It starts early enough, the gut feeling of dread bubbling up inside at the thought of the HOLIDAYS! All we want to do is fast forward and wake up the other side of it all in blissful January. Oh what sweet relief that would be.
If only it were that simple! For anyone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one at such times, the stark reality is looming. Getting through the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas when someone so beloved is missing becomes akin to trekking through the Rocky Mountains in a day. That’s how massive the task seems to our grieving heart.
So what are we to do when this time is upon us? For some it will be their very first encounter with holiday grief. For many others it is becoming a more familiar task to deal with. There can be no escaping it unless we hibernate out in the back of beyond for a month or two and yes I have been tempted! Reminders are everywhere. We are ambushed at every corner by festive this and festive that.
The reality is that grief has changed us forever and changed how we view and approach this holiday time. There is no going back to the “who” we once were. We are not the same person anymore nor can be ever again. When families around us are planning their special celebrations and shopping for food and gifts, we can feel such a strong sense of hopelessness, isolation and despair. Planning is in full swing for festive, whole and complete family get togethers all of which seem unattainable for us now.
Whilst there can be no going back to what was, there can be an opportunity to start with a wiped clean or brand new holiday slate. When you are thinking about the next few weeks, consider three things – the who, the where and the what. Also allow yourself to release the burden of expectation that often comes within the dynamics of family and relationships and free yourself momentarily to explore what really matters to you now.
Consider the importance of the people in your life, your family and friends, your spouse, your siblings, your children. When you think about those relationships, decide who is important to you in the context of this coming holiday season? Who do you want to see? Who do you want to spend time with?
Holiday times are full of ritual and tradition. We do the things we’ve always done at the place we’ve always done them.
This year consider where do you want to be? If Christmas has always been at your house but the thought of having the whole extended family turn up this year makes you scream inside. Don’t do it! Say NO. Dismiss, delegate or divert the dinner instead. It can be such a blessed relief. That then opens up the possibility of something new, something different, something on your terms that suits you better.
The what you’ve always done may be a far too painful reminder of happy times past, so you may choose to make it different in some way. Different time, different food, different decorations, different music, different clothes, different prayer, different in many ways, different in your own way.
Consider how you will remember your loved one this Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is no avoiding the unavoidable. Your mind and your heart will be full of them. They remain a part of you always and the relationship you have with them doesn’t stop because their physical presence is gone. How will you acknowledge them? How will you speak their name? How will they be a part of each day? How can they be included in what you are going to be doing?
As you approach the holiday season, remember always that choices are available to you and within your reach. Even when the circumstances seem totally out of your control you can find ways to make them work for you and respect and recognise the “who” you are now.
Maureen Hunter is a grief coach, bereaved mother, author and speaker. She is widely known for providing inspiration and instilling hope into the lives of many experiencing grief and loss. Her unique gifts lie in understanding the territory of grief and insightfully helping individuals how to deal with grief and move forwards into their own “living after loss”.