Most grievers will attest to the difficulty that many, if not all holidays, present after the loss of a loved one. With Christmas just around the corner (and all other celebrations taking place around the world at this time), for many bereaved individuals, coping with major holidays can present a huge challenge, no matter how long ago their loss. Trying to survive the endless parties and celebrations looking happy and feeling festive is hard.
When my daughter died by suicide in 2005, my former love of the holiday season instantly left me. Every year since then, I found the approaching Christmas season and all the decorating I “needed” to do, more painful than joyous. While I trimmed the tree, baked a few cookies and we always enjoyed a lovely Christmas dinner, my heart was not in it.
Of all the different things we’ve tried over the years to make the season more tolerable for me (maybe even rekindle some of the Christmas spirit I once had), nothing has worked. We long ago gave up gift-giving (except for charity) to ease the pressure of me needing to be around crowds, shopping, spending, wrapping; putting the emphasis on the material versus spending quality time together (and we are all much happier for it). But every year since 2005, like a well-worn recording, I’ve pledged to my family I am going to do away with Christmas altogether. I guess my intention hasn’t worked because I still love a beautifully lit and decorated tree (I just don’t want to be the one to do it) and I do appreciate the time we take culturally to pause and reflect over the holidays.
When my husband and I downsized two years ago in preparation to move across the country, I gave away all of our Christmas decorations (including the tree). Except for two treasured ornaments I kept (tiny frames that hold a photo of each of my children from our last New Year’s together), I figured I was finally done with Christmas. (Turns out I wasn’t.)
Our first Christmas in 2016, settled into our small condo in our new city and not wanting to ignore the holiday season altogether, I put up simple decorations that included placing an 18-inch tree on the fireplace hearth. It was all I could handle. The next year, we bought a 7’ tree with some reservation (okay, a lot of reservation), but after setting it up to see if it would fit, I became so agitated we immediately took it down and returned it to the store the next day.
This past summer and unexpectedly (you can read about manifesting here) we moved to a new condo that we now call home. I feel totally at peace. To my astonishment, I found myself wanting to buy a tree this Christmas and actually enjoyed purchasing a few new ornaments. While I’ve considered how taxing it may still be when the day arrives for me to decorate, I’m holding on to the motivation I felt, and the wee stirring of my senses that made me want to experience the joy I used to feel, celebrating Christmas all those years ago, before my daughter’s death.
It doesn’t matter if these feelings fade the closer to Christmas we get. What matters is that I am noticing that all the hard work I’ve done to heal is opening my heart to help me feel and live again. Perhaps not fully; yet, but that’s okay. Me, simply wanting to put up a Christmas tree this year, has given me hope. And that says a lot coming from someone whose heart has felt shattered for over thirteen years. It actually feels a bit like a miracle (even though I’ve always trusted in my healing process).
If you are struggling with grief and feeling alone, anxious, depressed and sad, I hear you. I’ve felt this way for years. I encourage you to accept that this is where you are today. It does not mean this is where you will stay. I can unequivocally state that the positive changes I’ve experienced throughout my healing that continue to influence every area of my life (health, relationship, family, career) have all occurred in unexpected ways and timing. I didn’t plan for them. I simply gave myself over to my healing process, whatever that looked like (it’s been a crazy journey at times).
It’s important to remember in your own grief and healing that you can’t possibly prepare for what you don’t know is around the corner (i.e. the triggers that will set you back). As such, it’s unlikely you will ever be able to predict how you’ll react to holidays, the milestones of living loved ones and other celebratory events of family and friends (weddings, graduations, the birth of babies).
What you can do to manage all these difficult occasions is be true to you throughout every stage of your grief, which changes. It’s really important you are always honest with yourself about what you feel you can handle and want to do as you heal.
7 tips to help you manage this holiday season:
- Share how you are feeling with your loved ones. They may be feeling the same.
- Let go of any former traditions that are no longer serving you. Start new ones or avoid them altogether.
- Do something special to honour your deceased loved one (buy a special ornament, raise a glass to them at the dinner table). Whatever feels comfortable. Just don’t forget them!
- Avoid hosting or attending parties or other events you don’t want to attend. You’re not hurting anyone’s feelings and there’s always next year.
- Don’t try to re-create the past. It’s gone. Accept that the holidays will be different.
- Don’t feel pressured into buying, giving or doing anything for others that feels stressful. You can bow out graciously.
- Don’t try to be brave. Cry when you need to.
If you would like more information on healing from the pain of loss, please visit vonnesolis.com. Wishing you the warmth of the season, peace and joy in your heart.