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.