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Grief and the Holidays

Grief and the Holidays

by Linda Cherek

It is that time of year again and Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year are fast approaching.  When someone you love dies the future you thought you were going to have with your loved one is gone as suddenly as his or her life is done.  Throughout the year there are other special days too, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Valentine’s day and other “dear days” that were special to only you and your loved one.

Often the bereaved just want the world to stop and acknowledge what has happened.  When our daughter died I often felt like I needed to wear a band around my head that said “do you know what has happened to me, my daughter died?”  Going to the grocery store was difficult because everyone looked too normal and I did not feel normal.  The holidays can seem insurmountable to get through especially because culturally we start the happy and jolly in July and it does not stop for months.  When a grieving heart tries to create a new normal for and during the holidays, all it can do is remember the celebrations in their history and memory.

What is a grieving heart to do?  Begin by giving yourself permission to do nothing if that is really what you want to do.  Using energy to make everyone else OK and ignoring your own grief is not helpful.  Make a plan with flexibility.  If a Christmas tree is too much try a tabletop tree.  Try doing things differently, maybe a buffet dinner instead of a sit down meal so their place at the table is not so painfully missed this year.  Light a candle and acknowledge their absence because it will allow you to get through the day. If you are invited to someone’s home allow yourself to say yes with the understanding that you might call at the last minute because you just cannot or do not want to go.  Be gentle with yourself during the stressful times the holidays can create.

The depth of your grief is a reflection of the depth of your ability to love another person.  In the brokenness of the heart, the gift our loved one gives to us is a deeper awareness of how deeply we can love.  We come from LOVE and we return to LOVE.  That LOVE is a God who places people in our path when we least expect it to walk the journey of grief through their silent presence, a warm meal, an unexpected phone call or a card.  Notice when and how you are being cared for and hold your deceased loved one close.  In the book, The Forever Dog, the little boy in the book asked his mom why his heart hurt so much after his dog died and his mom said because his dog was getting used to his new home.  Your aching heart is stretching to make more room for the love and memories of your loved one.  Make the space available to remember, say their name aloud, light a candle and say out loud that you miss having them physically present this holiday season.  Find a way to acknowledge their absence as you continue to love them in and through this present holiday season.

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