Facing Holidays with Your Child in the Hospital

Any time your child is sick in the hospital is beyond hard. But during holidays usually so full of happiness and family traditions, it is a true test of the heart. Add to the mix worrying about giving your other children and family members some semblance of a holiday leaves you feeling literally split in half.

For a year my younger son was in the hospital for almost every single holiday so I know the heartache despite everyone’s best efforts. How do you make it work as well as possible for you and your family?


For Your Sick Child

First and foremost, acknowledge that no matter what you do life for now is not normal. While making the best of it is obviously the mantra of living in the hospital with your child, you are going to feel some sense of loss and pain. So rally your best spirit and optimism to make the holiday as special as you can but I would suggest it may make it less painful to accept this reality and keep expectations in line. Accept and ask for whatever help you think would be most meaningful to you and your family.

Your sick child is probably not up to experiencing the holiday the way you might wish. We tend to worry and plan ideas to make the holiday special, trying to make everything better. But chances are when your child is ill enough that they need to be in the hospital over a holiday, he/she will not be up to experiencing festivities they normally would.  So I suggest planning lower key and improvise based on how he/she is doing.

On my son’s birthday, family flew in from across the country and we made all kinds of plans to make his day as special as we could. But sadly my son’s health hit a new low that day. He was barely conscious, and when he was awake in too much pain to experience any of it. While it was incredibly stressful and scary for all of us, I was so glad everyone was there to support us. On Passover the hospital helped us arrange for a small meeting room to use for our family seder (a holiday service) but my son ended up being too sick to leave his room or participate. At least we had delicious food my family had arranged, but it was hard.

Depending on how sick your child is, you may want to balance how many people you have in his/her hospital room at one time and for how long. On Passover our son asked us to go ahead and do the seder without him in that meeting room while he stayed with a favorite nurse. We made it short, but honored his wish for a little quiet time.

Hopefully your child will fare better that day but I recommend planning realistically. I prayed that this was temporary and next year would be better. I’m grateful to share that my son is doing well, with him mostly out of the hospital this past year. We have relished and celebrated each holiday, just so grateful to be at home, improvising each one based on how his health was.


Helping Your Other Children Enjoy the Holiday

Feeling torn between worrying about your sick child and wanting to give your healthy children some kind of fun holiday is heart wrenching. Here are ideas based on our experiences but be kind to yourself – this is an unusual, hard situation and all you can do is your best.

Most children’s hospitals have caring child-life staff who work especially hard for holidays and birthdays to help families make the best of it. Ask for their help but also be clear on what your children care about and follow your gut about what is best for them. They may have special events happening at the hospital such as a holiday party with a Christmas tree, menorah lighting, presents, treats, a family movie, entertainers, etc. They often can help with decorating your child’s hospital room, bringing in board games, toys, or a movie. Our son’s nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff were often life savers with suggestions and support.

Consider having your partner, a close family member, or friend spend part of the day with your healthy children doing some of the “normal” holiday things you would do at home or out. Or maybe they come hang out with your sick child in the hospital and you go out with your healthy children. It’s so hard to make a holiday ideal in a hospital and it can be good for all of you if you can rotate part of the day out of the hospital.

Share your worries and discuss support with your clergy, hospital social workers, or other role models in your life. Your own clergy or the hospital’s may come visit and/or provide help for celebrating the holiday. Your healthy or sick child’s school might send cards or a special banner that everyone signs to decorate your child’s room. Your healthy children might love being involved in helping their class make something like this.

Enlist your healthy kids to decorate your child’s hospital room or bringing decorations, refreshments, or inexpensive treats for the nurses or to share with families on the floor. First check to see if there are hospital rules about what you can bring in for others. Your kids will remember helping and bringing smiles to the nurses and/or kids on the floor.

Talk about special traditions from your family and memories about what they love best about the holiday. It might give you ideas for next year when hopefully you’ll be celebrating a healthy holiday at home. Share what you’re each most thankful for or what is most special to you about each person. Fantasize about a future family trip you’d like to take, each person contributing what would be their dream vacation.

Seek easy activities your children can do together including your sick child if he/she is up to it, based on their favorites they have in common, whether as simple as Minecraft, video games, or checkers. Even if it only turns out to be 20 minutes spent together, it is great for bonding time. On New Year’s Eve when my son was feeling a bit more lucid I taught both sons how to play some card games my grandparents taught me. Bonus for bringing up special memories I talked about when I was a child hanging out with my grandparents.

Turn to other resources like the Ronald McDonald House which may have special events or comforts available during holidays. Facilities like the Ronald McDonald House may provide a place for you and your family to stay and dinners if you are from out of town, or may have special rooms or services set up at your children’s hospital.

Try to stay hopeful for the future. When it just doesn’t feel like much of a holiday it is easy to feel down thinking about the romanticized version of the holiday. But it is just one or two days in time, and what is most important is the love your family shares.


Here is to good health in the future and happiness at home!



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