Grieving Through the Holidays
For so many families the holidays hold the promise of togetherness, familiarity, tradition and comfort. But for the grieving, every one of these words is shattered and opposed by new words like, apart, strange, broken and grieved.
So what does this “grieving through the holidays” look like? Feel like? What are your expectations? Fears? Anxieties?
Considering in advance what these holidays might be like for you can be one of the greatest helps to getting yourself through these days that feel emptied out of their usual joy.
For example, if your mother has died and she traditionally made the Thanksgiving meal or a favorite dish, consider how you can honor and prepare for her absence. Maybe the tradition changes altogether and everyone eats Chinese food. Or maybe new family members find their way into the kitchen to help prepare the meal and you take on her signature dish.
There’s no right or wrong in the scenario above, there’s just answering the question of, “what would be best for me and my family this year?” – and that can be answered very differently by each individual. What feels right for you may not feel right for your sibling or parent. That doesn’t put either of you in the right or the wrong. This is one of the messier and more confusing parts of grief (as if it wasn’t hard enough). Navigating grief with others and making space for their process can stretching.
There are many ways you can share stories and special characteristics of your loved one with your family. The best will be simple and accessible to everyone missing them. None of this should be too grand or complicated – it’s likely you won’t do it again if it is.
Last month’s blog offered some unique ideas for keepsakes and ways to memorialize our loved ones. Placing a photo-ornament of your loved one on your tree may become a new tradition. Lighting a candle for them beside a favorite photograph is another simple way to bring their presence into your gathered time together. We too often make the mistake of thinking “If I remind others he is missing it will make them sad”. It’s so untrue. It is when we seem to forget or intentionally omit the people we miss that we do the most damage. Acknowledging what everyone is already feeling doesn’t exacerbate the pain. Acknowledgement gives it a communal place to be and comforts those hurting by reminding them they are not alone.
I’ve read about people who have chosen to give at a time when they are typically the ones receiving. While grieving people are in particular need during the holidays, they may also crave the feeling of being helpful to others.
A special need that O’Connor has donated to this Christmas is the SmileMakers Program founded by the Council on Aging. This program gives a wrapped gift of new, fresh clothing to a senior citizen who is alone this holiday season. There are so many ways we can publicly or privately give to others. Being a blessing when you are in need of blessings yourself is a beautiful way to grow your pain into something more meaningful and transformative.
Because of this blog and community I am always leery of wishing anyone a “happy” holiday. So instead, I wish you a meaning-full holiday season with surprise joys and heart-connections.