Written by Susan Jacobson “Bye Mom, love you”. Those are the last words I heard from my precious 22-year-old son, Ben, on February 8, 2021. I didn’t know that at the time, of course. It was how he ended every phone call to me, and those words had always been very...
Coping with grief during the holidays
A note from a grieving mother: Coping With Grief During the Holidays
December 20, 2022
Written by Jenna Rogers, grieving mother and Faith’s Lodge staff
It’s that time of year. The hustle and bustle. The bells, lights, presents, and music. Dealing with profound grief through the holiday can be so overwhelming. Thinking about what to do, who to be with, what traditions to keep and which to break or maybe how to make new ones. Maybe you want to avoid the holidays altogether. Any of the above are ok. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You’ve probably heard that before. But still – you feel obligated to do something. Maybe you typically spend the holidays with your family, but they don’t understand why you’re still so sad. They just want you to be better. Or maybe you aren’t sure if you’re up for even getting out of bed this year. Or maybe you feel joy! Maybe you’re excited for the holidays. You love this time of year. But then feel guilty that you feel joy. You should feel sadder. Does it mean you’re missing your child less if you aren’t as sad this holiday? Does it mean you’re forgetting them? Does it mean each year you’ll forget them more?
All of these feelings swirl around in your head like a tornado. Somedays you think you’ll survive this. Somedays are harder. Somedays are just plain “I can’t get up and adult today” days.
The holidays are often the hardest time of the year for those that have lost a child. It’s right up there with their birthday and they day they died. They should be here, celebrating, opening presents (or whatever your traditions may be). What would they be into? Legos? Barbies? Xbox? I wonder year after year. My son would be 13. I think he’d be into video games, but I have no idea. I try to picture him opening presents. I try to picture what we’d be like as a family of 5. His stocking hangs on the fireplace but remains empty. His ornaments are all over the tree. Each year we “give him” a stuffed animal that we later bring to the cemetery. But now he’s 13. Is he too old for stuffed animals? Should I create a new tradition? We light a candle at dinner. In years past we’ve bought toys for the age he’d be and then would donate them. Each year things shift a little. We keep some of the new traditions we’ve made and have ditched others. It’s ok. He knows we miss him. He knows we love him. He knows we’re thinking about him. We do get used to this existence with one missing.
I am not an expert on grief. But I’ve lived it. The loss of my 11 month old child, amongst other family members. I’ve coped through 12 holidays without him. I’ve also helped thousands of families through my work at Faith’s Lodge and I’ve listened to their stories – listened to what’s helped them. Here is what I’ve learned over the years. I share this in hopes it helps someone else.
Tips for coping with grief through the holidays:
- Allow yourself to feel however you want to feel. There is not a right or wrong way. Each day may be different. Give yourself grace.
- If being around certain people will cause you insurmountable anxiety, be honest with them and yourself (sometimes easier said than done). In the end, you have to protect yourself.
- Take things day by day and minute by minute. How you will get through next week seems daunting. Get through this minute first.
- Find ways to hoor your child. These can be big or small. Whatever feels right to you is the right thing to do. Don’t second guess it. Don’t tell yourself it’s not good enough. They love you regardless of what you do. More ideas on this below…
- Surround yourself with people that you find comfort in and who are supportive.
- Consider what traditions you want to keep and what traditions you want to disregard. Or do you want to create new ones?
- Take time for yourself. Do what brings you some peace. Maybe it’s a walk, a spa day, time to sleep, watch movies, read a book, or to just sit in the quiet.
- Ask for help if you need it. Delegate what you can. Holidays are overwhelming regardless. When you add grief to the mix, it can feel like a lot. People want to help. They just don’t know how. Sometimes we have to tell them.
Overall be kind to yourself. Memories will serve as a constant reminder of our loss. Watching others be happy can be painful – particularly in the first year after death. Trying to do all the things you usually do because you feel like that’s what you SHOULD do…well…this brings me back to point number one above…give yourself grace!
I want to share things that I have personally found helpful over the years. Take them or leave them. Like I said, it’s changed a lot over the years and I’ve accepted that that is ok.
How to honor your child this holiday:
- Make or purchase a personalized ornament for them
- Volunteer in their honor
- Light a candle for them at dinner
- Cook their favorite meal
- Frame their photo and put it at your dinner table where they’d sit
- Write a letter to your child. Maybe it goes in their stocking, you could read it at the dinner table, or bring it to the cemetery.
- Do a good deed – pay for coffee at Starbucks for those behind you in the drive through or help someone in need. Paying it forward feels good and helps feel like we can do something special in honor of our child.
- Donate gifts or money to a child/charity in need
- Send cards to other parents you know who have lost a child
- Mention your child’s name in your family holiday card
Remember, whatever you do or don’t do is ok. You are going through a lot. Grief is a journey, not a destination. May this holiday season be gentle on you.