These are some concerns that have surfaced for others; it is my hope that the conversation is helpful to you. These are guidelines and are not intended to replace counseling, should you feel the need for personal assistance.
Q: My husband and I, along with family and friends, are grieving the death of our 7-year-old daughter who died of cancer. We have two other children and want to make the holidays memorable for them, but we don’t feel happy or energized. Any suggestions welcome.
A: Consider inviting others to share the holidays with you, either at your home, their home (if this meets with their approval) or at another location, perhaps a restaurant, hotel or place of worship. Think about what would be most comfortable for you and your family. This might give you space to honor your feelings, knowing that there are other caring adults and children to interact with you and your children.
Some bereaved people find it helpful to create a new ritual, like having a pot-luck so that the responsibility for food preparation is shared, or taking a trip out of town, or doing something different, even slightly tweaking what you have done in the past. I don’t feel that this option of taking a trip is “running away,” as some have suggested; I view it as honoring that your lives are changed, that you are deeply missing someone you loved and that you are creating new rituals to help you navigate your loss as a family & community.
Your daughter who died can be symbolically represented with an ornament, a photograph, a linking object (something that she loved or that you associate with her) incorporated into a table decoration or an empty chair with a ribbon on it. Also, consider serving a favorite dish of hers in memory, or having a photo album or DVD tribute, perhaps with music that your daughter or your family enjoyed or found meaningful.
Q: My ex-wife and I are divorced. We both want to spend holiday time with the kids and grandkids, but don’t want to put pressure on our adult children. Should my ex take one major holiday and I take the next? I have remarried and she has not.
A: If you are able to be respectful and kind (not just civil) to each other, it may please your children to see you model amicable behavior, having everyone gathered together. This may require sacrifice, but if you can focus on the greater good, like your children and your health, this idea is worthy of consideration. If not, another option, as you suggested, would be to alternate holidays. Ask your adult children for their input. It is OK to set healthy limits, for example, inviting your former spouse to participate from 11 a.m. til 2 p.m., maybe three hours, at brunch. Then you may reserve afternoon or evening activities for yourselves.
Q: We are an Interfaith family, primarily Jewish & Christian, with a little Buddhism represented as well. This gets confusing around the major holidays. How do others handle this? We are open to ideas.
A: You might gather for Thanksgiving and then give space to individuals to decide how they want to celebrate religious holidays. Being inclusive can help people identify what resonates for you and them.
Q: I had certain holiday expectations which were not met last year. I find myself feeling anxious as the holidays approach and would like to fast forward right to January and the New Year. Please guide me.
A: Unmet expectations are a source of great suffering. You can either release attachment to outcomes or communicate with clarity what is important to you, then navigate based on the feedback you receive. It is also important to keep holiday spending & consumption of alcohol in check to avoid regret or negative consequences. There are also support groups and special services, like Blue Christmas, that are often non-denominational and honor people who are struggling or sad at the holidays, while those around them appear to be very merry.