A “legacy project,” as I call it, is a great way to remember your baby that died and a special way to make him or her a part of your family moving forward. A “legacy” is something which is passed down, something given from one generation to another. Though our children’s deaths are natural order terribly out of order, their presence and the blessings of their lives live on.
Legacy projects allow us to make memories, which is so important for bereaved parents of children that died in the womb or shortly after birth. We have so little to cling to in a tangible way. Creating a legacy project is also a great way to celebrate your baby in your growing family. There are lots of ideas of projects that you can do. Here are some I’ve tried:
Plant and nurture.
In our family, we dug two holes in our yard and planted dwarf mugo pine trees. We have one for Zachary the son and another for Zachary the brother. When we spend time in the backyard, or whenever I look out the window, I love the presence of our trees. If you are thinking about planting something for your legacy project, one word of advice: do prepare yourself that your plant may not grow as perfectly as you imagined. After the first year in our yard, our pines began to turn sickly orange. I panicked! I was so worried that I would lose the trees like I lost Zach. I spent hours researching tree illnesses and eventually pruned the trees in such a way to save their branches. Thankfully the trees are doing well today.
Your planting project could be anything, really. You could plant a flower or vegetable garden that you nurture every year. Or, you could donate a tree to a park with a plaque that commemorates your deceased child’s life. The beauty of planting something is that you have a spot to go to where you can remember and create happy memories as life marches on. This is also a great way for any living children you may have to get their hands dirty in the garden while talking about the reason why you are doing what you are doing.
You can track the meaningful milestones on life’s journey through a photo log. This “log” is basically a record. It allows you to look back in time at the important images to see how far you have come and how you, and your family, have grown and changed over the years. One example of this could be a family photo every year on the anniversary of your child’s passing. What I like to do now and then is to bring a picture of Zachary or his bear to be a part of special photographs. When we do family photos, for instance, I like to incorporate him in some way.
I think the basis of the photo log is to be mindful and reflective of the whole family, even the baby who is not with you. I was inspired by the book I Will Carry You by Angie Smith. She and her family went to Disneyland and bought a Mickey Mouse hat for Audrey, they baby they were losing. When my family visited the magic kingdom ourselves a few years ago, we did the same as Angie. I love that photo. While we cannot see Zach, we know he is always with us.
I am a big proponent of creativity in healing, but that wasn’t always the case. I am an artist and writer by passion and profession, but after Zach died, I stopped expressing myself creatively. It was only when I got pregnant again that I realized that art has amazing qualities for the griever. And through this creativity, I have created a very special legacy project for Zachary; my memoir, Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing and Pregnancy After Loss. This is my little shameless plug… Expecting Sunshine is available for pre-order wherever books are sold. It is my story of pregnancy while still grieving the child that came before. I write about my search for identity as a mother and woman, my struggle with faith, and the challenges of marriage after loss. My sincerest hope is that Expecting Sunshine will help other people.
You don’t need to write and publish a book for your creative legacy project. You can keep a journal to write about your baby and the dreams you had for him or her. You can write poetry about your experience by simply stringing words together that resonate with your experience. You can create collages, paint using colors that speak to you, or make a music play list to put on whenever you need some self-love time. I teach a class called Healing Art for Mourning Parents. In this class I open the door for grievers to be creative and to talk about their losses. It is powerful.
I hope that these three ideas speak to you – or even spark an idea for your own legacy project. If so, let me know how it goes. You can pop me an email at email@example.com
Alexis Marie Chute