The holidays are fast approaching. While Thanksgiving and Christmas for most are anticipated with joy and cheer, for some, it is dreaded. Their loved one has died and they just aren’t sure how everything is going to work this year, or if they even want it to work.
My father died suddenly the morning after Thanksgiving. The thought of Christmas was just mind numbing to say the least. I had young nieces and nephews so we knew we had to do something somewhat normal, even though there was nothing normal about it. Let me give you some advice about how we coped that Christmas.
CRY IF YOU NEED TOO! It is okay to let others know you are going through something so difficult and, by being free with your emotions, encourages your family that it is okay to openly grieve. The day will be tough, be upfront about that. You just might find out that they are experiencing some of the same feelings. Let them know that you don’t expect the perfect holiday. Just because you and your loved ones have always done the same thing for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way. Just do what you feel comfortable doing.
For example, we used to celebrate with both sets of my grandparents separately. We chose just to have one Christmas celebration at one house. It actually made it much easier on my mother and on everyone else. With that being said, keep the traditions that are most dear to your heart. You may experience some comfort and have fond memories. My family always goes to Mass on Christmas Eve. It is always a magical experience for me. And even though I was raw with emotion, I could feel my father’s spirit surrounding me at that service. However, if you don’t feel like you can attend services this year, then don’t.
DON’T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING! If you are the person who does all of the cooking and cleaning, take it easy this year. Ask for help from your family. Suggest a potluck or caterer. Ask for help with cleaning or hire a service to come in and give your house the once over. You might decide to celebrate at a different location or even go on a vacation. Remember there are no rules and do what is best for you and your family.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO DECK THE HALLS! If you are like me, every inch of your house is merry and bright through the holidays. If you don’t feel like doing it, then don’t. Just put out a special piece, such as a nativity scene, menorah, flower arrangement or pre-decorated tree. For example, have a centerpiece made to represent your loved one and place it on the dining room table. Or if you feel like it must be decorated, hire someone to come in and do it for you.
REST. The holidays can be exhausting for anyone, much less for people who are experiencing new grief. Be sure to allow enough time for rest.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE THE PERFECT SANTA. If all the shopping and hustle and bustle seems overwhelming this year, try ordering online or ask a friend or family member to do it for you. When someone says, “Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas” and you just don’t feel like the holidays will ever be “merry or bright” again, just respond, “I’ll try”, “I wish that for you”, or simply “Thank You.”
You might make donations to your loved ones favorite charity in the names of your adult relatives rather than finding the perfect gifts. You can do this for the younger relatives as well, but they may not grasp the concept as well as the adults and may be a little disappointed. Do something nice for someone else. Helping others also helps us heal as well. I always find that when I do this, no matter what my problems are, there is always someone else out there whose world was rocked far greater than mine.
REMEMBER YOUR LOVED ONE! I believe this is the most important of all. While it can be painful, it also helps you to work through the hurt. Remember happy, positive times spent with your loved one. It is okay to say his or her name! Share stories with one another about him or her. Encourage your grandchildren or nieces and nephews to remember this person they loved. Those can be most heartwarming!
THERE IS HOPE! Today’s society expects after the first year of firsts, everything will be better. You grief will always be there but will become less painful. Don’t let anyone put a time line on your grief. I see the holidays now as a precious time with family and friends. You will enjoy the holidays again, just with a different perspective!
FSNfuneral Homes Guest Author Melanie Heath Posey is a third generation funeral director. Melanie is a past president of the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association, has served on many committees of the National Funeral Directors Association, and is a Certified Funeral Service Practitioner. Melanie is also very involved in Rotary International. She lives in Paragould, Arkansas with her husband, Stephen, and two dogs, Emma Belle and Bull.