When a Community unites in Grief : Advent to Remember

What was such a small idea last summer in order to help us through the nightmare that would be our first christmas since Leo died, is slowly blossoming into a wonderfully poignant project full of love and light. I am so so proud of what has become Advent To Remember this year.

Last year, we did an activity every day in Leo’s name throughout Advent to serve as our way to honour Leo’s life and impact. It was our way of owning the grief and the dread, of parenting from afar, and including Leo in the festive season. A way to get involved in Christmas and soften the pain that it created.

This year, we invited others to do the same – to unite in ‘Advent to Remember’ but to own their own grief, and shower it in the love that they have for whoever they miss at Christmas. Nothing can eradicate the deep longing and missing for that person – all this project aimed to do was help the time pass gently by focusing on the love. I didn’t really know what to expect. You hit ‘post’ on the idea, expecting it to fall flat, and no-one join in. Yet, its become more than I could have ever imagined – and I’m so looking forward to the years to come, and seeing how far it can grow.

We opened it up, because we knew how much it helped us, so we hoped it would help others in similar ways. And it truly has. And that is the most heartwarming thing of it all.

I never wanted to prescribe how this project would look for people. Parenting from afar is as personal and unique as parenting from near. It is a reflection of the individuals, and their love for each other. It isn’t to be judged, or advised. It is to be supported, and nurtured. What I am really pleased about with this project, is it has added to the range of ways people have to parent from afar. A sharing of ideas, and a validation that those ways are acceptable, normal, and a beautiful reflection of love.

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When you start out as a bereaved parent, you scramble in the dark, without a clue how to go about honouring your child. What is okay, what is accepted, what is normal, what is healthy. Yet, opening the lid on the world online of bereaved parents gives you an abundance of ideas and heaps of acceptance. And that is priceless to the grieving heart. Advent to Remember for me, has just added to it all. It has given us ideas of how we want to continue to parent Leo throughout the year, not just at Advent and Christmas.

And with that all, its created a mini community within a community, forged links, and provided support for those grieving at Christmas. And not just for those grieving children. Grief is universal, and the pain of missing at Christmas is surely felt by so many. Christmas is incredibly difficult for the bereaved, and it appears that this conversation is happening louder this year – which is brilliant. Finding ways to navigate it, and survive the build up especially, is so important. Advent to Remember is just one of those ways – and I hope more people find it next year and for many years to come – we aren’t going anywhere. Advent and Leo will forever be linked for us.

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So what have people done? This is where I get a bit overwhelmed by it all. I’ve been keeping a bit of a tally, and as off Christmas Eve, 9pm and based on the public posts that I can see, there have been…

Over 1,100 posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook talking about our missed love ones, including 87 days of specifically creating new memories with family and friends.

Nearly 90 days of honouring missed loved ones through christmas decorations and 41 visits to graves or special places to decorate for Christmas, as well as 8 wreaths either homemade or purchased to hang in our homes or at graves

Over 20 donations to food banks across the world – such a poignant act this year with the focus on poverty throughout the country and nearly 40 donations of toys, books, clothes and other items to appeals for charities and hospitals.

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A huge focus has been acts of kindness, random or otherwise, and we have seen over 120 individual acts including giving out christmas chocolates and selection boxes, tea lights for people to light in memory of someone they miss, random christmas cards to the community thanking people for their christmas lights, candy cane bombs, providing food to colleagues, giving teachers gifts, leaving flowers in trolleys, paying for coffee for the next person in the queue, gifts for hospital and hospice staff who have supported people, random gifts to care homes, feeding birds, litter picking, sending happy post, gifting holiday tips, gift vouchers and positive thoughts, thank yous, hot chocolates in mail slots, and generously gifting event and cinema tickets at random.

25 days of much needed self care, 32 days of baking, cooking and crafting – for us, for our missed love ones, or for friends – and 5 blogs written talking about missed children. An impressive and heartwarming 23 dedicated Aching Arms Bears in the names of missed and much loved babies, and 10 MAMA Academy Wellbeing Wallets being funded helping to save babies lives.

26 days of lighting a candle in memory of someone missed and 6 light shows and lantern parades, 19 memory tree dedications, from services, to supermarkets, to virtual ones online, 32 christmas and memorial services, 12 days of name writing in sand and snow and everything in-between and 8 support group meetings

2 blood donations, 7 donations to the homeless, 5 sponsored animals – a Lion, a Bear, a Flamingo, an Elephant and a Snow Leopard – 4 trips to see Star Wars at the cinema and 1 newspaper article! Read here: http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/advent-for-skye-alyx-elliott-14075987 

And amongst other activities, 74 donations to a range of poignant charities and organisations including – animal sanctuaries (1), SANDS (7), Help Refugees (6), Hospitals and Hospices (10), Prostate Cancer UK (1), Our Missing Peace (2), Alzheimers Society (2), Ronald MacDonald House (1), Tommys (6), Lullaby Trust (1), Unicef (2), Woodland Trust (3), Save the Children (9), ARC (2), Campbellinas (2), Cardiomyapothy UK (1), Salvation Army (1), Petals (1), and the Brain Tumor Charity (2) and 14 other charities.

If that isn’t honouring  missed loved ones at Christmas, and including them in this festive season, then I really don’t know what is. I am overwhelmed by the love that people have to give, and have spent my Advent evenings in awe of the ideas that people have had.

Please continue to share how you are including your missed loves ones in the festive season – it will help others feel validated in their own ways of honouring someone they miss so dearly.

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Please join us next year if there is someone missing from your Christmas table, and find a way to navigate the grief and honour them, and share them with the world. You can look at the activities that people have been doing on the #AdventToRemember hashtag on Instagram.

Thank you so much to every single person who has taken part – big or small – its warmed my heart more than you will ever know.

Whoever you are missing this christmas, may it be a gentle festive season, filled with the love that you have for them.

Have a gentle christmas, and heres to a hopeful 2018 – love from Leo’s little family.

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And if you need support over the Christmas period following the death of a baby, please do reach out to the SANDS helpline – all their hours and details are here. You are not alone.

Freephone: 0808 164 3332
Email: helpline@sands.org.uk

The Helpline is open:
Monday to Friday: 9.30am – 5.30pm
Tuesday and Thursday evenings: 6pm – 10pm

The Sands Helpline is free to call from any UK mobile or landline

Our experienced helpline team will be available for emotional support and information at the following times over the festive period:

  • 25th December (Christmas Day) – 10-3pm and 7-9pm
  • 26th December (Boxing Day) – 10-3pm and 7-9pm
  • Wednesday 27th to Friday 29th December – 9.30am to 5.30pm (and 6-10pm Thursday 28th)
  • 1st January (New Year’s Day) – 10-3pm
  • Tuesday 2nd January – 9.30-5.30pm and 6-10pm
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