Holidays and anniversaries can be fragile times for those who are grieving. The holiday lights, music, cards, shopping, invitations to parties, religious services, and family gatherings can all remind you of the person who died. You may be blindsided by memories of the last times you were with him or her on these special days.
Planning ahead for family times may help you be more prepared for the emotions that will probably be different than years past. Even though these days can be filled with memories that can make you miss your loved one deeply, they can also be filled with moments of great tenderness, kindness, and love. Some people say they want to isolate themselves, pull the covers over their heads, or go someplace where no one knows them to escape the holidays.
These are all choices people make during difficult days and you may choose to do the same, but there are endless options for creative solutions on how to spend a holiday. There is no right or wrong way to observe these significant times of year after the death of a loved one. By examining your calendar with a person who can help you sort through your emotions and help you identify what is most important to you, you can make a plan that can honor your loved one, your memories, and yourself.
Remember to be flexible. Don’t put too many demands on yourself or those around you, including your family. It is helpful to remember that everyone will respond differently to their losses. Each person may have different parts of holidays or anniversaries that mean the most to them, or that bring back memories that feel most sacred. The only way to know is to ask and to be respectful of everyone’s preferences.
You and your family may not have the emotional or physical energy to observe the way you have in the past. You may need to set your priorities based on how much time and energy you have now. If your mother lost someone close this year, don’t expect her to do all the cooking, unless that is what she needs to do. If a person has lost their spouse or significant other, offer to go with them to that special party they attended every year as a couple. Gently ask questions and invite family members to summon their humor and creativity to make the day go by in a way that honors the memory and the relationships.
One family still wanted the turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving, but instead of the family cooking for three days, they ordered their favorite side dishes, turkey, and desserts from the local grocery store. Another family accepted an invitation from friends to join them for Passover. Rather than decorating the whole house and yard, one family chose to only light a small live tree and decorate it the first year. After Christmas, they planted the tree in the yard in memory of their grandfather. A couple chose to volunteer at a local soup kitchen on Memorial Day.
Above all, remember to take care of yourself. Ask for what you need from your family and friends before the days arrive so they can be helpful to you. Know that we understand how stressful these days can be. Call or email me if it would help to talk through your holiday and family concerns.
Mary L. Malcom, M. Div.
Chaplain and Bereavement Coordinator