Contributed by Laura Dukes Beck, Esq.
Grief is so difficult, and this time of year can be the hardest of all. It is hard to put on a brave face for your children and family. It is hard to keep up with old traditions that just aren’t the same since your loss occurred. It is dang hard to put the ornaments on the Christmas tree- each one a walk down memory lane. It’s hard to cut yourself some slack and to remember that it is perfectly normal to feel sorrow, pain, loss, grief. So how do you make it through this season without spiraling down on the never ending spiral of grief?
Let me start by saying, I am not a mental health professional. If you find yourself in over your head, having trouble slogging through the most basic of life responsibilities, or worse, please contact a therapist/ your doctor for medical support. Know that you are not alone.
What I am is a survivor of loss. More specifically, a widow…. My husband died. It has been over a decade now. My children were very young at the time, and now they are teenagers. I will probably write another blog post specifically about that loss, but for this post, I want to focus on holiday grief and getting through.
The first year after my husband died, I decided the last place I wanted to be was in our hometown. I packed everyone up- my kids, my parents, all of the toys for under the Christmas tree in a bin on top of the minivan- and we went to Disney. A friend of a friend set up a Magic Moment for my oldest child, who got to meet a whole cast of the Disney characters. My children didn’t really know how special it was that Santa said hello to them as part of the big parade, but I did. It still brings tears to my eyes to think of other people’s kindness during my times of crisis. So much of that first year is a blur, but what was most important to me during that first holiday season was starting to make new memories with my children and family. I tell you this because it is ok to want to escape some. You can pick up and go somewhere else for the major holidays. Start making new stories for yourself.
Sometimes we try to do the old traditions…. The Beck family always had a big, festive Christmas Eve lunch. Last year, I asked my kids to invite their best friends, and I invited my oldest, best friend, and we all had lunch together. So I am taking the tradition and making it new. It is still a touchpoint in our lives, and we are honoring what used to be, while claiming it for our own. This year will be even more different, as the pandemic will force all of us into new and different ways to mark the holiday season. It is a chance for a fresh start of new traditions, culling the traditions that don’t meet your needs, and remembering what is most important.
I also only push myself as hard as I can with some things. This year, the decorations aren’t all up- I just couldn’t face the bride ornament, or the fragile German glass ornaments people gave us for our wedding. For a while, I put away my husband’s favorite ornaments. I do try to tell the kids stories about their dad, and sometimes the ornaments have helped with that. And now my surfer loves all of the surfing Santas that their dad collected. I definitely don’t love to decorate like I used to, and I can’t seem to set aside the stuff that brings me sorrow (like the Bride ornament). Time has made some of this easier, but not all of it.
Maybe that is part of my lesson.... Time makes some of this easier, but not all of it.
I think all of us have someone we grieve over the holiday season, especially this year with the COVID pandemic. Everyone has experienced some sort of loss, if not through death, through divorce, estrangement, neglect of relationships that were important yet faded away. The trick is not letting it take over, to keep the memories in their place. Honor them, but don’t let them control you. Give yourself the space and time to remember- go for a walk, light a candle, take a moment to cry and scream in your car. Whatever healthy coping strategy you use is a good one. Above all, reach out to the support system you have so that they can help you through the holidays. I wish each of you a holiday season where you can find moments of joy, even through the sorrow. Love and light, and may 2021 bring all of us comfort.