Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mourning During the Holidays

It's a fact of life that we all have to deal with at one time or another in our lives. People we love die and it hurts down to the deepest core of who we are as human beings when they do. We grieve their passing because we loved them and we miss them terribly.

The holidays can be a very, very hard time for us. Because I have so many friends who are going through tremendous loss this holiday season, I thought it would be a good idea to share some things that I have learned over the years since my son died about getting through the holidays. Some of these things I am also sharing via TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), a magazine put out by the military to help those of us left behind cope with this profound loss in our lives. This is a particularly helpful publication, but you can't buy it anywhere, it comes to you automatically when you are the person declared the survivor of an active duty military person who dies.

The first thing I suggest/advice... Do only what feels right. If you don't feel like putting up a Christmas tree, if you don't want to go to all those holiday parties, if you don't want to put up lights, then don't. It's okay. Your home should be a safe place for you, and if you want to lock yourself up in your house and not be reminded that it's the holidays, at least for a little while, then you have this sanctuary to retreat to. If you don't want to go out shopping, then don't go out shopping for presents. Do your shopping online if you must.

The important thing is, right now, when you are grieving and mourning, you need to be kind to yourself, not get stressed about stuff that's really not all that important in the long run, and not let other people tell you what you should be doing. This time is about you and your grief. Reach out to people who are supportive and kind and understanding.

I have found that people are uncomfortable when I talk about my son. But it's important to me to talk about him, to remember him, to not let his memory die. My daughters, husband and I talk about him frequently when we are together as a family, almost as if he is still alive walking among us, and I find great comfort in this. Say the name of your loved one, talk about him/her. It's important.

The first year after my son died I did not want to put any Christmas decorations up. No tree, no lights, nothing. But my husband and I talked about it and he reminded me that our wedding anniversary is in December and he thought it would be good to celebrate the light and joy we bring to each other's lives by decorating our house and honoring that after nine or ten months of intense mourning. We covered our house in lights and it was beautiful. We put up the tree and decorated it, I decked the halls and put ribbon on the chairs in the dining room. I put up the little table top tree we bought my son's last Christmas home in honor of him. We were so broke that year and this was the only thing we could afford as all our holiday stuff was in a storage facility in another city and we couldn't go get it. I put miniature ornaments on it and set it in a special place in honor of my son. Since then it's become known as Jeremy's tree and it goes up every year, even though the lights no longer work.

The next year I didn't want to do anything again. But I did because it was my very first grandson's first Christmas. I found myself, year after year, putting the tree and decorations up for my daughters and my grandkids. We continued the tradition of gathering for Christmas Eve for dinner and family time. It was important for me to show that life goes on and the rituals we had as a family continued for the sake of my family but most especially for my daughters. Even though my son was dead, they stilled lived and loved me and grieved him every bit as deeply as I did. I wanted them to know I loved them with all my heart.

Last year was hard. My whole family was living out of state and it was just my husband and I at home. My mood was black and ugly and I felt pretty rebellious about this whole family holiday happy/happy joy/joy bullshit of the season. One day I went to my local Garden Ridge and found several colored trees complete with lights! I seriously considered the hot pink and the tinsil trees, but eventually settled on the black one. I took it home, put it up and covered it in nothing but the brightest, shinest, reddest ornaments I could find. That tree made me feel good. Almost everything else stayed on the shelves in the closet.

My point is, this holiday season and every holiday season and even every day of the year, be kind to yourself. You are not crazy even though you think you are. Your heart aches and you've cried rivers of tears and you miss that special person gone from your life so much your whole body aches. It's completely normal. It's also completely normal to not want to participate in humanity at this time in your life, so don't feel guilty about it.

Take your time, figure it out and eventually you'll learn to live with your new normal that is your life. Right now you feel like Humpty Dumpty, but eventually you'll find all those pieces of yourself and you'll get them put back together again. Don't rush the process, it may take years. And that's okay.



Monday, September 26, 2011


This weekend, on a campout deep in the Texas woods with many of those whom I hold near and dear to my heart, I met a woman who is angry. She is angry at the Gods, she is angry at life and she is angry at her situation. She called down the wrath of the Gods, dared them to challenge her, to beat her, to apologize to her.

You see, her dear husband died four months ago in a motorcycle accident -- which was quite unexpected and very much a shock for this woman. Her emotions are very, very raw and new. She is hurting to the very core of her being, her heart is broken and her world is completely and utterly flipped upside down and inside out.

She wanted to argue with everyone who tried to tell's not about you. His death had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with you... We tired to tell her, don't challenge the Gods. But she would not listen. She dominating group conversations and demanded by her very presence the attention of every person in the group over and over again.

Alcohol made her more beligerant. She dominated everything.

The thing is, she is a sweet soul, I could feel it buried underneath her anger and her grief. I saw it when she got up early the next morning before anyone else and picked up the garbage and things left behind from the festivities of the night before.

When I encountered her, as she was finishing picking up after us, I asked her to sit and talk with me awhile. I asked her about her husband and what happened, how long ago and let her talk.

Then I shared with her that I, too, had suffered a loss that totally rocked my world and turned it upside down and inside out. I told her, I promised her, that this, too, would pass and that in time she would find her "new" normal, she would not hurt so very, very much and she would learn how to deal with her pain. I promised her there would come a day when she would realize that her every waking moment was no longer about her husband and her pain. I told her my own belief, what helped get me through the first two years or so when it hurt so much, that I believe we come to this earth to learn what it is to be human, and we choose what experiences we will have so that we can learn and to grow. To experience the death of one we love so very dearly is one of those things that comes with being human beings, it is unavoidable and a very painful part of our journeys.

She focuses on the last moments, worried about whether he suffered. I know how she feels, but for the sake of my sanity, I could not dwell on those thoughts when my son died.

What I didn't tell her, and I would if I could have that conversation with her again is that the first year is the absolute hardest, when you go through the first of everything without the one you love. I would tell her to not let other people tell her how to grieve or for how long, but to take the time she needs to grieve in her own way. I would tell her she is not alone, that her reaction is very normal and it's okay.

This woman has people who love her and are caring for and watching out for her very lovingly. I am glad for that.

It's hard to watch someone going through that kind of wild, angry, passionate grief. But sometimes, one can find comfort from a stranger who can show a small kindness in listening and sharing. I hope that in some small way I gave her some measure of comfort to help carry her through this terrible time in her life. I'll probably never see her again, but if I do, I'll be sure to check and see how she's doing.