November 23, 2010 // Uncategorized

Surviving the holidays 

Grieving the loss of a loved one is never an easy task. And the journey may become even more daunting as the holidays approach, with the anticipation of seasonal celebrations without a loved one almost paralyzing to some. 

I faced my first Christmas without my husband, who brought cheer in a big way to every holiday, with a heavy heart and a cascade of emotions. As I walked numbly through the motions of established holiday traditions, my two young daughters were just as confused as I. We stumbled through the gatherings, crying all the way, that first year. And I am not ashamed to admit that I was relieved when the often bemoaned January dol- drums once again took over our days.

The second holiday season found me more prepared as I began to understand my grief and reestablish my family as “three.” Many of our traditions and gatherings continued to bring us a sense of the season, however, I soon learned that we had the ability — and the need — to establish new traditions that would work for us. 

The girls and I began to take quiet times away from the hustle-bustle of Christmas to read or cry or just remember their father. The expression of our shared grief lifted the burden just a bit.

Our favorite holiday tradition even now, 20 years later, is to light a candle for Trent and watch home videos of his antics. We connect with him in our laughter and our gratitude. 

We gave ourselves permission to do what we needed to do to survive. And we tried to surround ourselves with those who understood our need to remember and just “be.”

For those who are newly bereaved and are facing the deep longing of your loss, I’d like to share a few tips for holiday survival that I have learned along my journey of grief:

• Plan ahead. Be aware of the feelings, from reluctance to glee, that may rise up, and how you and others will respond. Have an action plan to take care of yourself.

• Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to take a break from the activities and festivities. Find a quiet place to just “be.” Rest your body periodically to maintain energy levels.

• Give yourself and others permission to talk about your loved one. Family and friends may be reluctant to speak about your loss, but when you break the ice, they will most likely join in. If some choose not to, remember, each grief journey is unique and worthy of honoring.

• Don’t feel obligated to attend any function with which you are uncomfortable. However, be mindful to resist isolating yourself during this special time of celebrating family and friends.

• Following regular traditions may be painful without your loved one. It’s okay to eliminate any activities for a time and to establish a new tradition or two, if you like.

• Allow yourself to feel all the feelings, from sorrow to joy, that come with anticipating a holiday. Find healthy ways to express them.

• As you recognize your feelings and work to express them, consider seeking support from others. Talk with your family and friends or join a support group and ask for what you need.

• Give yourself permission to have fun during the holidays even in your grief. Connect with your loved one through your joy.
• Find a way to remember your loved one in a special way for the holidays. Light a candle at a family gathering, make a special ornament or photo album, say a prayer or invite others to tell stories. You loved one can be forever part of your holiday experience, just in a different way.

• Discover what you are truly grateful for. Write your blessings down or tell a special friend or family member. Acknowledging gratitude, especially for your loved one, warms the heart.

Sandy Goodman, author of “Love Never Dies: A Mother’s Journey from Loss to Love,” wrote this wish for Christmas, “… My wish for you is this: That you find a quiet moment during the sometimes magical but often horrendous season upon us and relax. … Close your eyes and envision your friend, child, parent, sibling, spouse, grandparent or partner. … That you accept that dead doesn’t mean ‘gone.’”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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