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November 28, 2012

Remembrance, or commemoration, is vital. When the immediacy of your grief has passed, when the storm of emotions have passed, remembering is so important, particularly for women.

Women have a deep-seated need to be loyal to those they love. This includes their angels. So when the emotions are returning to normal, and as you’re progressing through your grief journey, there comes a day when you DON’T think about your baby, then comes a week when you don’t think about your baby, then maybe a month… At the moment you realise how long it’s been since you thought about your baby, there’s an immediate surge of guilt – HOW could I forget my baby?! Having a way to celebrate and commemorate your baby helps, in those moments.

A good first step is naming your child. If your child has a name, then it’s a lot easier to celebrate or commemorate them publically.

A good second step is having some sort of funeral service. In SA, that’s not permitted if the baby is born pre week 26. However, just because the law says you can’t have a proper funeral (which I think is monstrous!) doesn’t mean you can’t still have your own memorial service. You can still bury the teddy you would have given your child, or a set of clothes.

When possible, take a cutting of a lock of hair, and prints of their hands or feet (or both). Photos of your baby is another really useful memento. There are at least two photographers in SA who offer their services free of charge to families in this situation, to help them commemorate their child. All these items can be placed in a memory box.

Beyond that, writing poetry, a letter to your child, planting a tree in their memory (or with their ashes mixed into the roots), tying a heart to a special tree or park bench, creating a piece of artwork, or having their baby shoes bronzed are all examples of ways to commemorate your baby.

Some people like to release balloons. While this is very romantic, and sentimental, it’s not something we recommend, as the balloons eventually pop and the rubber falls back to earth where animals and birds eat it, choke on it and then die.

Annual commemorations are also important. On special occassions (your child’s due date, birth date, death date) you can light a candle, read a poem, say a few words. In October (the International Month of Stillbirth Loss Awareness) you can take part in the Wave of Light event (lighting candles at 8pm in your timezone), or join in at one of the Remembrance Events that take place – like the one we held at the end of Oct.

One of the most difficult times to acknowledge your child is when people ask how many children you have. Let’s say you already have a child, do you say you have a child in heaven and a child on the earth? Do you simply say 1 (but privately acknowledge you have lost a child)? or do you say 2 and leave it at that? There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s useful if you practice your different answers before the time, so that you’re not caught unawares. There’s the answer you give those who don’t know you, the one you give someone you haven’t seen in a long time, the one you give well-meaning colleagues.

Finally, if you already have other children, it’s important to allow them the space to acknowledge their sibling as well. Children, even babies and toddlers, understand that something is wrong – the baby in Mommy’s tummy is no longer here. If you don’t allow them the space to acknowledge their sibling (and use the words ‘death’ and ‘died’ – don’t use euphemisms!) then they begin to believe your emotional storm is their fault. Talk to them about your angel, and continue to talk to them about it. You’ll be surprised by how much they understand. Children have a much more innate understanding about life and death than adults do.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to continue to acknowledge your child in a way that makes sense to you. Don’t be influence by what other people think is or is not appropriate. This is about what makes sense to you.

In the next post we look at accepting your conflicting emotions.

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