Facing Holiday Traditions After A Loss
by Kathy Leonard
The first Christmas after Jeff’s daughter Rebecca died, he was blindsided by emotions while facing tradition after tradition that had been centered around their two daughters. “We have a silly tradition at Christmas we’ve done since they were little kids. We have Santa Claus hats and reindeer antlers that light up, and in the past we’ve all put on our hats and antlers to go Christmas shopping, to a party, or to a church function. I couldn’t do that this year. I just couldn’t do it.”
“On Christmas Eve my husband and I used to open our own personal gifts to each other,” shared Sheila, whose husband died. “Well, that can’t happen.”
If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, the holiday season may be harder than you expected. From decorating to shopping, to meals, to cookies and cocoa and stockings and presents, the traditions making up the framework of your holiday typically revolve around the people you love. Many traditions you may not even think about until you’re hit with the fact that your loved one is no longer there to enjoy them with you.
You long for the holidays to be like they once were, but realize it’s impossible. What do you do with all these traditions? How can you face them without your loved one? Would it be better to keep the holidays the same as possible or do something completely different this year?
You will want to maintain some holiday traditions, especially when they involve other family members. But this is also the time to begin new traditions. Remember, though, not to overburden yourself with too many activities. Keep your plans simple, and inform other family members of your plans. Next year you may decide to incorporate more traditions, old and new, so don’t feel guilty for only planning a few this year.
Some people worry that by not doing a certain tradition, they are dishonoring their loved one or trying to push those memories out. This isn’t true. You can honor your loved one and cherish the memories whether you continue a certain tradition or not.
Here are new traditions other people in grief have incorporated. Perhaps an idea will interest you:
Before opening presents, have each person share a special Christmas memory.Create a collage or holiday scrapbook with memories of your loved one.If you typically have holiday meals at home, consider going out. It could be as simple as Christmas Eve pancakes and omelets.Make and deliver cards or cookies to shut-ins or give them an encouraging phone call.Consider spending the holiday with someone who is alone: someone who’s experienced loss, someone without family nearby, or a person in a nursing home. You could invite international students from a local university to come for the day.Volunteer to help serve a meal at a shelter, nursing home, Salvation Army, fire or rescue station, or church. Find available opportunities in your community.
“What we’ve decided to do is to make a ‘dad tree,’ and we decorate it with all sorts of ornaments that relate to the university he went to, his favorite football team and the things he enjoyed doing, like fishing,” shared Sheila.
The suggestions in this article will help you not only to survive the holiday season, but also to move forward in healthy grieving as you face and make choices about holiday traditions, old and new.
Jeff has grasped the key to making it through the holidays, and every day, after a loved one’s death. “The hope of the gospel is how I get through,” said Jeff. “It’s especially important at holiday times when all those family memories and all those special traditions start flooding your mind and your heart.”
This holiday season is a time to cherish memories and traditions, and it’s also a time to turn forward and invest in today and the future. Making this choice honors your loved one and is healing to you and those around you.