Grief During the Holidays

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elderly holidays griefThe holidays are times in which our hearts are full of joy, our minds are at peace and the sound of laughter fills a room from our loved ones who have come together. That was the holiday season for me until I lost my mom last year. Suddenly losing my mom last Christmas from Cancer took some of that joy away. I missed the friendship of my mom, her laughter, and the smell of her honey glazed ham and apple pie baking in her oven.  I was overwhelmed by the grief that came when small events happened that would spark some of her memories.

Though her disease made me feel a sense of emptiness inside during the past holiday seasons, it wasn’t until she passed that I really started to grieve and struggled to cope. In fact, facing the holidays last year without my mom caused anxiety and fear. However, I knew that change was inevitable after she passed. For both my family and myself, I had to find ways to make the holidays as pleasurable as I could.

After seeing I wasn’t expected by others to enjoy the holidays or to even go through the motions of pretending to enjoy them, I realized it was ok to have a good time in spite of my grief. I decided to offer myself some grace after understanding that feeling joy wasn’t doing an injustice to my mom. Truthfully, I think the gift of me being true to myself and continuing to live life fully was the greatest gift I could give back to her.

I was able to cope with my grief because I was sympathetic to myself. I allowed myself to feel whatever it was that I wanted to feel. It didn’t matter if it was sadness or anger, I allowed it to happen. I knew that if I made myself act in a certain way to make Christmas feel more “normal”, it would have been unfair to me. I also gave my body the rest and nourishment that it needed. I took care of myself. I did whatever felt right for me whether it was being alone or seeking out the support and love from others around me.

One of the biggest decisions I made that attributed to my wellness was asking my family for help and accepting it when they offered. Right after my mom passed, all I thought about was how much of a burden I had been on everyone. It was so difficult for me to let my family know what I needed. It wasn’t until after the holidays when I realized that losing my mom was the worst time to find inner strength and independence. I needed my family for both my physical and emotional needs and asking for their support was the best thing I could have done.

Mom and I did a lot of charity work together, especially around Christmas. Together we would carefully choose an angel off of the angel tree at the mall and imagine the excitement of the child that might receive our gifts on Christmas morning. While shopping together, we dropped our change in the charity baskets outside of grocery stores. We donated hats, scarves, and gloves to the local homeless shelters. When mom passed, I didn’t think it was possible for me return to charity.  Despite my feeling this way, I made the attempt to contribute to a greater good and realized making a positive difference in other people’s lives helped heal my pain.

Now I am approaching my second Christmas after losing my mom. This year and every year from now on, I am determined to celebrate a more joyful Christmas than the year before. I survived the holiday season last year because I found ways to let my happiness slip through the windows of grief. I am hopeful that anyone who has lost a loved one can cope during the holidays and beyond like I have. If you are having a difficult time, understand that this may be the most challenging season in your time of grief, but remember to offer yourself the gift of grace and in time, it will get easier.

Lauren B.