Holidays and Grief: Some Practical Ideas

It cannot be overstated:  holidays are extremely hard after loss.  Every family gathering highlights the hole where my son SHOULD be, but ISN’T.

There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to handle the holidays after losing a child.

For many, there is only survival-especially the very first year.

These days also stir great internal conflict:  I want to enjoy and celebrate my living children and my family still here while missing my son that isn’t. Emotions run high and are, oh so difficult to manage.

Read the rest here:  Practical Ideas for Dealing with the Holidays after Child Loss

Holidays and Grief: What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

I know that every year I seem to need something different.  I know that’s confusing and may be frustrating.  But I’m working this out as I go.  I didn’t get a “how to” manual when I buried my son.  It’s new for me every year too.

So I’m trying to make it easier on all of us.  

I’m trying to be brave and think ahead and offer up what I can to help you understand.

Read the rest here:  Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

Holidays and Grief: Surviving Siblings

I have never wanted to make my life journey with blinders on.  I realized young that MY perspective is not the only one.  I understand that more clearly now. 

So I try hard to think about, acknowledge and accommodate the feelings and needs of others.

But it’s especially challenging since Dominic left us.  And doubly so this time of year when every sight, smell and song screams, “It’s the holidays and HE IS NOT HERE!

I may not be as thoughtful to some in my circle as want to be, but I will expend every ounce of energy and effort I can muster to make space for my living children’s needs during this season.  

beach-and-family-better

I promised them the day Dominic ran ahead to heaven our family would not be defined by what we have lost.  I committed right then and there we would not sanctify Dominic, wouldn’t whitewash his ornery ways and would not put him on a pedestal against which they would be measured  for the rest of their lives.

What I didn’t say, but purposed in my heart, was that I would not allow my own feelings of grief, sorrow, missing and despair to rob them of the mother they deserve.   I would not stop being there for THEM-because, let’s face it-Dominic didn’t need me anymore.  He is safe in his eternal home.

THEY are here with me in this less-than-perfect, messy and painful world we have to navigate together. 

So when I’m working on holiday plans, the first thing I do is ask them what they need from me. I want them to have a safe space to express what’s hard for THEM this year.  I welcome ideas, frustrations, hopes and dreams.

I will not shut them down because my heart is hurting

I know what I think-I have to listen to know what THEY think.

I don’t conduct a sit down interview but over the course of a few days or weeks, I ask probing questions, offer potential scenarios and try to hear the heart behind their words when they answer.

questions

Here are some of the things I ask my kids.   Maybe they will be helpful for your family as well:

  • What’s your work schedule for Thanksgiving/Christmas?
  • Do you have any other major commitments that we need to work around?
  • How do you feel about what we did last year?  What worked for you, what didn’t work?
  • Is there something special you really want to do this year?
  • Is there something you absolutely do NOT want to do this year?
  • How’s your head going into the holidays?  What are you struggling with?  What’s easier than this time last year?
  • Do you need something from me to make the holidays easier?
  • When would you rather have the main meal?  Do you want/need to invite friends or co-workers?
  • What would the ideal Christmas Eve/Christmas Day look like for you?

There are dozens of corollaries to each of these questions.  As my children share, I try to explore the edges of the conversation and probe a little further to get at what is really going on.  I am open about my own feelings and fears for the season.  I’m honest about where we can compromise and where, because of trying to manage everyone’s needs, we can’t.

best thing to hold onto is each other

I always assure them we will continue to work together, to adjust and to muddle through the best we can. 

Humans are flawed and fragile and hearts are unpredictable.

Frustration is inevitable at some point.  

Don’t apologize for tears. 

We will not have thought of everything.  

And that’s OK.

we will all struggle and fall brene brown

Holidays and Grief: Having the Hard Conversations

You don’t have to bury a child to know that changing long-standing family traditions around holidays is a hard, hard thing.

Just ask a parent trying to work out Thanksgiving and Christmas for the first time after an adult child marries.  Suddenly the way things have “always been” are no longer the way things are.

Holidays typically involve so many more people and family members than everyday get-togethers and each person brings expectations, emotions and personal history to the table.

So, that is why I decided to run this series of posts NOW.  Because one of the things I have learned over the years is that giving people time to adjust to change is a good thing.

Read the rest here:  Grief, Holidays and Hard Conversations

Holidays and Grief: Thanksgiving Plan

Thanksgiving is hard on my heart.

My birthday is usually close to, and sometimes on, Thanksgiving.  So we often celebrate them together.  What makes that especially painful for me since Dominic ran ahead to heaven is that the last birthday before he left was a surprise party at his apartment.

It was wonderful and loud and fun and filled with laughter and love. 

So all those good but achingly hard memories are wrapped up with the turkey and dressing.  

Thanksgiving has also been our family’s favorite holiday for opening our home to people.  No gift-giving expectations and abundant food made adding another chair to the table easy and fun.  Internationals, singles, widowers, and other families often joined us cramming the house as full as our stomachs.

So now when the gathering is intimate and one chair left unfilled, it echoes loudly to my heart that things are oh, so different!  

empty chair

The first year after Dominic ran ahead, we went out of town.  Our eldest son had married that summer and we visited him and his wife in West Virginia.  A power outage that lasted through Thanksgiving Day evening was a welcome, if slightly annoying, diversion from the heaviness of the first real holiday without Dominic.  Traveling used up some of what would have been long, empty days.  So, for us, it was the best thing to do that year.

The second year we kind of muddled through with a facsimile of years past.  it was a struggle and not at all comfortable for my heart.  I don’t really know what I was thinking or not thinking that year-the second year found me more anxious, less able to deal with my sadness and overwhelmed by unexpected grief waves that swept me under before I knew it.

The third year some very special friends invited us to join them for Thanksgiving.  They fixed all the food and we crowded together in their daughter’s apartment, packed in but jolly and very well loved.  Getting there involved an unpleasant and emotional discussion with extended family.  But the day was redeemed and it was exactly what I needed last year.

This year-well-I’m not entirely sure just yet. 

There are a number of factors keeping us from making definitive plans. My mother is still unwell and not able to travel.  One son will most likely be absent.  Some friends may need a place to land and a table around which to gather.

So my plan is to have a plan by early next week.  

I’ve done a few things so far:  purchased pretty paper plates, baked some goodies and put them in the freezer, got my Thanksgiving cards out (remember-I’m sending them instead of Christmas cards this year!), washed the big windows in the kitchen and living room, and begun putting out feelers to the lonely and abandoned in our circle to see if they are interested in coming for a meal.

The meal is the easy part.  Because in the end, as long as it ends with pie and chocolate, who really cares what you eat beforehand? 🙂

The hard part is the conversations. 

brene brown vulnerablity sounds like truth

The way I have to remind even those closest to me that this year will be just. as. hard. as every other year since Dominic left us.  The way I have to breathe deep and swallow words so I don’t burst out crying at the mention of who’s coming and who’s not-because Dominic will never come again.  The way I have to be very, very careful to balance all the emotional needs of family members and try to respect various requests for what’s important to their hearts.

I remind myself that I am not the focus of every event or holiday.  I am not the only one carrying emotional or physical burdens that require accommodation.  I am not given a pass to act ugly or pitch a fit or crawl in a hole and hide just because I buried a child.  

So I try to think ahead, ask ahead, make my needs known ahead and then I participate as fully as I can-with a smile and an open heart to the ones that still gather.

I refuse to turn every holiday into a battle and every meal into uncomfortable silence where people are afraid to say anything for fear of hurting my feelings.  

I honor Dominic by honoring those I have left. 

My heart may be broken, but it is also blessed.

I won’t let one overshadow the other.  

thanksgiving psalm 30_4

 

 

Holidays and Grief: You Need a Plan

When faced with the upcoming holidays and already rapid heartbeat and fading strength, the last thing a bereaved parent wants to hear is , “Make a plan”.

But the truth is, if you don’t it will be so. much. worse.  

fail to plan plan to fail

No one can tell YOU what the plan should be.  Each family is unique.  Each year brings different challenges-declining health, moves, children or grandchildren born and a dozen other variables that must be accounted for THIS year versus years past.

This will be our fourth set of holidays without Dominic and the one thing that has been, and continues to be, important is communication.  I need to communicate early enough and plainly enough to extended family what I and my immediate family can bear for this year.  If I don’t, there will be misunderstandings and hurt feelings all around. 

This year will be different than last year. 

That’s something surprising to me this side of child loss, nothing seems “fixed”.  No new tradition can take the place of the traditions we embraced before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  So every year I find myself feeling my way in the dark.

one bulb missingAnother important note:  Even though my loss is great I am not the only one whose heart should be honored this time of year.  I may not be able to participate in everything others want to do, but I can decline gracefully and encourage them to celebrate well without fear I’m upset about it.

If this is your very first holiday season after loss, I highly recommend keeping things low-key, whatever that looks like for you. 

Some families find that keeping tradition is helpful.  Some find it unbearably painful.  Some want to run away from familiar places and others want to wrap their hearts in shared memories.

Over the next few days I will be reposting past articles about how to survive the holidays after loss.  I hope they cast a little light on this hard topic.  Take what helps and leave the rest. 

It’s your call. 

Your life. 

Your heart. 

No one else gets to judge how you choose to do (or not do) the holidays. 

its ok to not feel like celebrating christmas

 

Halloween

Except for a few years early in childhood, I have never liked Halloween.  The combination of darkness and creepiness makes my skin crawl.

And now, this side of child loss it makes me angry. 

Why?  Because for one night (really, for a couple of weeks!) Americans not only think about death, they spend millions of dollars celebrating it.

Not celebrating ACTUAL death-not the absolute horror of being told your child is gone, gone, gone.  Instead it’s a fake, “funny”, silly made-up mockery of a very real, very awful truth.

Sometimes the “celebrations” involve desecrating cemeteries.  And that makes me even more angry.

grieving-mother-at-grave

Graveyards are the final resting place of other people’s loved ones.  My son is there!  You don’t have the right to make his grave part of your truth or dare game.  

So just don’t do it!

What makes me angrier still is that people will talk for weeks about what they want to “be” for Halloween yet shut down the first mention of a bereaved parent’s pain.

Conversation about costumes, haunted houses and scary movies is invited, conversation about burial and broken hearts is taboo.  

Why, why, why do Americans embrace this paper mache version of death yet refuse to acknowledge or embrace the reality of death in daily life?

It’s no game.  It’s no holiday.  It’s nothing to laugh about or make jolly over.

It’s a very real, very painful, very awful part of my life.  

I won’t participate in making light of it.

pair of shoes