I remember like it was yesterday. I awoke to a startling call that my brother had not returned home from the previous night. We waited to hear from him only to learn that he passed away in the middle of the night. He died on the eve of Thanksgiving. I couldn’t believe it because we had big plans. This was the first Thanksgiving that we were all going to be together in a while. After college my brother played semi-professional basketball overseas so we usually couldn’t see him every holiday. I had no idea that would be the case, but now forever.
Growing up, Thanksgiving and Christmas was huge in our household. We loved to eat and loved gifting. I knew at that moment that this season was ruined for the rest of my life and that it would take a miracle to restore normalcy and give myself permission to enjoy the holidays without the thought of his death. Until recently it had been difficult to revive the holiday spirit. The truth is that it will never be normal and we all needed to be accepting of that. From there we were able to begin the healing process and look forward to holidays.
The holidays are usually a time for joy and excitement and togetherness. A time to wind down and enjoy with family and friends. To cook, eat, laugh, play and plan for the new year. But for many this year won’t be the same because of the loss of a loved one. The first year is always the hardest. My family felt robbed of this excitement. I can say that this season was usually met with depression, anxiety and sadness. When I look back, what helped the most was setting intentions to have a great holiday. I made it a point to tell myself time after time that it will be OK. Even if it didn’t seem like it, there was always light at the end of the tunnel.
Here are a few things that helped me cope with his death during the holidays:
Spend time with family and friends. Being alone will only cause the pain of their absence more intense. My brother has two wonderful sons that I hold dear to my heart. He loved spending Christmas with them and their extended family on their Mom’s side. The first Christmas without him, we spent with the boys and their extended family. We laughed and sang and danced, even cried a little. Did this bring him back? No. However it re established that we would always be family. We will always have each other. They never had to worry about being alone or without extension of him there. If you don’t have this, I hope you find a community of people to support you during this time.
Keep your family traditions. If you normally eat or spend time in the same place every year, by all means continue to do so. Don’t stop doing the things or eating foods that your loved one enjoyed. This keeps their memory alive, helps with healing, and establishes normalcy in your life. This is also really good for little ones. They need as much consistency as possible so they feel assured that things can return to somewhat normal.
Be creative. I love tradition, but what I found to be helpful was creating new ones. This can be tough. and may not go over well with everyone but trying something new gives a sense of a fresh and new start. I personally love to travel so this year my family and I will all be in one place out of the country.
Express yourself. Don’t tiptoe around the fact that your loved one is missing. Be expressive about your love and how much you miss them. Cry if you have to but also leave room for celebration. My nephews’ Mom loves to do what she calls “memory trains”. This activity creates an environment for my nephews to talk about memories they had with their Dad. Although they were young, they still remember good times they had. Even small things like going to get ice cream or a day at the gym was huge for them. There usually isn’t a dry eye but that is also met with laughter and you may learn something new about them which can help with healing. Also, be OK with family and friends that may not yet be comfortable with expressing. They may need more time before opening up.
Give. It may not seem like you don’t have much to give after suffering a loss but I found that giving is healing to the soul. Whether it be your time or a gift, find a way to reach out to those who may have suffered a similar loss. This helped bring perspective and created a sense of community. You may realize that you are not the only family that has experienced this sort of pain.
If you are feeling like this time is unbearable and you are dealing with heavy depression I suggest seeking therapy. There are many online resources and local therapist that can help you figure out ways to process your loss. My hope is that you have peace and joy during this time. Also please feel free to share how you and your family cope with loss during the holidays. Have peace.