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Getting through the holidays with grief.

November 5th, 2014 | by Pamela Simon | Comments Off on Getting through the holidays with grief.

Hi Dear Friend,

The holidays will be here before you know it and I want you to be as prepared as one can be during this difficult time.

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My favorite time of year always started with Halloween and ended on New Year’s Day. I have fond memories from my childhood of decorating the house, watching all the holiday specials on television and celebrating with family. I grew up in a south suburb of Chicago and remember going into the city to Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) and eating lunch by the tall Christmas tree.

I couldn’t wait to carry on some of the same traditions I experienced growing up with my own children. The holiday lights, Santa, and the first snowfall of the year were all more enchanting seeing them through the eyes of my children. Yes, the holiday season was magical to me and my inner child rejoiced each year.

I loved to decorate and, despite what Larry used to tell people, I really didn’t have that many decorations! For me all those details livened up the house and brought the Christmas spirit into our home.

Another favorite of mine was celebrating with family and friends. We usually spent Thanksgiving in Arizona and hosted dinner with friends. Afterward neighbors would come to our house for a potluck dessert. Back in Chicago for Christmas we’d host a buffet dinner at our home for both sides of our family. Then on New Year’s Eve we’d have one big sleep-over so no one had to worry about drinking and driving. Family and friends would come with their kids, sleeping bags and food. We’d spend the evening playing games and enjoying being together. I LOVED this time of year.

That is, until 2010 and I spent my first holiday season without Larry.

Larry died on October 15, 2010. As I mentioned in a previous blog we went to Chicago for the funeral. We came back home to Arizona on October 25, six days before Halloween. At the time my oldest was nine and the twins were seven. Children grieve differently than adults and have the wonderful ability to live in the moment. They caught the buzz from other kids at school and wanted to get costumes. With a heavy heart I took them one day after school to get their Halloween costumes. But I didn’t get one for myself. This would be the first Halloween in years I didn’t dress up.

When one of the twins asked me if I was going to put up the orange and black lights and all the other Halloween decorations my heart sank…, I just didn’t have it in me. All I could say to him was, “Honey, mommy is so tired and we just got back from Chicago, can we skip it this year?” Being the sweetheart that he is, he nodded and started to walk away only to turn around and ask, “But you’ll put up the Christmas lights, right?”

Ugh, Christmas! I couldn’t even face Halloween, how in the world would I make it through the rest of the holiday season?

If you’ve recently experienced a loss or had a major change in your household (perhaps due to separation or divorce) you may already be feeling this way.

I’ll be honest: that first holiday season without Larry was one of the most difficult times I’ve had to face since he passed away. But it was the difficulties from that first year and attending New Song Center for Grieving Children that helped me shape how I wanted to spend future holiday seasons.

And that is my gift to you: to let you know you have a choice in how you spend your Holiday season.

It’s likely there are people around you who care about you and want to help you get through the holidays. As well-meaning as they may be, it’s up to you to decide what you want to do. There’s a lot of stress and uncertainty that accompanies the holiday season when you’re hurting. There even may be guilt associated in feeling you have to carry on traditions. You may wonder if there’s a certain way you’re supposed to behave. You may even be tempted to turn your head and not give the holidays a second thought.

But the truth is, you will need to make some choices and that’s where I’d like to help you.

For those of you who are divorced or separated with children, you will need to reach an agreement in matters where the children are concerned. Most divorce or separation documents already include some sort of “division of holidays” clause; however, verify ahead of time to ensure the other parent understands the arrangements.

I’m sending this out three weeks before Thanksgiving so you’ll have some time to think about what you want to do. Here are some things to ponder:

• Do you want to cook on the holiday or prefer to visit someone else?

• Do you want to decorate your house for the holiday season?

• Do you even want to celebrate or would you rather choose to do something out of the ordinary that day?

• What traditions do you want to keep?

• What NEW traditions would you like to put in place?

Keep in mind that each year your answer to these questions may change as you heal.

If one of your friends or family members is the one that’s hurting, here’s how you can help:

• Be understanding and respectful of the decisions your friend makes in how she wants to celebrate the holiday season.

• Don’t place extra pressure or guilt on your friend at this sensitive time.

•Be specific in how you would like to help. Decorating, shopping, wrapping presents – these simple tasks can feel like a burden when you’re grieving.

And if it’s you who is grieving…How do you honor your dearly departed?

It always gave me a sense of peace to honor Larry throughout the holiday season. These are some of the things we’ve done on every holiday, birthday and any other special occasion:

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• The boys and I make our own personal cards for Larry. We draw pictures and write a note to him. Then we share with each other the card we made and what it means to us. (I’ve saved all these cards for my children to give to them when they are older.)

• We light a candle at every holiday meal in honor of Larry.

• We’ve blown up balloons, attached a long string and attached written notes to the string and then let the balloons fly away with our message.

• In lieu of being able to buy Larry a gift I’ve made donations in his honor.

As the family or friend to someone who’s hurting, ask her how she may want to honor her loved one who’s no longer here. Don’t make any assumptions. Your friend may NOT want to do any of these things. Again, be respectful of her feelings. And above all else, do NOT bring a gift for the person who is no longer alive UNLESS you have cleared it with your friend. Your intentions are kind and caring, but during the holiday season feelings are heightened and more intense.

While there is no right or wrong way to celebrate there is one word of caution. DO NOT isolate yourself. If you’ve lost someone or this is a year your children are with the ex, find someone to spend the day with. It’s a fact that depression and anxiety are heightened during this time of the year. You want to take positive steps to heal – isolating yourself is not a positive step.

One last word: make sure to build into your day a little time for yourself no matter how you spend it. If at any moment you find you’re overwhelmed, excuse yourself, grab your coat and take a walk around the block, weather permitting. The fresh air will be soothing.

Remember, voice your needs, and your loved ones will listen.

I pray you’ll find some peace in your heart this Holiday season.


PS. The Halloween photo is from 2008. Last year I drew the Christmas card shown (Picasso I’m not!) I did dress up this year, check out my Instagram page to see our photos from Halloween this year.

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