Unhappy “Happy Holidays”

by Deb Anthony

Hello everyone and greetings from Nova Scotia! I would like to express my thanks to Peggy for inviting me to share with you, fellow bereaved parents, some thoughts around coping with grief during the Christmas holidays, which are so quickly approaching. This is a topic that has been touched on by many through the years. You may find I approach it in a different way and my wish is you will find it useful and a source of comfort.

Christmas … that magical season which is filled with dreams, wishes, hopes, ordinary miracles and the trust that it will all come true. All of which can be burdensome for the bereaved parent, or so we believe. I used to think that, but have come to learn that …. this, too shall pass.

Christmas … the only time of year when we feel it is socially acceptable to express love freely. Have you ever noticed that? How warm and welcoming people are, how many people are walking around smiling, saying hello, are more patient at store line-ups, etc. This is all happening between people who do not even know each other. Strangers become our friends. I have often wondered if we are able to do that because the season creates a feeling of safety and permission for us. We feel it is okay, acceptable, and we are allowed at this special time of year.

Christmas … my favorite time of year. One I have always loved. My daughter, Erin, though was killed in December, 1984, and I missed all the love of strangers that year. The season in 1984 held no appeal even though it was celebrated in usual fashion for the sake of her 5-year-old surviving sister. At the time, I felt the same way most bereaved parents do and experienced fear and dread of the approaching season. As the years have passed, though, and regaining my status as one who has recaptured my joy of life and restored my personal level of happiness, I now recognize it was not the holiday season at all that was the reason for the fear and dread. It was the coping aspect.

Coping for the bereaved parent, no matter what time of year, is a daily chore, often a minute by minute one. We work at coping with life. Christmas is a magnifier to us and puts more on our plate, at a time in our lives when the plate is already full of confusion that “our new world” we are placed in after the death of one or more of our children has given us. I have often heard bereaved parents say “I’m not celebrating, I’m not up for it, I can’t imagine having it without him/her, etc.”

Before the death of my daughter, I was a Mom who always made Christmas a big deal for the family. Lots of secrets, baking, decorations, making popcorn rope, shake and guess the gift games, fun, loving, and kind. I carried those traditions I had experienced as a child with me into my adult life and always tried to create the same for my own family. It was the time of year the new toys came into the house. None were bought throughout the year except perhaps for a birthday. Christmas was always looked forward to by the girls with anticipation and joy. After Erin’s death, those were the things that became the stressors, even more so than her absence. Her absence was something I was doing my best to cope with and manage anyway. On a daily basis. That was nothing new.

I can’t tell you how I got through that first Christmas. It is a blur and to this day, I only have few and far between glimpses of the season. We did celebrate, though. After all, how do you not prepare a snack for Santa and not have him arrive for an almost 5-year-old. The answer is, you don’t not do it. When the following Christmas arrived, at which time the daily coping is still going on, as I am sure you all will relate to, it was then I recognized what a gift it was that Erin had died in December, because the first Christmas hurdle was past and as sad as it was, it did make the next one easier.

So how does one overcome the fear and dread we experience? What worked for me was simplifying the magnifier. This is what I would suggest.

~ Create the Christmas you can manage.
~ Create the Christmas you feel up to.
~ Celebrate at whatever level you can with those who are still with you.
~ Know and respect that each person does the best they can with what they have
to work with at every given moment in time.
~ Do what your heart guides you to do.
~ Do what works for you.

To do any or all of the above does not take away from the longing for our loved one that we have. To do so does not mean we are not remembering our loved one either. We long for and remember them every single day, Christmas or not.

As bereaved parents, we all know that the moment our children died, we were no longer who we once were. We no longer had the life we once had. To have an expectation of the Christmas we once had is unrealistic. During the grief journey, not only do our priorities get re-arranged, but also the level of importance we used to place on them does also. That is okay, it is part of the process. Anyone else who has not experienced the journey will not understand; however, we are not responsible for their reactions or behaviours. Adjusting to the reality is something everyone has to do.

Sent with light, love, kisses and hugs from Nova Scotia ~ Deb ♥

PS ~ Would love you to let me know how this works for you, should you choose to give it a go !

Points to Consider
~ traditions are for everyone, if someone had just gone away, would you still not maintain the traditions??
~ the 20% change rule
~ would they not want the best for us
~ everyone is worthy of the effort to be made, regardless of sadness, etc.
~ death is a part of the circle of life
~ we are not supposed to allow death and grief have a stranglehold on us and other and all members of the family and friends, etc.
~ it begins the minute we come into the world
~ having the death in December turned out to be a gift, did not have to concern myself with it coming up for a whole year, got it over with early, did not recognize it at the time as a gift.