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.
So I’m including some ideas from other bereaved parents on how they’ve handled the holidays. Many of these suggestions could be adapted for any “special” day of the year.
Not all will appeal to everyone nor will they be appropriate for every family. But they are a place to start.
When I wrote it, I was writing my personal feelings after a couple of years trying to fumble through holidays with friends and family. It was an honest expression of how hard it was and continues to be to navigate the stress-filled season of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.
I’m not sure I’ve grown any more skillful in fitting all the pieces together-especially as our family grows and moves in different directions-but I continue striving to keep the lines of communication open and to try to acknowledge and accommodate everyone’s needs as best I can.
“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.“
The question is starting to pop up with greater frequency in our closed bereaved parent groups: How do you make it through the holidays after child loss?
So for the next few days I’m going to share again from the many posts I’ve written in the past four years addressing different aspects of holiday planning, celebration, family dynamics and just plain survival for grieving parents and those who love them.
Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.
We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive. Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.
For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.
Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…
Watching my father grieve my mother is the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Grieving my own son, watching my husband and children grieve him too, is the hardest.
I observe Papa’s expression, hear the weariness in his voice, note the far off stare when conversation drifts to mundane and unimportant things and realize that was exactly how I looked and sounded in the first months after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
I love my mama.
And I spent a lot of time with her these past two years since the fall and heart attack that changed everything in August, 2017.
But I was not her daily caregiver. My schedule didn’t revolve around whether or not someone could stay with her so I could go somewhere else-even if it was just down the road-for more than an hour.
I called each day and talked to Papa, checking on them both, but then I was free to do or not do whatever I wanted to without considering her need to be attached to oxygen and her limited endurance to do anything even then.
I tried to be supportive. I made multiple trips down to the farm and tried to give Papa some space and freedom.
That’s just not the same as 24/7 care.
His grief for the wife with whom he spent 58 years is deeper and wider than my heart can understand.
Just as my grief for the child I had carried, birthed, raised and cared for was impossible for him to fully comprehend.
Dominic is his grandson. And as grandparents go, my parents were extremely involved in my kids’ lives-showing up to not only the important events and occasions but also to many mundane and everyday moments.
But the gap between even frequent visits and daily living is huge.
So while I cannot feel precisely what Papa is feeling about Mama-his wife-I can absolutely understand how very devastating his loss is.
Our losses are different in kind but not in quality.
When I look at him, I’m looking in a mirror.
Grief etched everywhere.
Pain across his forehead.
Heartache painted on his lips.
I am so sad that I am no more able to touch that deep wound and render healing than anyone was able to touch mine and do the same.
No one can do the work he has to do but himself-not even someone who has done the same work in her own life.
All I can offer is to walk with him, no matter how hard it gets, for as long as it takes just like he did (does!) for me. ❤