This is the time of year when you hear a lot of good wishes, as well as, a lot of complaining. You may also eat a lot of food and you may spend a lot of money. You may go to a lot of parties and go to church a lot (hopefully). There is definitely a lot going on during the holiday season.
If you have had someone close to you die this past year, you probably don’t need a lot of anything except peace and quiet. It is a fact, though, that there is no way to get away from the “a lots”. You constantly hear about Thanksgiving and Christmas on TV, radio, and in most conversations.
It seems like the retailers have been trying to stretch the holidays by starting with the relentless ads earlier and earlier. Someone told me that people begin preparing for Christmas so early that the decorations are up before Mary even had a chance to tell Joseph. What can you do to get away from a lot of this over-activity?
Understand that he holidays will be different. FAIRHOPE understands the unique qualities of grief during the holidays and we are here to help. We know that there is no way to “get over it and be happy” during the holiday season if a loved one is no longer with you. I would like to offer some information that may be of help if you are dreading the holidays due to a loss.
When dealing with the holidays, FAIRHOPE’s Grief Services Coordinator, Ernie Doling, often talks about the five C’s of holiday grief. If you have lost a loved one this past year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and maybe even New Year’s Eve will be different. Even if you are having a hard time for any other reason during the holidays, the five C’s may offer a way to experience the holidays in a more tolerable manner.
The first “C” deals with Communication. Let people know what you need and what you can’t handle. But also be receptive to their concerns. If you don’t want to go to a party because you may feel like a fifth wheel, then don’t go. On the other hand, if you want to go to a party, try to drive yourself there. That way if you feel overwhelmed you can excuse yourself and leave. If you have somebody drive you and you get tired early, ask if there is a room where you can be by yourself for a while. Tell the person who drove you that you are going to rest and will be back out soon.
Many grieving people will temporarily lose their tolerance for loud, busy family gatherings and can quickly be exhausted by the antics of small children. This is normal and will pass.
Also, as a way to make it through the holidays the second “C” suggest that you Cut back on activities. Only do what you feel like doing. If putting up a lot of holiday decorations fills you with dread, pick and choose what is important for the holiday. Always ask yourself “Would Christmas be the same without it?”
If a big dinner seems overwhelming, have a potluck at someone else’s house. You don’t have to hang all the outside decorations this year or have a decoration in each room of the house, unless you want to. If this is your first year, it will be difficult. But each coming year will find you adding more of the things you liked about the holidays.
Change some of the things that you never liked about the holiday traditions. Did you always hate the inflated Santa that went in the front yard? Now you can change it. If there are parts of Christmas that were done because that’s how they were always done, now you can change it. Some things that help are opening presents on a different night (Christmas night or day instead of Christmas Eve), going to church at a different time or going to a different church.
Celebrate! Yes, celebrate. It’s important to remember why we celebrate Christmas. As your Christmas has been changed, this may be the time to redefine for yourself the meaning of Christmas. There will be tears and these are very normal. Now would be a great time to celebrate the life of your loved one with precious stories of previous holidays. Focusing on all of the happy holidays that you had together may help you get through this one. This can be a wonderful time to share your memories and remembered stories, even if they bring tears.
And what would Thanksgiving or Christmas be without Children? The fifth “C” reminds you that children need stability and security all the time, but especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Ask children what they need to keep for Christmas traditions. What is important for them during the holidays? Ask them their opinion for changes that you’d like to make.
Always remember that it takes many Christmases to be comfortable with new traditions and that many things change during the year. The first Christmas after the death will not be the way you will always do things for years to come.
I hope that, as you endure grieving through the holidays, you will find the resolve to do what is best for you. I have found that the anticipation of a dreaded event is much worse than the actual event. Eventually your broken heart will begin to heal itself and your sadness will be interrupted by glimpses of joy and just maybe, a lot of joy.
This Christmas, I wish you peace and serenity. Everything is going to be okay.
Merry Christmas from the staff and volunteers of FAIRHOPE Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc.
Written and submitted by Rick Schneider of FAIRHOPE Hospice.