This morning, I asked my 16-year-old son for any thoughts or wisdom on how to handle holiday grief. He was 10 when his dad died. And since his dad died in September this will be our seventh holiday season without him. And my very mature, wise son looked at me and said “I have no idea mom, I am still at a loss.”
And that made me realize that while we may develop tools to cope with our grief, there are a lot of times that we are still just winging it. We try our best. Hope to get through. There is no right or wrong way to survive the holidays. It’s whatever works best for you. And what works best this year, may not work next year. As time goes on, we change, and so does our grief. And that affects how we survive the holidays.
The holidays this year are very different from that first year. I honestly don’t remember a lot about Thanksgiving or Christmas in 2014. I know we celebrated. And I’m sure I even laughed. But I have very few clear memories of that time.
As the years have gone on, the holidays have become much more manageable. I don’t think it ever gets easier. I think we get better at handling it. I now plan for alone time during the holidays. Time to take care of myself. Honor my grief. Time that is much needed so that I can make it through. Be the wife and mother that my family needs. And I try not to feel guilty for the fact that I need my own space during this time.
In the last few years, I gave myself permission to continue the traditions I liked and to let go of the ones I didn’t. And to start new ones. Holidays now don’t have to look like the holidays of the past. Or the holidays of the future. It is OK for our wants and needs to change. Death taught me to keep the things that brought me joy and to let the rest go.
I thoroughly enjoy decorating for the holidays. So I continue to do that. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. My house is completely decorated for each holiday. Because it brings me joy. Yet, I do not enjoy cooking big holiday dinners. So I don’t. I make Christmas breakfast. And I go to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. I am great at bringing the wine and dessert. As she knows that and appreciates it.
Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday. I don’t actually like most Thanksgiving food. So we never really celebrated it. Our tradition was to always travel Thanksgiving week and eat local cuisine. But my new husband is a huge fan of Thanksgiving. Loves the traditional Thanksgiving meal. So last year we went to see his family for the break and celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving. And this year we compromised. We spent the first few days of the week with just our children on a holiday in the mountains and are spending the last few days of the week, including Thanksgiving, with my new husband‘s family. That way he can have his traditional Thanksgiving but I can have my tradition of traveling over the holiday. I still don’t like the food. But I enjoy watching my new husband celebrate with his family.
Early in my grief, I don’t know if I would have been willing to make that compromise. It was so very important to do things exactly as Jared and I had done. To keep all those traditions alive. To make sure everything was exactly the way it was the year before. It was important to me that my son have the normalcy, the routine of our holidays. And now, many years later, I realize sometimes you have to change. Life is all about change. And how we embrace the change and handle the change is a lesson for our children. I also realize that my son adapts much more easily than I do. That he is way more resilient than I am. That as long as our core traditions are present, he just wants to enjoy the time with the people he loves. And I learned that lesson from him. His dad would be so proud. Of both of us.
So as we prepare to celebrate our seventh holiday season without Jared, we are still figuring it out. Doing the best we can. And supporting each other through it all. Because that is what really matters.