We have celebrated both Thanksgivings, lived through Black Friday and Cyber Monday and now both the radio and television seem to be playing Christmas carols every time you turn them on. I live in the country and the pilgrimage to the local tree farm has begun in earnest with a parade of vehicles carrying home their prized possession: that one special tree that will take centre stage and mark the holiday season.
While for many the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, for others, they are dreading the oncoming festivities because they may mark the 1st, 5th or 50th season without a loved one. No matter what denomination they are or what holiday they celebrate, there is one common factor that binds all of them together: someone they loved is gone.
Losing a loved one is hard enough to get through but somehow feelings are acutely heightened whenever one looks at marking the loss for the first time. I lost my husband in July and lived through his 40th birthday in August, our wedding anniversary in September, my birthday in October, my daughter’s birthday days before Christmas and then the mother of them all – Christmas itself. We spent our holidays with family but even though our loved ones surrounded us, I had never felt so alone. At Christmas dinner, it was as if someone with a loud speaker was yelling in my ear that he was not at the table. Towards the end of dinner my sister noticed that I had been absent from the table for a while and went looking for me. She could not find me in the house and for some reason faintly remembered the back door opening because of the childproof chime on the door. Thank goodness we were in Vancouver because she found me one street over from the house, without a jacket, in the local village staring into a store window watching a toy train go round and round. I had no idea how I got there.
It is not only those who have suffered the immediate loss that have to get through the holidays but those around us have to deal with their own feelings and emotions as well. In our case, not only had we lost a husband and father but family members had lost a son, son-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, uncle and best friend as well. There was a myriad of emotions going on that first Christmas and everyone was doing their best to make it through but believe me when I say there was a roller coaster of ‘stuff’ going on that year.
So how does one get through the holidays and attempt to come out the other side only somewhat emotionally bruised but not totally beaten up? Here are some tips I offer from my book, which chronicles our personal journey, and additional tips after losing my father December 10th of one year and my mother December 31st of the next. I hope these tips help you and those around you to get through the holiday season – no matter how long it has been.
- Let the person grieving talk about their loved ones.
- Do not worry that you will upset the person by using the deceased’s name. Using their name keeps that person alive in their hearts and mind.
- Try to avoid saying you “understand” what someone is going through. Even if you have experienced a loss yourself, keep in mind that no two losses are identical.
- If this is someone’s first holiday without their loved one, rather than offering them a number of options to choose from simply offer one and be prepared to make the decision for them. I could not decide if I wanted peas or carrots for three months so it can be very helpful to make the decisions easy.
- If you are used to having a sit down dinner possibly consider having a buffet this year. That way, there is no stark reminder that someone is missing from the table. It also gives the person who might be having a hard time a chance to slip away unnoticed for a moment if needed.
- While all of your intentions are good and well meaning, try to understand that too much of them may be hard for someone who is grieving to take in.
- Be cautious of making them the centre of attention for they may have had enough of that with the Try to make it a warm, gentle and safe atmosphere for them to be part of.
- If this is the first year and all of you are marking the holidays without a loved one think about your family traditions and while you do not need to eliminate all of them, try to think of ones you might put aside or change this year.
- You know your loved ones best so keep watch for little signs that they just might need some quiet time alone and try not take it personally if they do because it has nothing to do with you.
- Throw away the ‘superhero’ cape because no one else but you expects you to wear it.
- If you are struggling and need help, ask for it. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Be kind to yourself. The smallest things can trigger a memory that can bring you to your knees.
- Everyone grieves in his or her own way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Here are some tips to parents and children that my daughter has shared in the book in chapter eight Daddy’s Little Girl.
- You and your children need each other right now to weather the storm. So take time to share, talk and discuss things.
- Do not assume your children remember everything. Share stories and memories with your children and when you cannot think of any more ask others to share.
- Do not lose yourself in the midst of this terrible time.
- You will still be you when the hurting is over.
- You need time to worry about you and it’s okay to put others on hold for a little bit. Do something just for you.
- Start collecting things that remind you of your loved one and get something special to store everything in.
- Start creating new memories and traditions as a family.
- Remember that others are there for you to lean on.
This year, if you and your loved ones are facing the holidays for the first time without someone you love I wish you strength, support, and all the love you will need to get through it. If this marks a number of years without them, I hope time has helped to dim the pain but I trust it has not dimmed the wonderful memories.