Friday, December 23, 2016

Coping with Grief at the Holidays

Here we are, one day until Christmas Eve. The tree is up & decorated; most of the presents are wrapped; most of the baking is done; Christmas music has been playing for a couple weeks or more. But I'm still not entirely there.

This first Christmas without our husband and father will be a tough one. It's been very strange not shopping for him. I keep almost picking things up, before I remember he's gone. And the tree doesn't look the same without his gifts underneath.

My big guy has taken over the responsiblity for preparing our traditional Christmas Eve BBQ steak and lobster tails. Christmas Day we'll have a table for only three. (Just think of the leftovers though. Turkey in everything for days!) Christmas morning it will be just me and Boo, and I can't even imagine how sad it will be to not share that with Jim.

Christmas 2000. Our first together. This capsule holds a scroll where I wrote memories that year.

There are many little traditions we've fallen in to over the years that will be missed. I'll be watching Scrooged alone tomorrow night after Boo goes to bed. Maybe I'll pass on that. And Jim always made Irish coffees for us Christmas morning, then my favourite Eggs Benedict for our special breakfast. All little reminders.

Now, I must say that we are all doing very well, considering. Sadness is coming in quick waves. But we're having good times too. It's so important to give ourselves permission to enjoy the holidays, to smile, to laugh, and even to start new traditions.

And we are blessed with amazing friends and family. And friends who really are family. We've had multiple invitations to Christmas dinner, for which I am so very grateful. But my eldest has asked that we stay home and do a quiet dinner with just the three of us. So we will. This first year we won't change much. Knowing my boys, I think this is the best plan. Keep things as stable as possible. And stay positive. Jim would want us to be happy.

We put this leg lamp ornament in Jim's stocking last year.
His special ornaments are of course still on our tree.

Sadly, I know too many people who have lost loved ones this year. And we are all struggling to get through this festive time of year that is so focused on family and big meals and togetherness and love. It's a happy time of year, with celebrations for many religions and cultures. But the nature of our celebrations makes the loss of our loved ones that much more apparent. The empty chair at the table. The missing stack of gifts. Grandma's famous fruit cake nowhere to be seen. Whatever it might be, memories are sure to abound. I think our best approach is to embrace those memories, to talk about them and keep our loved ones alive in our hearts through them.

I imagine there will be tears in our home, but also laughter. And both are appropriate. No guilt! In the midst of loss, you can still feel joy. And you should. Your loved one would want that, so do not feel guilty for enjoying yourself.

At the same time, do not feel guilty for time you need to be alone. Do not feel guilty if you feel the need to cut back on festivities and take it slow this year. Be gentle with yourself and don't set your expectations too high.

For me, I plan to go with the flow to some extent. But I know Christmas Eve and Day meals are super important to our bug guy, so those are happening. And cookies and milk for Santa, plus lots of cookies and NORAD Santa tracking are still important to Boo, so those are happening as well. My focus is to make this Christmas as special as I can for them. And it really won't take much to do that.

And don't worry - I haven't forgotten about myself. I have my favourite treats and movies ready. And I sent Boo out with his brother and some money to buy a few little gifts for him to give me. I'll indulge in my Christmas morning bubble bath (and I think my big guy is buying me a new book!) I think we'll be ok, in spite of missing such an important piece of our family.

I've been reading around the web, and I want to share a few articles with you. These are for anyone who is struggling with the loss of a loved one at the holidays. The articles provide some advice, some personal experiences, and some hope. I hope they help you as they've helped me.

Surviving Christmas After the Loss of A Loved One, Heather Hamilton
Grief Relief: Getting Through Holidays When You're Hurting, Kelli Flanigan Bos
Beat the Holiday Stress: How to Make the Holidays Happy, Even When You're Not, Dr. Sanam Hafeez
Christmas Without My Mom, Andrea Nair
Grief, Loss, and the Holidays: Advice to Help You, Sharon DeVellis
Grieving Through the Holidays - After the Loss of A Spouse/Partner, Bereaved Families on Ontario (Adapted from SheKnows)
Coping With the Holidays, Betty Ann Rutledge

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