One of the things we’ve learned through the grief process is that people have rituals surrounding death because it gives us something to attach the grief to. Lots of people have asked if we’re going to have some kind of memorial service for Ella, and that would be something to attach grief to, but neither of us wants to have one. I’m really not sure why, but it’s just not something we want to do. When we were in the hospital, the chaplain came and did a blessing for her, which looked very much like a baptism. I held Ella, and Will held me, and the chaplain said some things I cannot remember, but that I remember being really beautiful. And she sprinkled some water on Ella’s tiny forehead while we cried and tried to understand what was happening.
Just thinking about that moment makes me cry, so I know that some of my grief is attached to it. The only problem with trying to attach all of your grief to a ritual is that your grief is much larger than that. You can’t just have a funeral and move on. You have to work through it. In the process of working through it, though, there may be other things you can do to memorialize your loss.
Box It Up
I found an Etsy store that makes personalized keepsake boxes. I really liked them, and I could have the box say anything I wanted. I got one that has my daughter’s name and birthday. It also says, “forever in our hearts,” to remind me that although she is no longer physically present with us, she was real, she was alive, and she is not lost. I put all the things that remind me of her into the box: ultrasound pictures, a bracelet with her name that the nurses made for me, the positive pregnancy test, the tiny hand- and footprints they made, and a “birth certificate” the nurses gave us. (They told us that they don’t do official birth certificates for babies born that early, but they made a little keepsake one for us.)
I knew that I wanted to keep all of her things in a special box just for them, but I didn’t realize how therapeutic it would be for me. As soon as I got everything in there and closed the lid, I felt a sense of relief. It was like she had a place and I would always know where to find her.
Plant a Tree or Garden
I haven’t done this yet, but I’d like to. I haven’t done it yet because we don’t have a yard, and I am a terrible gardener. But one day, when we have a house with a little patch of grass, I will plant a tree, and I will watch it grow over the years. And should we sell that house and move, I will plant another one. Alternatively, you could plant a garden. I read a story about a family whose friends and neighbors all contributed items to a memorial garden. They set aside a section of their yard for the garden, and they planted everything they were given. Then every year, they added to it and watched it grow and bloom. I love this idea.
Get a Tattoo (or a Necklace)
My mom will be happy to know that I have not gotten any new tattoos…yet. I might later, but I’m going to start with a necklace and see how that suits me. A very sweet friend sent me a necklace from this website, but there are also tons of Etsy stores where you can buy necklaces or other pieces of jewelry that suit your taste and style.
Do Something Creative
I am not super-artistically talented. My students laugh at my stick figures almost daily. But a friend who is very gifted at painting surprised us with a painting she did as she prayed for us, and it is beautiful.
But art is not only painting. Make a mosaic, write a story, article, song or poem, cook, dance, knit, crochet, cross-stitch, make pottery or jewelry or film. Do something creative to express what you can’t say, or to make something you can keep and enjoy, or just to keep your brain and your hands busy because God knows you have to keep yourself occupied or you’ll remember what happened, start thinking about it too much, and fall apart again.
After they measured, weighed, and cleaned her up, the nurses put Ella in a little knitted (or crocheted?) blanket so we could hold her. I didn’t think to ask where the blanket had come from, but it was clearly a handmade, non-hospital-issued blanket, and I think now that it might have been made by someone who cared a lot about helping parents who’d lost tiny babies. It might have even been made by someone who’d lost a baby herself and who kept her brain and hands occupied by making tiny baby blankets and donating them to the hospital.
You can use the fruits of your creative labor to help others, or you can help in other ways. If you know that a friend has lost a baby, you can clean her house, take food, organize food deliveries and visits for her, or just send her pictures of cute animals. Or you can give to your favorite charity in loving memory of your child.
Rather than just giving money to a charity, get involved with one. Participate in a walk/run to raise money for a cause you care about, host a fund-raiser or charity auction, volunteer at a hospital, school, or other community organization. Do something to remind yourself that life is good and precious and that you have a lot to offer the world. Do something to contribute to the greater good and connect with people because connecting with and offering kindness to others will help you to heal. Do something special for your baby because he/she did something amazing for you, and because your love for your child doesn’t end when his/her heartbeat stops and you need an outlet for your love as much as for your pain.