Many families will grieve a loss this holiday season. A divorce, miscarriage, a loved one’s decline in health or their death. Maybe it is the loss of a job or a loved one is deployed. An event which shaped your memories from any number of years ago and affects you over the holidays.
There are no limits on grief. No time frame or rules on the life events which provoke grief. Whatever loss you may be experiencing, I see you.
Your loss is validated.
In 2008, a childhood friend was in a tragic car collision with another young man the day before Thanksgiving. They both died. To this day, I remember where I was sitting when the call came. I recall the prayer my dad said in honor of our neighbor and friend at Thanksgiving dinner. I vividly remember a friend holding my hand when I had to say goodbye at the funeral.
Fast forward to 2016. My dearest husband died of colon cancer a week before Thanksgiving. His three-day celebration of life were the days after this holiday of gratitude. He was diagnosed only eleven months earlier on December 1.
Holidays and birthdays are a bit tarnished for me. “Happy-sad” was the term coined by my (then) three-year-old when we celebrated Christmas five weeks after daddy died. This sweet and sensitive boy has seen me cry before every holiday and birthday. He has also seen me celebrate every occasion with them.
I won’t allow our tragedy to take the holiday spirit away from me. If I allow cancer to steal the joy of holidays and birthdays, then in my opinion it won. When we continue to celebrate and remember my husband, their daddy, we honor life, him, and finding joy.
It doesn’t mean the holidays won’t sting. There will always be tears and heartache this time of the year. Not signing “Daddy” on the annual Christmas story we chose together for our older son hurts. The only family picture of us from a Christmas together was when baby brother was 20 weeks safe in my belly; weeks after my husband was given his terminal cancer diagnosis.
This is the heaviness I carry into the holiday season like so many of you. Through my grief work and steps towards healing, I’ve learned moving forward is more about being present. For the holidays this year, it means practicing and repeating three words.
Less. Is. More.
This holiday season, it is time to practice this mantra. Less decorations. Fewer parties. Reducing time on social media viewing everyone else’s seemingly perfect holidays. Not trying to make up for Daddy being dead by filling the living room floor under the tree with presents.
I want more little moments with my sons. Baking and making homemade decorations. Spending more time at home and banking memories of their excitement for Christmas.
For the last three years, we have continued with traditions or more like “routines” over the holidays. I drag the same decorations out after Thanksgiving. I light up our front porch, hang the wreath, set up the tree. Carefully find the perfect place for snowmen and trees around the house. The stockings are hung and the mantel decorated. The advent calendar is put up and treats bought for each day leading up to Christmas.
I have done all these things, dragged out all this stuff the last three holiday seasons. An attempt to numb the changes in our family. If I can keep what I’ve done the same, maybe the holidays will hurt less.
Maybe it’s the thinking, “If I decorate the house and say yes to all the invitations, I can mask the pain of grief.” Like all these decorations will produce joy? Can running from event to event distract us from missing our person?
It hasn’t helped the holidays hurt less. Doing all the same things has only stressed me out more. January last year was unbearable looking at all the decorations and new toys I had to find room for.
It starts now, by setting the tone in November. Allowing myself to sit with the sadness of missing loved ones and enjoying the waves of happiness when they come. Avoiding some of the “fa-la-la’s” so I am not “blah-blah-blah” come January.
You have all the permission you need to celebrate your holidays differently this year. Perhaps you want to keep your traditions. Maybe you have thought of a vacation or simply staying at home, avoiding the parties. Whatever feels right to you this year, do THAT.
I cannot mask the fact that my husband and sons’ daddy is gone forever. What I can do, is help to create simple memories for them. Teach them about being “happy-sad” despite the struggles life will throw your way.
This is what I want for my boys. To find joy in the season, love each other. And that it is okay to be “happy-sad.”