The holidays can be an especially painful time of year for people who are grieving. There are some radio stations that switch their format to Christmas music 24/7 the day after Thanksgiving. The stores seem to have Christmas decorations up at that same time as well. The mailbox is jam packed with Christmas catalogs, trying to entice people to buy gifts from their store. In amongst the catalogs are Christmas cards from family and friends, party invitations and final pleas from a variety of places to give a donation before the end of the year. Everywhere we look, everywhere we turn, we are confronted with festive sights and sounds. There seems to be no safe haven to escape and grieve in peace.
The Christmas Waltz has a famous lyric that most people know, “It’s that time of year when the world falls in love. Every song you hear seems to say, ‘Merry Christmas, may your new year’s dreams come true.’” People who have suffered the loss of a loved one and are grieving may feel they will definitely NOT have a Merry Christmas and their dreams will NOT come true. They want their loved one back. That’s the dream they may have. At any time of the year, people who are grieving try to hide their grief from friends, co-workers and family. They don’t want people feeling sorry for them, or they don’t want to burden other people with their problems, or they feel if they cry, they might make people uncomfortable. Now, during the holidays, this can become increasingly difficult to do. When one is confronted with so much joy and cheer, how can one be a wet blanket and ruin everyone’sfun? Particularly if joy and cheerare the last things someone might be feeling.
When we talked about “coping with the holidays”, in an earlier post, some of the suggestions were to try to be gentle with oneself. We don’t have to accept ALL the holiday gathering invitations. We don’t have to send out Christmas cards. Try not to have such high expectations, particularly around this time of year. If there is a need to cry or be sad – go ahead. Don’t worry about ruining the holiday spirit for others, they will understand. Maybe initiate some new traditions. Perhaps doing something completely different will turn it from the “holiday without a loved one” into the “holiday where we (insert whatever you want).” My husband, Jack, came up with the example of making this the time of year to go on vacation, or take a trip, as a way of doing something completely different. Then the holiday season can be spent organizing, planning and preparing for the trip – not dreading spending the holiday without the loved one. This is by no means a way to say the loved one will be forgotten – we all know that can never be done – but a way to make a new meaning for this time of year.
Many years ago, my mom died in February. As we entered into our first holiday season without her, it all seemed so sad. The tradition of the family gathering on Christmas morning would be different. We had never had a Christmas apart before. My mom had made, some type of fried dough covered in granulated sugar, and served it one Christmas morning. This kind of special memory was gone forever, just like she was, therecipe never to be found. My sister and I had moved out to be on our own, she with her husband and son, and I with Jack (not yet my hubby). It was only my brother and my dad, waking up in our home by themselves on Christmas morning. I didn’t know that Jack had other plans. He knew how much we missed my mom, and he knew how sad that Christmas was going to be without her, so he wanted to create a different memory on that day. We went to my Dad’s house, as planned, and we started to open presents. Jack gave me a present and I opened it to find a beautiful, black lacquered, jewelry box. I was instructed not to open it yet because he had a question for my Dad and my brother. He then proceeded to ask them both for their permission to marry me. After their shocked reactions to the affirmative, I opened the box to find my engagement ring. That change in tradition definitely shifted the tone and the mood of the day. A new meaning was made, for me and my family, for this time of year.
Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.
P.S. If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center. We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community. As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.