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: 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

 

#thankful AND #broken

I wrote this post Thankful But Broken, in November, 2015-just barely 18 months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

If that’s how I felt THEN, it’s even more how I feel NOW.

Both the thankfulness and brokenness have burrowed deeper into my bones.

Losing the earthly companionship of a child I love has shattered my heart into so many fragments that I can’t find them, much less piece them back together.

But it has also made me oh, so aware of each day’s blessings and of each moment’s sacred holiness.

be-thankful-for-today-change-in-one-moment

I can receive more freely because so much has been stolen.  I appreciate what I have because I know what it is to long for what can never be again.  I can both hold onto and let go of people and things and trust that in the end all shall be well.  Because I know exactly what it feels like when all is most certainly NOT well.

The cracks in my heart make room for more love, more joy (muted though it is) and more thanksgiving than my whole heart could have ever held.

heals the broken heartedI am truly thankful.  AND truly broken.

So my November exercise is to embrace BOTH.

My ‘Thankfulness Journal” has two lines for each day:  “I am thankful for” and “I am broken over”.  Like the Psalmist, I choose to breathe out my brokenness in lament and breathe in the promises of God in gratitude.

I am sad and shattered that this life is hard.

I am encouraged and comforted that God is good.

I can admit both and still be faith-filled.

faith is deliberate confidence

 

 

Trying to Hold off the Holidays

Here they come round the bend like a pack of dogs chasing that rabbit on a racetrack.

No way to slow them down, no way to step to the side and ward off the relentless message that Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming soon-so, so soon.

Stores scream, “You’ve got to buy it NOW!  You’re running out of time!”

Billboards, radio and television ads, and calendars count down the days.

Decorations assault my eyes and ears and nose (thank you pumpkin everything!).  I cannot get away.  There’s no where to hide.

pumpkin spice

So I have decided to take the offensive.  I will do the things that must be done as quickly, as efficiently and as quietly as possible.

I am sending Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas cards.  I like the fall colors better than traditional yuletide hues anyway.  No one says the yearly update letter has to be postmarked in December.

Our gift-giving is much simpler now than before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  I’m less inclined to wrap dozens of presents to pile under the tree and more likely to give cash or gift cards along with a heartfelt note.   So I will get all this together before the weather warrants a fire here in the Deep South.

I’m easily overwhelmed.

And too much of anything just seems like entirely. too. much.

Instead of loads of decorating that involves changing out all the everyday with holiday, I will put out a few bright things and lots of candles.

glowing candles huff post

Flickering light in approaching darkness speaks hope to my heart.

I will concentrate on people, not on things.  I am making space on the calendar for casual conversation instead of constant motion.

I won’t be swept along by the yuletide current, struggling for air, barely making it to January and glad the holidays are over.

Sip and savor.

That’s my motto.

I’m sticking to it.

coffee cup fall leaves