“It’s the most wonderful timeeeee of the yearrrr!” A catchy upbeat song proclaims it, so it must be true! Unless it’s not. Unless it’s the opposite of true. Unless those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings, and those friends who come to call are actually the opposite of what you want. Unless you’re not mistletoing and your heart is SO far from glowing.
I don’t pretend to offer a magical cure for grief during what is actually one of the hardest times of the year for the grieving. But as we inch our way closer to the holiday season (there are already Christmas trees in Costco for heaven’s sake), I feel compelled to share what got me through the hardest time of the year, which carried on despite my protests just a few months after losing Jacob last year.
As I’ve said many times before, everyone grieves differently, so definitely take my approach and make it your own. Maybe the holidays will provide a magical distraction for you and you’ll actually enjoy them – that’s totally okay! Maybe you’re forced to go through the motions because you have other living children, and that’s admirable! Maybe you’re somewhere in between, but here are some ideas that I hope might take the sting out of your holidays.
- Deactivate social media (or at least limit your time on it). Comparison is the thief of joy, especially when you’re comparing your grief-stricken life to everyone else’s highlight reels that they post on facebook or instagram. So just don’t. Times to avoid in particular: Halloween, Thanksgiving, the month of December, and New Years.
- Let someone else hand out candy on trick-or-treat night. If you’re like me, halloween might not immediately occur to you as triggering, but between social media and trick-or-treat, you can’t avoid cute babies and children in costumes, and the heartbreaking thought that you won’t get that with your lost little one, this year or any year.
- It’s okay to be thankful. Or not. Thanksgiving was really hard for me, not only because it’s usually my favorite holiday and now I wouldn’t get to share it with my son, but because I felt guilt over not feeling thankful. Once I acknowledged that I was indeed thankful for many things in my life but that this year an overarching sense of gratitude was understandably unobtainable for me, I was able to let go of the guilt, relax, and get through the day. It’s okay if thankfulness isn’t top of mind for you this Thanksgiving. It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful for the blessings you do have, it just means you’re allowing yourself space for your grief, which is so necessary. So I’d encourage you to participate in Thanksgiving to the degree it feels reasonable to you, even if that means not at all.
- Incorporate your baby into any celebrations you do observe. Jacob was acknowledged in all of our holidays, whether through a special candle lit for him, the presence of our Jacob Bear (from Molly Bears), or a special prayer. Making sure he was remembered was the only way it felt okay to go through the motions to the degree that we did.
- Have someone screen your mail. Holiday cards with happy (and complete) families can be very triggering when you know one family member will always be missing from yours. I found it best not to look at them if small children were involved, so my husband screened them. If your spouse would prefer not to be triggered as well, ask another friend or family member to open and sort your mail for you.
- Unapologetically say no to any events/gatherings that don’t sound good to you. I turned down invitations to festive drinks, cookie baking, and holiday parties, and I was not shy about being honest with my reasons: I was choosing to ignore the holidays because they hurt too much. Everyone understood, and I felt better being honest than giving some made up reason.
- Don’t feel forced to go through the motions. I never realized until last year how many little traditions I had around the holidays that affected my day-to-day from late November until January. I would listen to nothing but Christmas music beginning Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas day. I celebrated the arrival of the red cups and festive drinks at Starbucks, and I sent holiday cards to a large number of family and friends. I did none of that last year. If I got Starbucks, it was not a Christmas drink, and I poured it into a different mug or used my Gilmore Girls sleeve to cover the cup :). We didn’t send a single card, and I avoided all Christmas music. This state of denial about the holiday season was the only way I could make it through those weeks without completely descending into depression.
- Change up your holiday routine. Travel, gather somewhere else or with different people, request and give charitable donations instead of gifts, etc. Don’t do it at all if you just can’t. We traveled for Christmas, and getting out of our normal routine allowed me to feel a little festive without feeling like we were doing exactly what we would have done with Jacob but without him. We went to church, but not at our own. We had Christmas dinner at a restaurant at our vacation destination, rather than attending our traditional family dinner. We asked for charitable donations instead of gifts. This was what all felt right for us, but there were still very difficult moments acknowledging that no matter what, it was all wrong without Jacob.
I’m not going to pretend that getting through the next couple of months will be easy. It won’t, whether you’re new to your grief, or several years in. I don’t think it ever becomes comfortable to celebrate holidays without a missing loved one (baby or otherwise). But hopefully these tips can ease some of the sharp edges for you as they did for me.
Do you have any other tips for surviving the holidays without a certain loved one? Please share in the comments if you are comfortable! Sending you all love this holiday season!