Grieving a baby loss can make holidays challenging for carrying to term families. SAVE — Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace — is a simple model you can use to help.
For parents facing a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition or remembering a baby that died, the holiday season can be complicated. Parents may feel heightened sense of grief in balancing the demands of the holidays with an impending loss, or coping with a neonatal death.
But just as is true for anyone during the holidays, parents who are grieving should be allowed to feel their real feelings, and supporters can help them do so. Here are 4 simple concepts that can guide you in caring for families grieving a baby loss through the holidays.
Ways to SAVE Grieving Parents
Often, friends and family members of parents coping with neonatal death worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. Supporters may never be able to fully understand what grieving parents in their life are going through, and may become concerned that a lack of understanding will end up hurting the people they most wish to support.
The holiday season brings these stressors into focus for everyone. It’s no wonder being a supporter is stressful, and even more so at the holidays. There are no rules or set patterns when it comes to how grieving parents will feel about the holiday season. Just like any grief, each experience is wholly unique.
Depending on their journey, the timing and traditions of a holiday may or may not align with the way grieving parents are feeling. For some, celebration may be welcome. For others, the idea of celebrating or gathering with family may feel exhausting, overwhelming, or anxiety-inducing.
Holidays put an emphasis on family, togetherness, and celebrations. Meanwhile, the carrying to term journey re-casts the idea of family — and feelings about family will change along the journey. At the holidays, immediate family may feel incomplete as grieving parents struggle to come to terms with the idea of losing a child, or remember a child they lost. As extended family comes together, parents may feel loss more acutely, with painful awareness of the person missing from a family gathering.
Consider the SAVE model. SAVE stands for Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace.
This is why the SAVE model was developed. Save stands for Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace. It is a simple, flexible set of ideas that can guide you in offering support to parents remembering or grieving a baby loss.
Don’t let the acronym overwhelm you — no one expects you to save grieving families all by yourself. But your support can be a powerful ingredient in helping grieving parents you care about not only get through a challenging time, but make healing progress along their journey during that time.
Support is about being sensitive to the emotions of others, then attempting to put yourself in their shoes in order to offer others what they need. It does not require a shared experience or a personal understanding to be effective. All it takes is empathy.
Offer support by checking in with families grieving a baby loss or remembering a baby, and asking them what they need. Every holiday may be different for them. No matter how they are feeling, considering their perspective gives them the gift of your willing support.
The holiday season can seem to cause a backslide into grief. As the friends and family of grieving parents, acknowledging the loss of their baby is important. It tells parents that you see them, and that you hold space for their grief at this time.
Acknowledgment makes grieving parents feel seen and understood. It also gives them permission to experience their grief, embrace emotions as they come, and reach out to ask for help from the people who love and support them.
Depending on where in the carrying to term or grief process a family is, parents may struggle to feel that their heightened sense of grief in light of the holidays is actually valid. Validation is simply the recognition that another person’s feelings are real, worthwhile, and accepted.
Give families the gift of validation by letting them know it is ok to feel whatever it is they are feeling. Even if you do not fully comprehend their feelings, receive expressions of their feelings as worthy of being expressed, as normal, and as permissible in your company.
Parents coping with neonatal death are going through one of the hardest experiences of their lives. They can only be where they are at each point in pregnancy continuation or grief process. They need to be embraced — exactly as they are — during the holiday season.
Are grieving parents in your life looking at this holiday as a way to be distracted? Are they wanting to make memories? To commemorate their loss? Let them know their needs are important to you — that you are willing to meet them where they are and walk with them.
Whatever you do to support the grieving parents in your life, remember to set aside your own expectations for the holiday season. Instead, honor the emotions and grief of parents remembering a baby loss by meeting them wherever they are in the process this year.
Each holiday may bring with it a new set of emotions. Not every holiday will feel as intense for parents — take each occasion and each year one step at a time. How a parent navigates this Halloween will not necessarily indicate the way they’ll feel next Thanksgiving, and so on.
Make a point to check-in as each holiday approaches to see how carrying to term parents are feeling, what they might need from others, and the kind of involvement they feel will work for them. Stay flexible, keeping Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace concepts in mind.
Navigating the holidays in grief is no easy experience. The best thing friends and family can offer grieving parents is understanding and empathy. To care well for families in need of pregnancy loss support, consider the SAVE model. Learn ways you can Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace grieving parents in our continuing 5-part series.