By Clara Hinton —

Grief is such a difficult journey, but it becomes especially difficult around the holiday season.  Everywhere you look, there are reminders of family times, laughter and cheer, and times spent sitting around the table telling stories and eating a delicious meal together.

For the person who has lost a family member, the holidays take on an entirely new meaning.  There are thoughts of emptiness, loneliness, incompleteness and a fear and dread of facing the holidays without their loved one there. The family is no longer whole.

Following the death of my 13-year-old sister, the holidays changed dramatically.  She was a lively girl who loved to chatter, and she was often the highlight of the holiday because of her bubbling enthusiasm.

She died in the month of June and the first Thanksgiving and Christmas were faced with an anxiety of not knowing what to do.  Others told us to act “normal” and to try to have a happy holiday season and to keep the family traditions going for the two remaining children – my younger sister and me.  That was probably the worst bit of advice we could have been given!

Nothing felt right.  We missed my sister terribly, but we didn’t know how to express our pain.  We attempted to have our usual turkey on Thanksgiving and our gift exchange and visit from Santa on Christmas.

What a terrible mistake!  We didn’t feel ready to “celebrate” anything, much less carry on normally around family and friends. Those holidays are the worst I can remember.  We were suddenly foreigners in a strange new land wandering around lost, and we had no map to follow to guide us through the land of grief.

When the death of a loved one occurs, for a long time we don’t even know who we are, much less know how to act.  Nothing smells right, feels right, or seems right because nothing is right. Why, then, would we try to act as if everything is normal?  Grief is a time when it is fine to break all traditions and do what is right for you.  It’s a time to take care of you and not feel guilty for doing so.  It’s a time to find a new normal – a place that is manageable for you without fear of criticism from others.

Have a plan for the first holidays following the loss of your loved one.  Most often, the anxiety that leads up to the holiday is much worse than the actual days simply because we don’t have a plan.  Do what feels right to you.

Maybe you want to eat fast food and take a walk in the woods or along the beach. Perhaps you’d feel best if you visited the gravesite and spent time talking to your loved one.  Maybe you want to avoid the holidays altogether and you’d rather spend time at home working on a project or lounging in your pj’s all day with the phone turned off. Whatever it is that will help you make it through the holidays is what you should do. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

The first holidays are generally the worst because everything is so different and because your pain is still so raw.  Once you make it through the hurdles of the “firsts” you will find ways to include your loved one into all of your days, and with time you will find your “new normal.”

Joy will eventually return, but it takes time and work.  Be extra kind to yourself as you take each step in this journey we call grief.  And, remind yourself often that there will come a time when you will face the holidays with anticipation and joy once again. Nothing will ever be the same following your loss, but in time your new normal will allow you to laugh and enjoy happy times in a new and different way.

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Clara Hinton

Clara Hinton

Clara Hinton has a burning passion to lend support to parents grieving the loss of a child. At the age of 15, Clara’s 13-year-old sister died tragically, and that loss began a series of events in her life that made grief all-too-real. While experiencing the blessing of living children, Clara has also felt the pain of losing six children due to miscarriage and has delivered one stillborn son. Knowing the grief of child-loss first-hand prompted Clara to write a book, Silent Grief is a grief support website for parents seeking support while going through the pain of loss. Clara also teaches grief coping skills on college campuses, as well as coordinates grief workshops for schools, churches, and hospitals. The first Silent Grief Retreat for Bereaved Parents was held in October 2008, and the Retreats are now planned to be an annual coming together for bereaved parents. Clara appeared on the “Healing the Grieving Heart Radio Show” with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss “Finding Your Way After Sibling and Child Loss.” To hear Clara being interviewed on this show, go to the following link:

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