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.
One of the things I’m learning in this journey is that people are much more likely to listen and be willing to make accommodations for my tender heart if I approach them BEFORE the “big day”-whatever that may be.
And yes, it seems unfair that those of us carrying a load of grief are also the ones that have to alert others to the load we’re carrying, but that’s simply the way it is.
They don’t know what they don’t know.
So, if you need to change things around consider speaking upNOW instead of huffing off LATER.
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…
I have so much more empathy for older folks since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
I’ve always tried to be a patient listener when hearing that same story over and over and over but have to admit that sometimes I’d drift off or internally mock an elder because I was tired of hearing it.
Because I understand now that it’s in the telling that one both commemorates and honors people as well as the past.
Stories are how we weave facts into narrative and give them meaning. It’s why so many of us love historical fiction or period dramas that not only reference actual people and events but also peek at emotions, motivation and draw conclusions.
I could hand you my daily calendar and you’d understand the outline of where I was and what I did.
But you wouldn’t know what I thought or felt that day unless I filled it in.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I was forced at first to deliver the most basic message to others who needed to know. I repeated it over and over, “I have to tell you something awful. Dominic is dead.”
I didn’t really know much more than that.
Details were added by friends and first responders in the days to come.
The story broadened to include how we reassembled our family from across the country, who showed up to help us through the first hours, where we chose to bury him, what the funeral service looked like and on and on and on.
For months afterward I found myself compelled to repeat the story of those days.
Compelled to rewind and play again the details, each time teasing out additional insights, questions and feelings.
It was an important part of unspooling and exploring what, exactly, it meant to live in a world that no longer included one of my children.
I know sometimes folks get tired of me telling the story. For them, it is a reminder of some awful event that is tucked neatly in the past. A date on a calendar somewhere that might occasionally tickle the back of their brain and evoke a, “that’s so sad” response but not something they live with every. single. day.
But for me, Dominic’s death is an ongoing experience.
Every day I have to fit his absence into my world. I have to find a way to live around the giant void where heSHOULDbe butISN’T.
So the story grows.
It’s not only what happened on the day he left, it’s what has happened since and is still happening now.
When you make space for me to tell, you make space for me to feel.
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.