Despite the loss in your life, the wondering how you can bear the changes, and the dread of the approaching Holidays – they come anyway. The flavor of “Season Greetings” is severely altered and not to your liking.

My Mom died twenty years ago and my heart still twists when I hear Christmas Carols. Oh how she loved Christmas. Her children & grandchildren would gather round never knowing if she would be dressed like Mrs. Santa Claus or wearing a Santa hat and jingle bell necklace or some never-heard of Christmas game that she made up. But more than that was her laughter. Her eyes glistened with authenticity and you could not help but catch her joyous fever.

And then Mom regulated opening all presents one-by-one and navigated passing them around so all could see it, appreciate it and “ooh” and “ah.” (Unnoticed rituals and traditions that disappear in a second when they die. )

Dad did a remarkable job keeping the annual Holiday Celebration going. He bought frozen macaroni and cheese and baked it for the grandkids just like Mom did (except hers was homemade!) and we drew to each other’s company despite the empty chair and devastating feel of one less body in our midst; one who was the fulcrum of celebration and the grandeur of fun.

Not only did the Holidays have a bad taste for me, I didn’t even know who I was “now” and how I could even breathe without my Mom.

Some tips to alter the flavor of December after your Loss (some may suit you; some may not):

1 .  Give yourself permission to be sad. I sit with Sad when needed and lean into the awfulness I feel. Use a timer or give it 5 minutes or so.

2 .  Say “no.” I left the grocery store yesterday because the song they were playing was my Mom’s favorite Christmas song and she used to play it on the organ at her church.

3 .  I cried in my car until tears dried up, heaved a breath and went back inside to buy food since Mom’s death hasn’t altered that life requirement.

4 .  Put their picture on the fridge. They are dead but the relationship goes on.

5 .  Rebuke closure. Loving someone who has died means you will miss them always, holidays or not.

6    Ask someone to tell you a memory they have of your loved one.

7 .  Choose a human who nods well and tell them a memory you have of your loved one.

8 .  Buy a gift for your loved one and donate it or give it to someone special. My Mom loved clocks and I would always buy one in her memory and give it to a special uncle, her brother.

9 .  Write a note to someone who is living with loss. Simply say, “Thinking of you.” Don’t sign it; simply mail it or leave it on their porch.

10 .  Set up a memory corner in your home, a place where you can simply remember them. I have a grief bench.

Holidays take on a different flavor; mix up your recipe for December. I wear my Mom’s poinsettia sweatshirt!

You can count on time passing and the Season of Christmas recurring every year. Play with who you are now, what the Holidays mean to you, and how you want to celebrate them now. This is a lifetime journey and job.

P.S. Yesterday I sat at the piano holding my grandson and played “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” He sang with me. Bet my Mom was smiling!

Karen Johnson

Karen O. Johnson, M.Ed. began grief group counseling in 1981 with ten teens experiencing the death of a parent. Since then, she has worked with a large population of youth, families, and adults coping with loss as an individual and group counselor. Over the span of 35 years in the education industry, she has held various positions in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education including: teacher, counselor, principal, crisis team member and director and crisis line counselor and director in the Jordan, Murray, and Salt Lake School Districts in Utah, and the Texas Independent School District. Currently, Karen is the Area Chair, Lead Faculty in the Social Sciences Human Services Program at the University of Phoenix. Karen is also the founder of EveryDayGrief, LLC, a company offering seminars for helping professionals, where innovative techniques are shared to positively impact the grief journey of youth and adults. Along with counselor trainings, she runs grief support groups.

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