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.
Wondering how you can care for grieving parents as the holiday season approaches? The good news is that it may be simpler than you think. Though friends and family members often worry about a lack of personal understanding of what grieving parents are going through, simple expressions of support can make a big difference — and all it requires is empathy.
Support is the first caring concept in the S.A.V.E. model.
S.A.V.E. stands for Support, Acknowledge, Validate, and Embrace.
Your support is a gift to grieving parents. Support does not require a shared experience or a personal understanding of the emotions that stem from a baby loss experience. You can offer valuable support to these parents, even if you do not understand or even fully agree with how they are navigating their grief.
Focus on Empathy
It can be difficult for grieving parents, who have received so much support since diagnosis, to ask for more in a season in which people are busy and focused on their own families and celebrations. But just because they won’t ask doesn’t mean they don’t need you. So, family and friends, take a moment this holiday season to think about the grieving parents in your life.
Showing support is a simple practice of empathy. It’s about being aware of the complicated nature of another’s grief experience, being sensitive to the complexities of grief experienced by parents coping with neonatal death, and then attempting to put yourself in their shoes.
The key is considering their perspective, not relying on your own understanding. The act of empathy is supportive in and of itself. Having considered a grieving parent’s perspective carefully, you can move to offer concrete support they may need.
Stay Connected yet Flexible
Reach out to grieving parents and check in on them as each holiday approaches. Ask how they are doing and how they are feeling in light of the season. Offer them a safe space to talk and grieve as needed. Invite and include them in holiday events, while also offering them the freedom to decline or change their mind about accepting.
Grief is a journey of unexpected twists and turns. Grieving parents need the freedom to take each holiday on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. The social nature of the holidays can be overwhelming. It can be anxiety-inducing to accept an invitation when the parent may not know how they will feel on the actual day.
When you offer them the freedom to change their mind about accepting or declining your invitation, you are showing real support for the complex nature of grief in a tangible and important way.
Make Support Concrete
You can also offer support in practical ways. Rather than asking grieving parents to “let you know if they need anything,” give them the gift of concrete support. It’s okay to ask a parent for a specific way you can help. You can also anticipate basic, practical needs, and then move to meet them. Here are some ideas:
Do Chores. Holiday traditions can overwhelm grieving parents with the need to neaten or decorate at home. Can you offer to help with yard work, stringing lights, doing the laundry, or other housework to give grieving parents more comfort and space?
Handle Shopping. Running around to find holiday attire, gifts, and ingredients — and make sure all of life’s usual errands get done — can cause grieving parents anxiety. Try asking for a list so you can help, or text them from a store to see if you can pick up something they need.
Offer Time. One thing grieving parents might really need is the gift of time alone to process or grieve according to their needs. Dropping off a meal, offering to walk their dogs or caring for their kids can give parents more opportunities to take stock and take care.
Give Gifts. You can also show support during holidays that involve gift-giving traditions by including their baby when you give gifts to carrying to term families. If you need gift ideas, see our post on tips for gifts to grieving parents.
Learn as You Go
As the holidays approach, it is important to remember that the season can cause what may seem like a backslide into grief. You may notice that grieving parents in your life seemed balanced, or as though they were coping well with their experience and grief until the holiday season started.
This is normal. The holidays bring with them new and unexpected triggers — experiences and moments that bring up intense feelings of grief, memories, and complicated emotions. They may even cause flashbacks that bring parents back, mentally and emotionally, to the moment of diagnosis, loss, or other pivotal points in their journey.
This can be true whether the parents are currently pregnant, navigating their first holiday season after loss, or navigating the holiday season two, five, ten, or even twenty years down the line. The grieving process following the death of a baby has no timeline. There is no end date for a parent’s grief. Just showing you understand this can be priceless to parents who are preparing for or have experienced significant loss.
Showing support is a great way to care for families coping with a neonatal death or remembering a baby this holiday season. Support is the first 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.