Surviving Siblings and Christmas

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How do I honor the child for whom memories are all I have and love well the children with whom I am still making memories?

That’s a question I ask myself often.

And it is especially difficult to answer for celebrations and holidays, special events and birthdays.

I’ve probably had it a bit easier than many bereaved parents.  

My children were all adults when Dominic left us for Heaven.

We have strong relationships and a track record of talking things through.  So I can ask them about what is helpful to them and tell them what is hard for me.  We all acknowledge that we are finding our way in the dark and that changing circumstances make it important to keep the lines of communication open.

We are experiencing our ninth set of holidays this year and have yet to establish a pattern or routine that works every time.

But here are some things we are learning together-some things my children are teaching me about surviving siblings and Christmas:

  • Parents shouldn’t try to hide their grief.  This one is hard.  As moms and dads we want so badly to create a safe world for our children-even our adult children!  Yet we know by painful experience that it is impossible.  When I try to hide my grief (which I cannot do successfully) I’m adding stress to an already stress-filled situation.  That grief is going to escape somewhere-if not in tears, then in raised voices, impatient looks and short tempers.  Children (even very young children) know that you are sad.  Let them know by your example that it’s OK to be sad.  Share your heart (in age-appropriate ways) and by doing so, give them permission to grieve as well.
  • Don’t force your child to grieve the same way you do.  Some children find it easier to be open about emotions than others.  The outward emotional expression of grief is different in each person.  For some it looks like what we expect: tears, sadness, sorrow. For others it may look like anger or denial or an unwavering commitment to “keep everything the same”.  Some children become very anxious about the safety of other family members. Some may remain stoic-don’t force emotional responses. Do some reading/research on grief in children and be prepared for the different ways a child may express their pain.
  • Ask you child(ren) how they feel about certain events/traditions/remembrance ideas. Even young children may have strong opinions about what feels good and what feels awful.  It’s tough to find a balance among competing needs but at least knowing how different family members are experiencing the holiday gives parents an idea of how it might be accomplished.  Sometimes surviving siblings can help parents find a creative solution to the quandary of how to honor the missing child and how to bless surviving children.
  • Don’t require that your child(ren) participate in every event or gathering. This is especially helpful for older children-but parents should be sensitive to the young ones as well.  Give your child(ren) permission to say, “no” if they don’t want to be part of a particular event. Some parents want to do balloon releases or light candles at a special service for their missing child. What’s healing for the parent may not be healing for a surviving sibling. That’s OK.  Do the same for family gatherings.  Don’t force a sibling to contribute a “favorite memory” or “story” during a family memorial time.
  • Grant space and remain flexible.  Things that sound like a good idea while still far off on the calendar can feel overwhelming as the day approaches.  Sometimes no matter how much I WANT to do something, I. just. can’t.  It’s the same for surviving siblings.  Be gracious and allow for changing feelings/circumstances.  They may truly wish they could commit or participate but realize that when the day is here, they just don’t have the emotional energy to do it.
  • On the other hand, be alert if a child withdraws completely.  Withdrawal may be a silent scream for help.  The pain may have become too great to process but the child doesn’t know how to ask for help.  You are the parent.  You can’t “fix” your child.  But you can take him or her by the hand and lead them to someone who can discern the best way to give them the skills to cope with the loss of their sibling.
  • Affirm your living child(ren).  Let them know that you love them in ways that are most meaningful to them.  Every person has a unique “love language”-a preferred way to be loved.  Learning what speaks to your child(ren)’s heart helps to ensure that they don’t feel forgotten or overlooked even as you grieve the child that is missing from your family circle.
  • Express appreciation for your child(ren)’s continued support for your own grief. My kids are a vital part of my grief support system-just as I am for them.  We all love Dominic and our hearts all hurt and miss him.  I am thankful every minute of every day that they listen to me, let me cry and love me through hard moments.
  • Understand that sometimes your surviving child(ren) might need to leave the missing sibling behind or set him or her aside for an event or celebration.  It’s hard to remain in the shadow of “the one gone before”.  They may not want that special day to be referenced as “so many days/months/years since we lost ______”.  Of course our mama or daddy hearts can’t help but think of it that way!  BUT-this is THEIR day, THEIR moment.  Let them have it.  It takes nothing away from your love for the missing child to affirm and lavish love on the child you can still hold.
  • Remember, that just like for you-each year may be different.  What works one time may not work this time.  Extend, and be willing to receive, grace  

I am trying hard to love and honor and support the children still with me and also make room for Dominic, who lives in our hearts.

It’s a delicate balancing act on a spiderweb of intersecting strings-I’m still learning and it’s hard.  

But love is ALWAYS worth the cost.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

13 thoughts on “Surviving Siblings and Christmas”

  1. Melanie, Once again, you write out what is locked in my heart and soul with expression and compassion.
    I always have said to my kids, you are ALL my favourites ..and even now after the loss of my son, the youngest in the family, I still say I love you ALL the same …no more, no less. We are keeping love alive in this family, through the tears, the upsets, the unknown, and literally just keeping on walking on this path. It is a journey I would not wish on anyone. Only those on it understand the depth of the hurt and that PAIN in your heart that never ever goes away.
    This is our second Christmas without our darling boy, and we will never ever let him go from this family as he remains a part of it. In whatever way is right for YOU, do it at Christmas, do it with love. Same at birthdays, special occasions..there are no rules, follow your heart! Don’t care what others think..look after each other!
    I wish there were more support for siblings left behind, but there really isn’t. When they are very young they await for intervention that just doesn’t happen..when they are older, in our case a good set of friends they turn to. Bless all those siblings friends who stepped up when they could have walked away.
    It is so so important to know just how much they are all loved and if I could take all their pain away from their young shoulders I would do it in a heartbeat. It’s not right they should have to carry this burden and pain at such a young age. I say to all those siblings ..you are so loved!!! All I want is for my kids to be surrounded by love.
    Keep love and faith in Jesus at the centre of everything you do. Remember..you are not alone..reading Melanie’s posts has kept me going when there was nowhere to turn. Thank you Melanie for all the time you devote to your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always appreciate your words. Isaac is my oldest grandchild and his siblings are several years younger. They were 16, 9 1/2, & 8 when Isaac died in 2019. I often worry that they will think my grief means Isaac is more important to me. I see so many pictures of “shrines” on grief support pages and I have mixed feelings. Some have lost their only child and have nothing else. I have a grouping of several memories, but they aren’t in a prominent place. You have to be looking closely in the room to see them. I feel like I would need a similar grouping for my other 7 grands to be “fair”. This weekend, as I was unpacking Christmas ornaments, I unwrapped several that feature pictures of Isaac. I don’t have any picture ornaments of the other grands, but they may not know that. So I left them off the tree, and that makes me feel guilty! I’m never sure what is the best way to honor one that won’t make the others feel “less than”. Your posts are a reminder that none of us know how to navigate this journey perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You continue to help me to to feel that my feelings have relevance and that I am not alone in this new confusing landscape of life after Lana. Lana was 12 when she went home to Heaven. She was the younger sister and only sister of my other daughter who now is 15. This February 2022 will be two years. This will be our second Christmas without Lana. Your post is helping me to understand ways that I can still be present with my surviving daughter. Thank you so much. This one helps a lot. I’m sending you lots of love and peace. Dr. Les

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Melanie, like your surving children mine were adults when we lost Travis. Like in your family he is the baby, he was only 17 when he was called. Our survivor’s journey is very different for each of us. My boys have moved away and my daughter (my oldest) and her husband have bought our home so her dad and I can move to a smaller one. She is the one that doesn’t want to change anything. I try to encourage them to share their grief, they are too busy trying to be strong for me. Our dynamics have changed completely. I am grateful for your sharing, knowing that I am not alone. We are working to find our way in our new normal. God bless you and all the survivors that follow you. I pray that we all find our way.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks so much for articulating all of this….I agree with it all–I have read a lot about siblings who are constantly asked-how are your parents? With little or no comfort offered to them. My daughter’s only sibling, her brother died. Watching her deal with the loss of her best friend, who she spoke with almost daily, has been one of the most difficult parts of this journey. She just had her first baby and we miss him more than ever. Six years later. Wishing all as much peace as possible, if possible. And Merry Christmas to my very own little drummer boy….xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Kim. I have gone back and read many of your posts. I am so sorry we “met” this way but am thankful for your companionship on this journey. It sounds like your home was similar to mine in many ways. Thank you for always pointing my heart toward the One Who can keep it until my faith becomes sight. A blessed Christmas to you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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