As we approach the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays each year, our senses are heightened and memories of past celebrations flood our consciousness. Most of us can remember that, as children, we celebrated traditions with members of our extended family, many of whom we may have seen only at these joyous holiday times.
Search your memory bank. Can you recall a close relative who had lost a loved one during the year-any year? Visualize that person?s face. Was it the usual smiling, animated face you associated with Aunt Emily or Cousin Joe? How did other family members react to the somber demeanor of this grieving relative?
Loss and mourning bring deep pain and a sense of loneliness that is indescribable. The company of friends and family brings comfort, as I learned when I lost my husband, but the holidays can also be particularly heart-rending. To celebrate without your loved one is unimaginable. Remembering the holiday seasons spent together may bring both laughter and tears. Nonetheless, it is true that comfort comes from an inner sense of understanding, supported by the warmth of friends, family, and the remembrance of those things we hold dear.
And today, if you are one of those people who has recently experienced a deep loss, here are a few things you can do to make your enjoyment of the holidays uplifting instead of feeling sad and empty.
? Decide early just how you want to spend the days and weeks normally allotted to celebration. Make plans, care for and comfort yourself, exchange gifts with your loved one if you wish. Buy something special and make it a keepsake.
? Traditions can bring solace and a sense of continuity to our lives. Choose celebrations that have the most meaning for the holiday, and commemorate them in your own way. Perhaps you may start a new tradition, just for yourself that includes the memory of your loved one.
? Friends and family will certainly wish you well in that first critical year following a loss. Though it will be difficult, don?t completely shut them out. If you don?t want to spend a whole day at another?s house, invite a few people over to yours, have simple food and wish them the joy of the season.
? If you?re comfortable in someone?s house, by all means go. A good idea is to arrive a bit late so that you walk into a party in progress. Consider leaving early so as to avoid prolonged farewells. Soon after you arrive, decide where in the host?s home you can retreat if you?re overwhelmed (guest bedroom, porch).
? Make a conscious effort to let the spirit of the season touch your heart. Sometimes the commotion of others celebrating takes our minds off our sense of aloneness.
? Public outings can be warm and meaningful, and you don?t have to negotiate conversations with people you know. A performance of a holiday play or concert puts us in touch with the meaning of the special day and may help to assuage the intensity of mourning.
? If you will truly be alone, consider volunteering at a homeless shelter that prepares dinner for others. Perhaps the children?s wing of a hospital could use a helping hand or an extra lap for children confined during the holidays. Nursing homes, crisis nurseries, community centers, or places of worship can all give you ideas and direction for donating a few hours of time.
? If you journal, include those first holidays, birthdays and anniversaries spent without your loved one. If you haven?t started journaling, this might be a nice time to begin.
Remember that when someone dies they are mourned by different people in different ways. Comfort may come from unexpected places. If everyone remains open to the love and warmth of experiences shared, we help each other heal. A day of fun and laughter doesn?t mean we have forgotten that irreplaceable person; it simply acknowledges that when hearts and minds touch, we stay connected.
Grief and mourning certainly can be overwhelming during the holidays. By continuing to follow cherished traditions while acknowledging the loss of a loved one, you may be consoled and begin to move forward in your walk with grief.
Judy Strong lost her husband in 1991. She has experienced the entire cycle of grief and recovery, which is recorded in her book, No Time to Grieve-ISBN 1-59298-047-3, $9.95. Further information on loss, grief and recovery is available on her website, http://www.notimetogrieve.com.
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