Listen to this article.
Grieving a baby loss can make holidays challenging for carrying-TO-term families. S.A.V.E. — Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace — is a simple model you can use to help.
The holidays are filled with beloved traditions we return to year after year. At the same time, traditions can create expectations that may be difficult for grieving parents to handle. To support parents coping with impending or past neonatal death, recognize that their feelings may defy expectations, and give them the gift of your willing embrace during the holidays.
Support is the first caring concept in the S.A.V.E. model.
S.A.V.E. stands for Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace.
To embrace someone or something is to accept them willingly and enthusiastically. Grieving parents need to be embraced exactly as they are. This is true for parents navigating what may be the only holiday they will have with their baby, either during pregnancy or after birth. It’s also true for parents navigating the holidays after the loss of a baby or babies.
Every Holiday is Different
Recognize that grieving is a process with unique twists and turns for every person who experiences it. The grieving parents in your life can only be where they are at each point in the pregnancy continuation or grief process. No point in the process is permanent, and yet, each point is important to the experience as a whole.
This means each holiday will look different this year, and over the years to come. Embrace these parents and their grief by meeting them where they are. Tune into their needs and accept where they are on their journey. Ask yourself:
- Are they looking to the holidays to serve as a distraction?
- Are they excited to make memories or traditions with their baby or in honor of their baby?
- Are they experiencing a heightened intensity of grief or a resurgence of grief?
Accept the Unpredictable
Grief creates a new normal for everyone affected by the loss of a baby. Don’t assume that you know where the grieving parents in your life will be at any given time. There are no rules for grief and the holidays, and each of these responses is normal and valid. Meet them where they are and offer support in alignment with their needs and emotions.
Part of that new normal is the reality that grief is an unpredictable, lifelong experience and process. When you embrace the place a parent is in their journey, you are supporting them, acknowledging their loss and the impact that baby has, and validating that what they are experiencing is understandable, worthy of being expressed, and a valid reflection of their experience.
Be Aware of Your Emotions
The holidays can be a complicated and emotional time for anyone. Family dynamics can create a range of emotions in a busy and sometimes stressful season. As the friends and relatives supporting grieving parents, it is important to recognize that grief can complicate even the simplest and most normal of experiences.
As parents balance their grief and the holidays, they may experience an intense emotional reaction, the desire to isolate, and a focus on self and survival. As a result, you may find yourself grieving the loss of the baby alone, feeling hurt by the loss of traditions from years past, or suffering the pain of unmet expectations. If this happens, you’ll need support, too.
Get Support for You
As a supporter, your feelings are valid and worthy of being expressed and worked through. However, it may not be appropriate to express your grief, hurt feelings, or to process your unmet expectations with the grieving parents.
It is important that you have your own network of appropriate support people to discuss your feelings as the holidays approach. You can learn more about empathetic communication with grieving parents and finding your own support system in our post found here.
As you navigate the holiday season with the grieving parents in your life, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes and empathize with how they might be feeling as the holidays approach. Then, offer your support, acknowledge their baby, validate their emotions, and embrace the parents by meeting them where they are. As you do so, be sure to take care of yourself and give yourself permission to grieve as well.
Willingly embracing the needs of grieving parents is a great way to care for families coping with neonatal death or remembering a baby this holiday season. Embrace is the fourth concept in the S.A.V.E. model. Learn ways you can Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace grieving parents in our continuing 5-part series.