Gift for a friend on an anniversary of loss
January 7, 2011 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Gift ideas for a dear friend on the 3rd anniversary of a lost baby?

One of my dearest friends lost a baby (at 23 weeks pregnant) 3 years ago this month. She expressed a lot of appreciation for me remembering last year, and I would really like to do something more than just flowers this year. I'd love any ideas (I am not local to her) to acknowledge what I know is an important date to her.
posted by Zophi to Human Relations (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Instead of cut flowers that will die you could get her some bulbs for her garden or some kind of potted plant. Something that will flower every year at this time would be nice.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:15 PM on January 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

This is just one of those cases where it's the thought that counts. Maybe a phone call to ask her how she's doing, or a letter. I like the idea of a potted plant or tree, though, if you want to provide a gift.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:20 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it were me, I'm not sure I'd mark the calendar for a traumatic event. But if it actually makes her feel better, I really love the idea of a plant that renews itself, especially if it flowers or bears fruit seasonally around the appropriate time.
posted by Hylas at 2:23 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

eek. don't remember this year.
posted by bunny hugger at 2:28 PM on January 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

A friend of mine recently lost his nephew, and I had a tree planted in the child's memory in Israel.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:29 PM on January 7, 2011

I'm with some of the above -- maybe it's me but...

Are you positive your friend's appreciation wasn't just her being polite? I've never heard of commemorating what is essentially a miscarriage. Again...maybe just me.

Has you friend hung on to this event in a way that has caused her negative consequences, depression, or ? If so, I would suggest what bunny hugger said.
posted by thorny at 2:33 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The reason I wanted to do something this year is that she still brings him up in conversation from time to time, and has previously expressed frustration that he wasn't acknowledged by other people after the birth of her next child. If she didn't, I wouldn't dream about doing anything. But, I asked the question because I haven't been through that experience, and it looks like I might be off-base with how I am trying to show support, in which case I don't have to remember at all.
posted by Zophi at 2:49 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think just a phone call to see how she's doing. And I wouldn't even bring it up, unless when you ask her "so how are you" she says "remembering the miscarriage" - then you can say "that's why I called to check on you." I think a gift is a kind thought but not really appropriate. What will you do next year? The year after that? Memorializing something a year after it happens is very kind, but to do it yearly after that seems kind of weird.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:49 PM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I want to be meaner to the other respondents to this thread, but for right now, I will just say that 23 weeks is not a miscarriage, but a stillbirth. Or possibly a live birth, where the baby is too small to survive (though a few at 23 weeks have survived). In other words, a dead baby.

I will always remember the day I miscarried (early), even though I have two living children (one before, one after). I know I'm the only one who will ever remember that little one-I-thought-would-be. It feels lonely.
posted by pekala at 2:57 PM on January 7, 2011 [19 favorites]

Response by poster: He was born alive and named and buried, which is part of why I saw it differently than remembering a miscarriage.
posted by Zophi at 2:58 PM on January 7, 2011

A card. Dear friend, I remember your loss in 2008, and always think of you this time of year. Much love, Zophie. She won't forget, and it's kind of you to remember.
posted by theora55 at 3:02 PM on January 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

A 23-week loss is a stillbirth, not a miscarriage. Just to get the terminology straight.

I lost a baby at 20 weeks and have subsequently had another child, which means that no one mentions or remembers the baby I lost. It would mean the world to me if someone remembered her. That being said, my loss is more recent--only a year ago. I don't know how I will feel two years from now. I say follow fingersandtoes' advice and call her without necessarily bringing up the baby. She'll know why you're calling and I think she will appreciate it.
posted by feathermeat at 3:04 PM on January 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Yes, what people who have lost children universally say is that they will never forget. The comfort comes in knowing that someone else remembers their child too.
posted by pekala at 3:07 PM on January 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

Zophi, go with your impulse to remember. It doesn't matter that some people think there is something wrong or uncomfortable with remembering the loss. A plant or flowers sounds good, add in the phone call, and she'll be very appreciative.

If there's a relevant charity (one that she is passionate about or which is relevant to her cultural or religious affiliation), you may wish to make a donation in the child's memory.
posted by i love cheese at 3:24 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Part of the healing process is learning to forget the date every year and move on with your life.

I'm reasonably confident that few parents who lose a baby ever forget the date of the child's death. It's not morbid or creepy to honor the memory--it doesn't make the death more real or more painful. I'd go with a card, phone call, or honorary charitable donation, something to acknowledge the baby's brief life and your friend's loss.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:25 PM on January 7, 2011 [15 favorites]

I agree with feathermeat. I lost a boy at 20 weeks. It's been almost 3 years and we subsequently adopted a beautiful, happy baby girl, but whenever the date of the first loss rolls around, I remember it. I certainly would appreciate it if someone were to acknowledge that loss on or around the date it happened. I wouldn't necessarily go with flowers or a card, though--that might be more that your friend is prepared to accept. But if it were me, it would mean a lot if a friend were to call around that time and tell me that they know it's a sad anniversary. You are a very good friend to acknowledge this kind of grief.
posted by Morpeth at 3:32 PM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would show I remember by calling and talking and reminding her that you remember. Or sending a nice card. Lavish gifts year after year set a sort of strange precedent that may grow increasingly awkward over time.
posted by hermitosis at 3:37 PM on January 7, 2011

My family has a way of holding onto any big moment in life, and among other things we do it with trees. So there is the row of cedars she "planted when her son died at 12" or the three cedars he brought back with him from the Battle of Chattanooga or the oaks that he planted when he bought the other 80 acres or the tree she topped for Christmas in 1912...

If it were me, I would think about the tree to give - we tend to do evergreens for death-y things - and then either help her plant it in the yard or if they are not on property they will always be on, perhaps in a park with a plaque with the child's name.

I would then write a letter or card in my own hand, not pre-printed (this is very important to me, YMMV), that said something about how as her friend I am always at a loss when this time of year comes around and how she wants to memorialize it. I would write about how I would never pretend to understand her loss, but that it seems somehow "right" that _baby's name_ should both give enjoyment to others and be known outside the confines of either the family's memory or the cemetery gate.

And then I would drop it. It is a big, tangible thing that she/they can decide to use as a grieving tool for however long, but also as a kind of stand-in when they take other kids they have/will have to "meet" him. It is something that isn't a tombstone, urn, or marker that somehow maintains both the idea of growth and development and commemoration at the same time.

I would then wait for her to bring anything else up, ever... even though I would still call her on the day of the event as long as we were friends.
posted by Tchad at 3:40 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My wife and I lost a daughter 20 days after she was born. We went through very much the same experience in many ways (though not, of course, in the way the baby only actually came out of one of us) and yet I find that, so far, my wife places more importance on setting aside particular times of the year to remember our lost daughter than I do.

All of which is just to say that people deal with the loss of a baby in very different ways. If your friend wants to mark the occasion and feels the need to have friends reach out to her in that time, then you should be there for her.

But don't force her to commemorate the event in a particular way. If she decides some year that she wants to dwell on it less than the previous year, but her friends are sending her giant bouquets, that could make it difficult and guilt-inducing for her to let the anniversary go.

Drop her a line on that day. Send her an email, or give her a call, or do whatever it is you do when you want to communicate about something personal with her. Let her know you're there for her. But let her decide how she wants to mark the day each year, if at all.
posted by gurple at 3:40 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe a donation in the baby's name to SANDS? It's UK based, but still seems appropriate.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:53 PM on January 7, 2011

Part of the healing process is learning to forget the date every year and move on with your life.

Was this your experience when you lost your child?
posted by peep at 3:56 PM on January 7, 2011 [12 favorites]

Gifts are traditionally used to mark a happy day. You want to make it last as long as possible, so you look at the gift you received that day and it takes you back to that happy moment. Planting a tree is similar to a gravestone, it's like a memorial. The purpose of a memorial is that it "remembers" so that we, the living, can forget and move on without feeling guilty, because it carries the responsibility for memory. Similar to how some cultures have professional mourners, you get an Other to carry the grief - a person, a gravestone, a tree. Remembering the day of the death has a similar logic - you remember and grieve on that day, so that you can forget on every other day. Forgetting the day completely either means you're in denial about loss, or you're mourning endlessly, every day.

It is interesting that stone memorials are intended to be as permanent as possible, they're supposed to signal to future generations "We remember this person." But trees are not quite so permanent, maybe they're supposed to signal a more mature acceptance of death? Nothing lives forever, even the memorial to the dead, but the risk is that this is a form of denial that cancels out the traumatic fact of loss. I think it's a false kind of wisdom.

Anyway... presumably, you're providing that function for her, the one who remembers so she can forget. You're a human memorial, if you like. So the appropriate gesture is extremely minimal, just enough to let her know you still remember.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:54 PM on January 7, 2011

Maybe this is a little bit different, but my sister lost her baby a week before it was due to be born. She had her last ultrasound appointment on Thursday, October 1st, 2009, and over that weekend, she stopped feeling her baby move around. She expressed concern over this to us, but decided to relax about it. After all, it was her second child. She'd been through it all, and she felt fine about it.

When she arrived on Friday the 9th to have her scheduled c-section, the doctor informed her that they could not feel her baby's heart beat. My mother called me at 7:45am to give me the news. I was about to walk into class that day, so I told her to keep me updated, and I went to class. I informed the teacher of my situation and that I might have to leave, and he looked at me strangely, I remember this, and told me to do what I needed to do. Less than an hour into class (it was a four hour long lab), I got the call that things weren't going so well, and I left class. I was a mess because my mom was a mess. Every time she called me, she was hysterical, which in turn made me hysterical. This was serious.

I didn't have a car, I was in the middle of the city, and my sister's hospital was 30 miles away. I had to call my ex-fiance, whose heart I'd destroyed only 5 months earlier and whom I had dated for 5 years, to ask him to reserve a Philly Car Share car for me so I could make the drive out there. Thankfully, he was kind and apologetic and not a huge jerk like I may have deserved.

I picked up my car and sped the entire way to the hospital. I ran through the hospital, ignoring nurses pleas to stop running, and stopped when I saw the memorial card on the hospital room door. It was a dark card picturing two hands in prayer. I pushed open the door and saw my brother-in-law holding his baby girl in his arms. For a moment I was confused; did she survived after all? I ran over to him and saw her small face. It was so dark in the room that for a second I thought she was alive. But as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw that her face crusty and red. I was speechless. I'd never seen a dead human being before. She was like a little doll, like she was frozen in time. I understood for the first time how mothers could go on pretending that their children had never died for days before someone notices. I looked around the room and everyone was crying. It was the second time in my life that I'd seen my father cry. The first was when his father died. My brother-in-law then said to me, "Meet your niece, Allison. Isn't she beautiful?". And that was when I started to cry.

The next few hours were a blur. My brother-in-law was very concerned about getting quality photographs of Allison. The nurses were understanding, but I could tell they were a little flummoxed by his insistence. Apparently, a photographer who takes photos of stillborn children as a favor to the hospital had come by earlier in the morning, but the nurses had no way of reaching him. My brother-in-law took some photos with his cell phone.

They were heartbroken for months. I remember on Christmas my brother-in-law showed me the wall paper on his cell phone, a picture of Allison, and asked me if I wanted a copy. I said no. The next October, my family scheduled a birthday dinner for me and my youngest sister on the 9th of October, since our birthdays where close together and that was the only day that worked for all of us. I'd forgotten that it was the anniversary of my niece's stillbirth until my mom told me that my sister wouldn't be joining us for the celebration.

I don't know how helpful this story will be. However, I know that I do not remember this tragic event in the same way my sister does. It was the loss of her child, whom she had waited 9 long months to meet. She carried and nurtured her. I can't begin to imagine what she must feel every day, but I do know that she will never forget, and that if the rest of her family tried to forget about Allison, she would be devastated. I will never forget that day and the memory of her, even though sometimes I might want to.

That said, I would not give her a gift. Maybe flowers, but I think a call or a visit is most appropriate. You should acknowledge the day and just let her talk about or tell you whatever she wants. If she wants to talk about something else, so be it. Just knowing that her child lives on with someone else probably means the world.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:19 PM on January 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Ack, so many typos. Apologies!
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:21 PM on January 7, 2011

I had a friend just miscarry triplets, and I picked up a gift certificate to a local flower/nursery place - I felt cut, delivered flowers would die within a few weeks and need to be thrown out, and that would just be too depressing. She mentioned her mom bought her a Jizo statue for their backyard, and I felt like contributing to the garden shrine would be a positive way to remember the babies. If your friend did anything like this at the time, or enjoys gardening, this might be the way to go. But she may feel odd accepting a gift every year - just a card with handwritten sentiments in it or a call this year might be the way to go. The important part is remembering, and letting her know you're thinking of her. You don't ever forget. I have an aunt who lost one of her twins right after birth twenty years ago, and while it gets easier, it doesn't go away.

Oh, and a few weeks after, I also bought my friend a soy candle and some soap from etsy. I'm not sure why I chose that, but that stuff always makes me relax and feel better. I'm nearly always terrible with these sorts of things but it seemed like a good "still thinking of you" gift.
posted by kpht at 5:30 PM on January 7, 2011

I am the mother of a dead child. Although no one mentions her on the anniversary of her birth and death I am fortunate she is remembered throughout the rest of the year. Gift suggestions are so personal but maybe you could think of a book she would enjoy (not necessarily one on death or grieving or children). Another extremely nice thought would be to go to the grave a week or so before the anniversary and leave something small (flowers, a rock, or here in cold Canada non-perishable items like wind-chimes or garden statuary like cherubs are popular) so when she visits she know that someone else remembered her child.
posted by saucysault at 5:52 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll join the chorus of those who have lost a child who are grateful when others remember our son. The idea that the parent would be able, or even want to, forget their child is completely foriegn to me. Do what you feel is right, but if you're looking for ideas of a gift other than flowers I might suggest a gift certificate to a local restraunt as it gives the option of getting out of the house and not having to worry about cooking and cleaning up for a day. Other suggestions above to do something that will serve as a memorial are good. A tree, or a memorial brick at a local park would give them somewhere to visit. Donations to Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep would be fitting. In our case, our son was born in December, and we ask people who want to do something in his memory to donate a toy to Toys for Tots that would be appropriate to the age he would be.
posted by Morydd at 6:00 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

A phone call on the day, just saying "I've been thinking of you today and just wanted to call and see how you're doing."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:08 PM on January 7, 2011

For people above who say that they feel sad that nobody remembers their lost children - I have a number of friends who have miscarried/lost babies, and although I don't always remember the specific dates, I definitely remember that these pregnancies/babies existed and I think of them with sadness and affection even though I don't bring them up with their parents (because it never seems like the right time). So, I don't know if that helps at all, but almost certainly your family/friends do remember and hold a place in their hearts for the ones you've lost.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:17 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Very few people remember my first two children's dates. The first died not long after she was born. The second was stillborn. It is hurtful that so few people remember their anniversaries. The ridiculous things that people said after the losses were bad enough ("It's for the best," and "You should be glad to have two little angels in heaven" still sting). Forgetting the anniversaries just compounds the hurt.

Please let your friend know that you remember, that you love her, and that she is not the only person who misses her little one. No gift is necessary: no physical thing will comfort your friend.
posted by TEA at 6:44 PM on January 7, 2011

I had a friend who miscarried (although I agree that your friend's case was not a miscarriage - it was a stillbirth). She had a nickname for the baby, and I gave her a little pendant with the object the nickname referred to on it. (E.g. imagine she referred to the baby as "turtle" - the pendant was a turtle.*) She said she wears it on days when she finds the memory of the loss especially hard, and it helps.

* I don't want to use the actual nickname on here in case she reads this and feels her privacy is invaded.
posted by lollusc at 8:47 PM on January 7, 2011

I have never been pregnant, but a few years ago a friend's mother from a culture I was only moderately acquainted with lost a relative. This death happened in the fall, and later in the spring, when I finally had a chance to visit the family, I picked up some flowers for the mom as a belated sympathy gesture. I had to give them in a hurry, and all I could say was, "here, I'm sorry for your loss." It was awkward. We never had much of a chance to talk after that.

A couple months later I asked my friend if the flowers had been a bad idea, and if it would be awkward the next time I saw their mom. To my surprise the answer was NO, that their mother had loved the flowers. Apparently they continued to bloom for about a month, and as it turned out, in their culture the length of time a gift of flowers takes to finish blossoming is supposed to be a reflection of the giver's love for you. I believe I gave her yellow or white carnations.

What I also didn't know (but was vaguely aware of) was that the time of year I gave the flowers was also close to when she had delivered a stillborn son 10+ years ago. She still gets depressed about it every year, and for whatever reason, continues to hold on. I totally did not plan it this way, but she saw the flowers as recognition of both losses. And it must have made her happy because apparently she will rag on her daughters about what a wonderful daughter I must be, even though her daughters know me better than that :) It was dumb luck that my gesture had the impact it did, but for whatever reason, it lined up on that impulsive, sensitive decision.

If your gut says to give flowers, go with it. The worst that could happen is your friends will have to clean them up after they wilt.
posted by human ecologist at 11:21 AM on January 8, 2011

Dasein, at 23 weeks, a woman can feel the baby move and just a few weeks later, a baby born alive has a decent chance of living with modern medicine. She's likely had an ultrasound at 20 weeks to see what sex the baby is and at that point, pregnancy goes from this abstraction to a REAL thing. If your baby dies in utero at his stage of a pregnancy, a woman has to go through actual labor and delivery, not just a week of heavy bleeding. I've had a miscarriage at 9 weeks, which was devastating for me, and I can't imagine the hell a person would go through getting so far into a pregnancy just to have it end tragically and on top of that, having to go through the trauma of birth to deliver what you know to be a dead, or soon to be dead, baby.

OP, no one acknowledged my loss on the anniversary of it. I wish someone had. I'll never forget it, even though I got pregnant a few months later and now have a healthy 11 week old baby. I think a nice note or phone call to let her know you're thinking of her is the way to go.
posted by chiababe at 3:54 AM on January 9, 2011

Best answer: . I would still say that having friends bring up a tragic anniversary every year is not helpful to the healing process and verges on intrusive. First year, yes, after that, no.

I wish other people would stop imposing their timeline and method of grief on mourners. Please take your cue from the actual person in front of you, including asking them if they would like a call on the anniversary and LISTEN to them. Believe me, you won't be reminding them of a forgotten event and the "healing process" has never been about forgetting the dead child.
posted by saucysault at 6:11 AM on January 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

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