Several years ago I wrote an article called Celebrating the Holidays After A Loss. I have been a cancer nurse for a long time and thought I was an expert on telling others how to navigate through the holidays after a loss. I had facilitated many holiday memorial services for our cancer patients’ families over the years. (so somehow I thought that made me credible or something)
Somehow I thought this experience granted me the right to understand how another individual felt and I could give them good advice on how to carry out their holiday season. Not long after I wrote that article, I lost my dad. I thought for sure I understood loss and how to share advice on the topic. While it was really hard to lose my dad, he died at age 82, and this was after a long illness. In hindsight, this was a natural progression of his illness and this was an expected loss. It still hurts, and I still miss him, but this didn’t qualify me to speak on the topic.
It wasn’t until we lost our son in 2017 I realized I knew nothing about loss and I sure didn’t have a right at all to share with someone else ideas on how to celebrate after a loss. Until I experienced a loss that shook me to the core and rebounded from that could I possibly think I had any credibility to share.
Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. All the feels of home, community, family…the celebration is so important as we value tradition and gathering together for meals and interaction. What happens when tragedy occurs? This takes us to unchartered water when it comes to what to do during normal holiday traditions.
The first Christmas after we lost our oldest son, I was at quite a loss. Actually, I felt paralyzed. We had given our really good tree to our church in 2016. I knew I needed to get one. I searched for our son’s tree. I thought it had been brought to our house. His tree will still up and decorated a the time he died in 2017. When I couldn’t find his tree, I realize it had been thrown away and I had a melt-down. I became paralyzed in how to celebrate. That year my daughter took me to Lowe’s and bought us a tree. She and her girls helped me decorate the tree that year. I honestly didn’t care whether I had a tree up or not, and to be honest, it’s OK if you don’t follow through with your normal celebrations.
I used to think we had to gather our family together at a certain time. I personally always liked Christmas Eve night. Following tradition was important to me. There were special cookies I made (mom’s recipes) and we ate certain foods. Tradition.
Here is actually the correct way to celebrate the holidays after a loss. THERE ISN’T A CORRECT WAY. Nothing is right or wrong. Don’t send cards. Sent cards. Don’t decorate. Decorate. Don’t gather at the same time. Gather at the same time. Create a tree just for your loved one. Create a special candle to light or have a special place at the table for your loved one. Or don’t. It really doesn’t matter. You can’t do it wrong.
in 2019, I didn’t decorate. Mike had lost his brother unexpectedly the week before Christmas. We didn’t put up anything. This year, we got the tree down, and Mike brought down the wrong box or decorations, and we ended up with 3 ornaments on the tree and I did get the fireplace mantle decorated. At night, the tree lights glow, and nobody can tell we have 3 ornaments on the tree.
We are celebrating as a family on the 26th this year. We are having foods we don’t normally eat. I didn’t make any cookies (I’m eating differently this year). The important thing is we will be together. COVID has interrupted many celebrations this year. Some are meeting by way of ZOOM.
I’ve been reading a book by Megan Devine. It’s OK That You’re Not OK. It’s about wading through grief in a culture that doesn’t understand grief. This one book has helped me know my journey is my journey. Emotional trauma reaches every area of our life. I’m working through the Habits of Health program, and this addresses every area of my life. I know celebrating the holidays is an emotional trigger for me and I’m leaning in really heavy right now to learn about healthy emotions.
My one prayer for you is that you be kind to yourself and do not create expectations of yourself which causes stress.