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Episode 13 - Coping with Hope through the Holidays with Ashley Opliger


In this special episode, Ashley Opliger shares a heartfelt message and prayer for mothers who are grieving during the holidays. This Christmas season was supposed to be a time of joy and making memories with your baby, but now is filled with overwhelming sadness and pain.

Ashley shares practical ideas for "coping with hope" through the holidays when grief is magnified and our hearts miss our babies in Heaven more than we can stand. With a focus on grace and communication, Ashley gives advice on how to navigate holiday gatherings and relationships with friends and family. This hope-filled episode will leave you celebrating the reason for the season—Jesus, the baby born in a manger who gives us hope to see our babies in Heaven one day.

In this episode, Ashley discusses:

  • How to survive the holiday/winter season

  • Giving yourself and others grace to strengthen your relationships

  • Protecting your heart and putting up boundaries

  • Why it's okay to say "no" or do things differently this year (and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it)

  • Creating space to grieve

  • How to set up our families for success to support and love us well

  • Traditions and ways to honor your baby in Heaven for Christmas

  • Allowing yourself to "hold both" and feel both happiness and sorrow

  • Scripture and Christmas songs that bring hope in this season

Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!

Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)

  1. Ashley talked about setting up our families and gatherings for success by communicating expectations in advance. What conversations do you need to have before the holidays? How can you communicate your feelings with love and grace so that you can be better supported and also strengthen your relationships with your family/friends?

  2. In this episode, Ashley shared some ideas on how to honor your baby in Heaven and have special traditions as a family to remember them during the holidays. What traditions do you have that bring healing? What new ideas can you implement this year?

  3. The reason for the season is Jesus. How does His birth in a manger give you hope for seeing your babies again? How can you choose to focus on His birth and celebrate His life this Christmas season?

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Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,065 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.

Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.

Connect with Ashley:

Facebook /ashleyopliger

Instagram @ashleyopliger

Pinterest /ashleyopliger

Follow Bridget’s Cradles:

Facebook /bridgetscradles

Instagram @bridgetscradles

Pinterest /bridgetscradles

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Episode 13: Grieving with Hope During the Holidays

Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast where we believe that the hope of Heaven, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to heal our hearts after the loss of a baby. It’s a pain no mother should have to endure, and we want this podcast to be a safe place for your broken heart to land. Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to restore our joy, use our grief for good, and allow us to spend eternity with our babies in Heaven.

I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ clinging to the hope of Heaven. My daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks in my first pregnancy in 2014. In her memory, my husband and I started a nonprofit ministry called Bridget’s Cradles, and God has given us purpose in our pain, and we’ve seen beauty come from ashes.

Although we wish you didn’t have a need to be listening to this podcast, we believe God has a reason for you to be here today. We pray this time would be a source of healing for you as we remember that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.

Ashley Opliger: [00:01:26] Hello, sweet moms. Today is December 1st, and as we prepare our hearts for the Advent season and for Christmas coming up here in just 25 days, I know that this season is so incredibly hard for you as you are grieving, especially if this is your first Christmas season after the loss of your baby.

I know that this season is nothing like what you anticipated or expected, or hoped for. And so many milestones that you had hoped to enjoy and celebrate with your baby on earth, all of those expectations have now turned into disappointments, and a season that is supposed to be happy and joy-filled, and traditions and memories are now filled with incredible pain because of the void of your baby.

And I know that grief can be so magnified during this time, and we ache all the more for our babies in Heaven and long for the day that we will see them again. I know that the holidays can be some of the very hardest days as part of your grief journey. Even if it's been several years or even decades after you've lost a baby, you'll never, ever, as culture likes to say, get over or move past your loss.

Your baby is your baby forever, and you are going to miss your baby, like I do for Bridget, until your last breath on earth, until you get to see them again in Heaven. And so today, I just want to spend some time preparing our hearts for this season and give you some ways to cope with hope.

The world likes to offer us many ideas of what coping looks like. And there are definitely ways that we can cope with God in healthy ways that are going to bring about healing. And there are, obviously, worldly ways that we can cope with pain and our suffering that will turn us away from God and lead us only to further grief and further pain.

And so I just want to encourage you, first of all, to know that it's okay that this is a hard season. It's okay to embrace that this is going to be hard and that this season is not going to look like what you had expected or hoped. I also want to acknowledge that if you're anything like me, the wintertime is just a hard time for me when I'm grieving, not only because of the holidays but because of the winter blues that I suffer from.

The weather is so cold, you're stuck indoors, people aren't out, and about doing things outside or going to as many places, there aren't as many activities going on in the wintertime. Also, the fact that it gets dark at 4:30 or 5:00 and there are not as many daylight hours that can really impact your grief as well and cause you to slip further into depression and sadness.

All of the trees, the leaves have fallen. The grass is dead. The plants, the flowers, there's nothing in bloom. And I know for me, as I am making it through the holidays and getting to spring, I always long for spring, for the nice warm weather to return, for flowers to start blooming, for leaves to start budding on trees and just start seeing sunlight and have longer days. I always feel such a relief in my soul when the springtime comes.

And so, let's talk about ways to not only survive the holidays but to survive this winter season that we find ourselves in right now; I would like to start us with a prayer.

Dear God, I come before You today; it’s December 1st. We're starting this 25-day countdown toward Christmas. And that countdown as a child was always such a special and magical time of being so excited for celebrating Your birth and having time to relish in family traditions, and spend time with family, and celebrate the wonderful gift of the Messiah being born into the world.

However, when we are grieving, God, this season can feel anything but joyous. Our hearts are mourning our precious babies in Heaven, and we miss them so badly. Lord, we believe that they are alive in Heaven with You, but here we are on this weary world, this broken earth, and we are hurting so badly.

We miss them. We want them to be in our arms. We wish we were putting them in a little onesie that says, “Baby's First Christmas.” We wish we were buying their first presents and getting to see them open their first presents and taking the family pictures for our Christmas cards, holding our baby in our arms.

And all of these moments feel like they’ve stolen from us, God. And I just want You to come into our pain, to come into this suffering that we find ourselves in this place on earth, between Your Son coming to earth as a baby, to die for our sins and being raised from the grave; His First Coming has come and passed.

But we are longing and awaiting the day of His Second Coming when He will make all things new and all things right. And He will put an end to death and suffering. There will be no more tears, all of our tears that You've been collecting in Your bottle for each of us, Lord, and You know the tears we've cried for our babies, God, that one day You will wipe away all of those tears and we will spend forever with them in Heaven with You.

But God, as we are grieving in this season, I just pray that You would come close like a friend comes close. As our Savior, give us the peace that surpasses all understanding that only You can give us.

God, I pray that during this holiday season, as we navigate all of these milestones and all of these traditions and family gatherings and all of these triggers that are going to come in and wreak panic and anxiety and sadness to our hearts, that You would hold us through this season, that You would have Your arm around us, that You would hold our hand through this season, and when we are too weak to walk with You, that You would pick us up and carry us.

God, we need You in this season. We praise You for who You are and what You have done. We thank You for sending Your Son to this earth as our Savior that You have given us the glorious hope to see our babies again.

God, in this season, please be near to us. Be Emmanuel. God is with us, the God that took on human flesh for us, Lord. Be near to us. Remind us of the hope. Give us joy and peace in this season that doesn't even make sense for the grief that we're going through. Lord, and walk us through every step of the way. We love you so much. It's in Your Name we pray. Amen.

Ashley Opliger: [00:08:38] So moms, what I'm going to share with you on this podcast episode comes from—we just had two support groups in November. We have an online support group that meets every month and then an in-person support group that meets every month at our headquarters in Kechi, Kansas. And the topic for both of those support groups was “Grieving through the Holidays.”

I shared this message, and as a group, we discussed what about the holiday season was going to be hard. We talked about some very practical ideas on surviving these holidays. And so what I'm going to be sharing today on this podcast is really a summary of everything that we talked about as a group.

Many of these ideas are my own, but also some of these ideas were shared in the groups from other moms who are grieving their babies and walking through this side by side with you and with me.

The first thing we talked about was grace, giving yourself and others grace.

Let's first talk about yourself. It is okay to say no. It is okay to protect your heart and put boundaries up around this season. Especially if this is your first Christmas season after losing a baby, it’s completely understandable and reasonable that you do not partake in every single activity and tradition that you used to.

It's okay if you don't feel like putting a Christmas tree up. It’s okay if you don't feel like decorating your house as you used to or hosting a large gathering of people, or even going to every gathering that you're invited to. First of all, it's okay to say no.

It's also okay to keep it simple and easy and to put up some boundaries around what you do and when you do things. Please do not put unrealistic expectations on yourself and do not feel guilty for not being more joyous or wanting to participate in everything that you used to.

I know as women, it's especially hard for us to say no. We want to make other people happy. We want to try to do the things that we used to do and be with our families. And we want to decorate our homes and do all of these things, but maybe our heart and soul are just not ready for that right now. And that's okay.

It's also okay to change your plans. If you used to host, maybe you ask someone else to host. Or if you're going to host, maybe you keep things simple. And instead of making all of the food, maybe you get take-out this year. Maybe you just get paper plates, and you don't have to worry about all of the dishes and all of the things.

I know also as women, it's easy for us to feel guilty about doing less or saying no, kind of goes against our nature as women. But this year, please hear me say: Give yourself grace. It's okay that you give yourself permission to grieve, and you set aside time to reflect and mourn. It's important to create space for grieving.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be very overwhelming when you're grieving. And if you have a full schedule of activities and gatherings, Christmas parties, it can feel overwhelming, and you may not have the time to really sit and feel your emotions and feel your grief.

And as hard as it is to say, it is so important to feel everything that you're feeling and to give yourself time to cry and to mourn, and to reflect on your baby's life. And so please give yourself grace in your schedule and with your family members to understand that you do need that time to grieve and that you may have to change your schedule this year.

Also, when you're going to gatherings, other family members that are hosting, or you're going to parties that you're invited to, it's okay to leave early. It's okay also to step outside of the room if you need to cry or feel what you're feeling.

Some of the moms in our support group talked about how they have family members, sisters, sister-in-laws that have recently had babies, and that's going to be really hard for them to step into a gathering where there's an infant celebrating their very first Christmas.

It's not that they're not happy for their sister or for their family member. It's just that their happiness and those milestones only remind them of their sadness and of their loss of their baby.

And then, on top of that, the moms shared with me that they feel guilty and sad that they can't be present for their sister in the way that they wanted to. They wanted to be joyous and enjoy this first Christmas with their little niece or nephew. And this is really hard on their relationship with their family member.

And so it's important to give yourself grace in these situations and to communicate with your family members all that you're feeling, and that you might need some space and time to step outside and to cry.

As hard as it is to say this, unfortunately, not everyone in your family will appropriately or sensitively respond to your grief and your baby in the way that you would want them to. You might need to be prepared for some awkward conversations, for people to not know exactly how to talk about your baby. And they may even avoid talking about your baby altogether, which is extremely painful and insensitive, and they really do not mean it to be hurtful, but they a lot of times just don't know what to say, and they don't know how to acknowledge your grief.

And so we're going to talk about communication. I know that in a perfect world, well, first of all, in a perfect world, we wouldn't be experiencing the loss of our babies. But in a world where people did know how to respond to grief, they would be the ones coming to us and asking us, “What do you need? What can I do to help you through your grief? What can I do to support you through these holidays?”

But unfortunately, so many people don't ask those questions and don't know what to do or don't look up ways on websites on, “How can I care for a family member who's grieving,” so they may not know what to do.

But if you feel comfortable in sharing your heart and your feelings with your family, consider sending them a text or having a phone call or even talking in person before the holidays, before your family events, and explaining that this is going to be hard for you and that you may not be able to stay the whole time. You may need your own space and time to grieve.

And if there are certain things that you want and you expect out of your family members, that you do want your baby to be mentioned, that you would like your family to have a stocking for your baby, that you would like a specific tradition or activity planned around your baby, having these expectations in the forefront, discussed in advance, will set your family up for success.

I know that sounds maybe like a weird phrase to say. But if the end goal is to have our relationships with our family members strengthened and for you to have as bearable of holidays as possible, where you feel as loved and supported as you possibly can.

We know that no one's going to be able to take away our grief during the holidays, that the grief is going to be present no matter what anyone does or says, but if we want for the holidays to go as smoothly as possible, for there not to be any tension or any hurt feelings that may happen because of expectations not being communicated or family members not being supportive, it's very important to have these conversations.

And it may feel like you don't feel like you should be the one to have to spell it out. And I agree with you. I don't think that we should have to be the ones. But because our culture is just so not prepared and not well trained in grief and how to respond to grief, I do think that it is going to be what's best for you and for your family if you can have these conversations.

And so if you want your baby's name mentioned in a prayer or an activity, or you want to have your family members all donate and put the donations into a stocking, or you want to buy gifts for an angel tree where you pick a child.

One of my friends, Casey, every year, she picks a little child on the angel tree that would be the same age as her son, Jack, who is in Heaven. So this year, she will be picking a seven-year-old boy, and then Casey and her family will be going and buying gifts for a seven-year-old boy. And that's part of their Christmas tradition.

And so if you have these ideas and ways that you want to honor your baby in Heaven, it's best to communicate these things in advance rather than going to the gathering or being there on Christmas and then having awkward silence and feeling like you're not supported, your baby's not acknowledged, your baby's not honored. That can be incredibly devastating and make a hard day even harder.

So we want to set your family up for success, to be able to support and love you the best that they can. And that's because we want you to feel loved and supported because this day is so hard anyway. And that's also going to help with the longevity and the strength of your relationships moving forward, to have communication, and to have grace for your family members.

So let's talk about some ways that you can honor your baby during the holiday season. We already talked about stockings. I share every year that we have a little stocking that we bought on Etsy.

We had it customized. It has Bridget's name on it, and the stocking is 10.5 inches, which was her birth length. And that was just really special that we had this little stocking up on the mantle for her. Both of our families also have their own stockings for her.

We actually don't put anything in the stocking, but some of the moms at our support group talked about things that they do to put in the stocking. Casey mentioned that her family always does a donation to Bridget’s Cradles.

It doesn't have to be to Bridget’s Cradles. It can be to an organization that was helpful to you in your grief journey or a local organization that helps other families that have experienced loss. Also, you could do an angel tree and give gifts to a children's home.