Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Season that Changes All Seasons

After the sudden loss of our daughter, we were warned by other grieving parents of the “dreaded holiday season.” Our family had always enjoyed our Christmas fanaticism, the neighborhood lights competitions, and the many annual traditions we practiced. Having had loss thrust on us suddenly, we had to reconstruct Christmas. I attribute this one sane response to our family’s dependence on Christ since there is no other logical explanation for a season when all seems illogical. The old traditions were too painful so it became evident that we were going to have to create a new normalcy for the holidays. Because it had always been our tradition to hang the old handmade tree ornaments made by our children over the years, pulling those precious keepsakes out for me as a mom was devastating. We had several discussions with our sons and agreed that for at least a couple of years, we were going to keep the tree in temporary retirement.

Whether it is a tree or some other family heirloom that reminds you of the loved one you have lost, thinking of putting those types of triggers out of sight in advance of the holiday season could help to alleviate some of the stressors that may negatively affect your raw emotions.

However, that didn’t mean we were going to force our boys to sit around the house glum-faced. A friend passed along a timeshare that first Christmas so we visited an island in South Carolina, a new experience for us all that created a fresh memory. We were surprised at how a change of scenery lifted our hearts out of the doldrums. The condo came with a full kitchen and we all cooked something different and fun, but not laborious.

After several years, my holiday spirit did return, the ornaments were pulled out, and I was glad to return to our old Christmas traditions.

The best gift a grieving person can give to himself or herself is permission: permission to change traditions, to create new normals, to kindly say “no” to social settings that place high expectations on you. Another fact you might remember is that people who love you might be afraid of mentioning your loved ones name. Over time, whenever possible I gently dispel this myth to anyone who will listen. My daughter’s name is the sweetest sound to my ears. I carry her with me everywhere I go, so when I noticed everyone around me holding back from mentioning her name, it created an emotional deficit. So my husband and I agreed to mention her whenever we want and sometimes that is almost every day.

For the holidays, personal memorials aid your sense of loss like a healing balm. Holding a candle lighting service in honor of your loved one can be a comfort and allow you to reflect positively about the one you are missing. I wore one of Jessi’s blouses and my husband played one of her CD’s. I sprayed her favorite cologne into the air, closed my eyes, and danced in the aroma. Our youngest son and I collected miniature ornaments that we felt his sister would love. We found a miniature tree with battery operated lights. We decorated the little tree, took it to the cemetery, and gave it to our Jess for Christmas. We felt as though somehow she knew and was there with us. Just as we were leaving the cemetery, a soft winter rain let go and in the dim grayness, we could see Jess’s tree shining out. It was a reminder of the light of Christ that had always shown forth from her heart. That is the power of memory-on-purpose. Purposeful memories bring comfort.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to be certain that you don’t fall into the denial patterns of trying to act like nothing has changed. Of course everything has changed from this time forth. By acknowledging that change you fill that empty space with new memories and reflections; you grieve freely and positively.

Tomorrow, other gentle suggestions for helping yourself or a grieving friend through the holidays.