After losing an only child, surviving each day is so very painful and difficult for single parents, and holidays make it even more excruciating. It may seem that there is no one with whom you can truly share the joy of the holiday. Everyone else seems to have families who are intact and have a reason to celebrate. The dark cloud of loneliness seems to pervade everything we do, everywhere we go, and even our inner self.
We might want to rip the pages off the holiday calendar, go to bed and sleep away the days and nights that involve any form of celebration. Holidays bring sadness, terror, loneliness, weeping uncontrollably, inability to eat, or else overeat, inability to focus, inability to keep the house clean, to go to work, more missed work days due to illness, forgetfulness and sometimes a diminished sense of our will to survive.
Remember, no one else knows exactly how you feel. Even those of us with no surviving children have different circumstances, relationships, and experiences, so no two people’s grief journey is the same. You have to read everything you can about grief, listen to others who have no surviving children, and then YOU make decisions as to what you think will work for you for this particular holiday for this year. Next year and each succeeding year will most likely be different.
You have the right to tell others the way you feel and what you will or will not do for the holiday. Explain that it might change at the last moment. You may arrive at a party or someone’s home only to find after a few minutes that this really was not meant for you and you have to leave.
Or you may find that a few hours of diversion is just what you needed to survive. Do not punish yourself for whatever decision you make. Let your host know that you appreciate them thinking of you and please to continue to ask as one day you just may want to be included. Perhaps you and a friend or your spouse chooses this year to take a cruise, go out of town or out of state for a few days, just to ESCAPE. Let others know that you just cannot celebrate the holiday and that you must be alone. They may not understand but they do not understand your grief either.
It is your choice as to whether to send the traditional holiday cards. Some make special cards which include their child’s photo or artwork on the cover and write a short memory of the child on the inside. Either make or have someone make address labels that include your child’s name and photo which is another easy way to include your child with the greeting. It is also OK not to send any greeting cards.
If you had celebrated Christmas with a tree and do not feel you can do so this year then leave the tree in the closet or storage room. There are years when bereaved parents choose to ignore the holiday as much as possible. Some parents have chosen to put a small decorated tree at the gravesite or assist their bereavement support group to put a special tree in a public park, mall or store where trees are encouraged.
One day you may wish to use a tree you have or purchase a new one and decorate it with memorabilia that belonged to your child or simply put angels, butterflies or some objects on the tree that remind you of your child. Several bereaved parents have a special tree in their home that they can share with friends and family which permits them to talk about their child.
Doing traditional things at new times often helps during the holiday. Perhaps attending a different worship service in a different place of worship or practicing a different tradition with a friend would be helpful.
If you choose to open presents with family and friends you may want to do it at a different location, on a different day or time than what you had done previously. Remember even though things are done differently you will still feel the pain of absence of your child, but some of the changes lessen it somewhat.
Make or purchase a special candle to light at mealtime in memory of your child. If you celebrate Chanukah, recall a memory of the deceased on each of the eight nights that you light the Menorah. Attend a local Compassionate Friends National Candlelighting Service held on Sunday, December 13th. If there is none scheduled in your area check the website www.compassionatefriends.org and see about organizing one for your community.
Consider making a donation to a favorite charity in honor of your child or “adopt” a child or family in your community whose parents are unemployed or are having health issues this year. You may wish to let them know that you are doing this in memory of your child. You may want to share a photo and story of your child with the family, if you feel it is appropriate.
You may want to purchase a gift for yourself or treat yourself to a special day that would make you feel better and consider it as a gift from your child. Some have had a time at a spa, a day of golf or attending some sporting or theatrical event.
Remember your child this holiday in a way that is meaningful and gives peace to you. Do not do anything that is detrimental to your healing process but be kind to yourself as long as it is not harmful to someone else.