


A. CONTINUED PARENTING: The first I heard of this was Kara Jones on 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


Holidays have rich associations because they were created as a way to honor and celebrate those things that are truly important. We step out of our everyday routines and pause. On these days our connections to others matter above all else.

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
Card exchange

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.

Thanksgiving- (or any family dinner event)
send thankful letters instead of Christmas cards
have a toast to remember all those not sitting at the table with you
leave an empty chair at the table, or place a rose across the place setting at that chair
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 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
Sunrise Breakfast
Christmas cards that include your baby- use a special punch or sticker in shape of star, butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug



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)

Some ideas:
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
Balloon release
Butterfly release
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


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)


The jouney of grief is difficult. Be compassionate with yourself and don’t judge yourself or set your expectations too high. Let your grief be what it is, and let yourself be who you are, now with your new normal.

By creating traditions that bring the family closer, parents can strengthen the bond between family members and teach important principles they want their children to understand and live by.

When you start a tradition it is not so important WHAT it is, as long as it has MEANING FOR YOU

Your babies are always with you

I had sent this out in my newsletter this month but wanted to post it here too. Do you get my newsletter? I only send it once a month- you can subscribe right there on my side bar.

I wanted you to know about this awesome study going on at Tufts University. They have discovered that with each pregnancy (no matter if it results in a live birth or not) the mother's body gets white blood cells from their baby. These cells are active cells in our body- they show up to heal infections, even.

Maybe there is something more to 'Mother's Intuition'. We are changed, forever, with each pregnancy, with each child. A little part of them are always with us.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

BP/USA: Butterfly Release

On Sunday morning they had a butterfly release- has anyone ever attended one? The butterflies come in these little triangles of paper and you can feel and hear them fluttering to get out of there. You have to hold them carefully in order not to damange the butterflies.

When you open the papers, some of the butterflies take off- up and away. Some of them flutter and land on nearby people (this less than flattering shot of me is because Eric's mom's butterfly landed on me and I was trying to hold real still) And some of them come out and then land on the ground and kind of flop around for a bit as they warm up and get going. My daughter's butterfly did that- it was pretty traumatic as we didn't know if maybe it was hurt or damaged but we were able to pick him up and put him on the bush nearby and he finally found his wings.

Here's the symbolic part- I thought of these little butterflies struggling, confused, trapped in the darkness and then released to fly free and beautiful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

BP/USA: Ron Villano

Over the course of the weekend we had the opportunity to attend several workshops (4 per day). The one I was presenting wasn't until the second day at the very last time slot. I was going to attend the workshop before mine in that room so I was there already to set up and avoid the stress. The plus was it was something that interests me- Grief 5 years Later.

So I was sitting there comfortably and as I was flipping through the schedule a workshop caught my eye- Embrace the Power by Ron Villano. My legs got me up and out of that chair and out of that room before I knew what I was doing. I just felt I had to attend that workshop. Has something like that ever happened to you? I try to not question my instincts, too much (and my apologies to the presenters of the other workshop as I jetted out of there too quickly to explain. Although I have no idea what I would have said. 'Sorry, gotta go!' They probably thought I was running to the bathroom, lol)

Ron is an interesting guy. Very dynamic. Very Italian. There was a lot of energy in that room. And it was packed.

The overall theme of his presentation is to 'Honor your loved one's life by living yours'. I like this a lot. It reminds me of the idea was have talked about before- Creating our Children's Legacy Our kids are not here to create their own legacy so we are doing it for them. He speaks in honor of his son Michael who was killed in a car accident.

Then also he has some rubber band bracelet wristbands- one says 'I choose to' and one says 'So What?'. The 'I choose to' reminds me of that discussion we had about 'I get to..' And the 'So What' is to remind you that it doesn't really matter what people think. If they think you are handling your grief incorrectly or you should be over it by now, or whatever. That is the answer for them. So what.

If you want to pop on over to visit his site it is and he's got a book called The Zing

BP/USA: Grief Watch

We just got back from the Bereaved Parents of the USA Conference. It was a hard weekend, but I'm glad I went. I presented a workshop on Family Traditions: Making Memories that Include Your Child- I'll post that here in a bit. Most of the attendees had children that were older (twenties, thirties) but the one thing that struck me is this: Our kids are always our babies, no matter how old they are.

I'm going to do a few posts on workshops I attended and review the books I got in the bookstore. But can I show you my very favorite item I purchased? This little "Comfee Doll".

And also this shirt:

I just now realized both of those items are from the same site: When I went to their site to get the links, I realize that the director is Pat Schwiebert. She is the author of the book they gave me in the hospital- the book that helped so much and really made a huge difference.

When I found out Gabriel had no heartbeat, it was terrible. But the most horrifying part of it was when my doctor told me I was going to the hospital to be induced. I just wanted it to go away. I thought.

They gave me a copy of the book
When Hello Means Goodbye
and I spent 3 days waiting for Gabriel to be born. In that time, this small book turned my thinking around. It reminded me this was going to be my only chance to do some things to parent my child. This book is the reason I was able to hold Gabriel, and the reason I thought to invite his grandparents to come to the hospital to see and hold him. This book was there at a critical time and I am so thankful for it.

She is also the author of another book I bought at the BP/USA conference bookstore: Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After a Loss I really like this book. It is the story of a woman dealing with her grief by making 'Tear Soup'. Here is the recipe:

Grandy's Recipe For Tear Soup- serves one
one pot full of tears
one heart willling to be broken open
a dash of bitters
a bunch of good friends
many handfulls of comfort food
a lot of patience
buckets of water to replace the tears
plenty of exercise
a variety of helpful reading material
enough self care
season with memories
optional: one good therapist and/or support group

Choose the size pot that fits your loss. It's ok to increase pot size if you miscalculated. Combine ingredients. Set the temperature for a moderate heat. Cooking times will vary depending on the ingredients needed. Strong flavors will mellow over time. Stir often. Cook no longer than you need to.

be creative
trust your instincts
cry when you want to, laugh when you can.
freeze some soup to use as a starter for next time
keep your own soup making journal so you won't forget

Sunday, July 5, 2009

This and That

I just wanted to point you in the direction of the SHARE newsletter for this month. It is really quite excellent on making memories, including memorial gardens, journaling, creative arts and my own Aloha Remembered site

I hope you'll get a chance to check it out.

Also, speaking of SHARE, my friend Rose sent me this in an email this week:

How To Plant Your Garden

First, you Come to the garden alone,
while the dew is still on the roses...


1. Peace of mind
2. Peace of heart
3. Peace of soul


1. Squash gossip
2. Squash indifference
3. Squash grumbling
4. Squash selfishness


1. Lettuce be faithful
2. Lettuce be kind
3. Lettuce be patient
4. Lettuce really love one another


1. Turnip for meetings
2. Turnip for service
3. Turnip to help one another


1. Thyme for each other
2.. Thyme for family
3.. Thyme for friends


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sweet Pea Stones

My friend Stephanie over at the Sweet Pea Project has a new project called Sweet Pea Stones

The Sweet Pea Project started when Stephanie's daughter Madeline was stillborn at 41 weeks. Stephanie has been able to do great good by returning to the hospital where Madeline was born and speaking to the staff about what she appreciated and what she regretted. One of her regrets was that she did not get to keep the blanket Madeline had been wrapped in during the time she and her husband held their daughter.

The Sweet Pea Project has been collecting blankets to donate to grieving parents who will leave the hospital without their babies. Her newest project is the Sweet Pea Stones- sweet little garden stones sculpted with your baby's name.

I hope you will visit her site and help support this wonderful cause. There are so many regrets when you lose a baby- not having a blanket to remember your time with your baby should not be one of them.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Under the Tree

This month is kind of a getting to know you post over at Under the Tree

Hair Color: Currently brownish reddish but last time I went to the salon I went crazy and got a few bright burgandy extentions

Eye color: brown

Profession: I've got about 8 jobs; it makes my tax guy crazy. Some include production assistant for The Real Estate Book, recording secretary for a homes corp, and working at a theater camp for kids during the summer. I have my daycare license. I make about 100 bucks a year at each of them

Relationship status: Married

My Favorites:

Favorite color: black for clothes. red for food

Favorite movie: Happy Gilmore is one I always stop on if I'm flipping channels and come across it

Favorite animal: wild birds

Favorite store: 7-11. I love the quick snack fix available 24/7

Favorite childhood memory: One year the first morning of spring break we were all hanging around and my mom said "Hey, do you guys feel like going down to Florida? Go get your stuff" and we grabbed our swim suits and packed a quick bag and hopped in the car. It is like a 15 hour drive from Maryland to Daytona Beach ;0)

Favorite hobby: reading

Favorite song/singer: What I Like About You by the Romantics and Come On, Eileen by Dixies Midnight Runners. 80's stuff

Favorite book/author: so many, so many but maybe A Prayer for Owen Meany and then the Outlander series

Favorite school subject: English, I guess, but I was an Anthropology major

Favorite vacation destination: any hotel with room service

Favorite food: mini snickers bars

Favorite restaurant: Bob Evans or anywhere to get breakfast for dinner. I love biscuits and gravy

This or That

Coke or pepsi : I used to drink a ton of diet cola but haven't been able to take it at all since my last pregnancy. weird

Beer or wine: neither

Coffee or tea: neither

Apple Juice or O.J.: OJ real watered down with ice

Summer or Winter: winter but really fall

Cats or dogs: neither, I'm allergic (and by that I mean I dislike them. You say you dislike animals and people think you are one step up from being a mass murderer. You say you are allergic and people feel sorry for you)

Salty or sweet: sweet. and by that I mean chocolate

Plane or boat: plane

Morning or night: morning

Money or love: I'd love to have money

Breakfast or dinner: breakfast for dinner

Forgiveness or revenge: duh

House or apartment: townhouse

Like to cook: no

Have You Ever:

Got a speeding ticket: Yes,

Wished you were someone else: not usually

Cried during a movie: yes. lots

Describe yourself in one word:

Biggest fear: fire. running out of time. dinosaurs. sharks

Biggest mistake: not enjoying my 20s when I was there

Your proudest accomplishment: traveled around Europe by myself.

Dream job: getting paid to travel- writing guidebooks or reviewing resorts or something

Special talents: I don't know. I can usually see both sides of an issue

Where would you rather be at the moment: getting a pedicure. Or back in bed for a nap.

Famous person you want to meet: Stephen King. David Letterman. the Mythbusters guys

Song to be played at your funeral: God be With You til We Meet Again