I was invited to write an entry for Lifetime Care’s winter newsletter, and I thought I would share it here.
In this time when the days get shorter and darkness comes earlier each day, we may
experience a growing wish to hibernate, to wrap ourselves in whatever is most
comfortable and step back a bit from the obligations of our lives. As grievers, the
cultural messages that this is a time of thanksgiving and the pressure to feel
gratitude may feel like a slap in the face of our deep sorrow. The expectation to be
of good cheer, to celebrate, to share joy and a spirit of love and giving may seem like
a heavy burden on our grieving selves. The next couple of months bring constant
reminders of upcoming holidays, which for grievers can be some of the most
difficult and challenging days of the year.
The first year after my husband died, I dreaded the holiday season, wished I could
just sleep through it, and did not know how I would make it through the days. My
family and I struggled to find some kind of balance that let us honor our loss, our
loved one and our need to find a way to continue on without their physical presence.
The first year was the hardest.
Maybe you’ve lost the one who helped you through sad times, the one who made the
best gravy, the one who knew how to time things so that meals were ready on time,
the grumpy one whose smile was so special when it came out, the one who
remembered the words to the songs, the one who told the corny jokes, the person
who took great delight in finding the perfect gifts, or the person who loved the hand
Maybe you’ve lost a person you loved who was part of your life and who
you are. When you have lost someone you love, someone who was a part of the
fabric of your life, it leaves a hole that hurts everyday. The holiday season with its
traditions and expectations has a way of sharpening that pain, making the feeling of
loss sharper and stronger.
Let me share some of the approaches that helped me and helped my family find our
way through the holiday season. The first step may seem selfish but serves to make
us better able to offer love and support to those around us. Take some time to think
about what you need on each of the upcoming holidays. You may need some time
alone, a solitary walk in nature, a different venue, a simpler celebration, or an ally
who can help you leave when you need to. There may be a tradition or two that are
essential. See if there is someone who can help you keep that tradition alive. If you
can, after you have thought about what you need, see if you can find a way to talk
with family or friends. Perhaps you can make a plan together for making it through
the upcoming season.
Think about making a formal gesture that acknowledges your loved one. If you
gather with others, there may be tension because it is so hard to know what to do. If
you can agree on something short and simple to do together, it releases the tension
and makes room for the feelings of shared loss. Some suggestions are: make a toast
to the life of your loved one, light a candle to represent their presence, pass
perennial bulbs to be planted in your loved one’s honor, ask each person to tell a
cherished story, or share your loved one’s favorite dish. One family I spoke with
takes the bottom branches from their Christmas tree to their loved one’s grave. Many
families in the first year after a loss choose to volunteer or find a way to be of
service to others.
The key is to plan ahead. Think about what you need, what you can change, what
needs to be continued. You don’t have to follow your plan when the day comes, but
thinking about it and talking it through with those you usually celebrate with helps.
I hope that you and your loved ones will find ways to make room for your grief, to
cherish each other, to honor loved ones who are no longer here and find your own
bit of peace through knowing that your sorrow reflects your love.