With the holidays quickly approaching, and the anticipation of all the merriment to come, hearts beat gleefully for most of us as we begin the preparations and celebrate the honored rituals of family time together. In a family, whose parent, child or loved one has died, it can be more difficult to find the joy in this season. When your heart is shattered by the death of your loved one, how do you celebrate this merry season as a family, especially if children are involved?
With children, no matter what age, first remember that children are grieving too. Allow them to do so, be that example for them. It is perfectly ok to show your child that you are sad too and to talk with them as you share memories of your deceased family member. Your children can see that you can grieve and keep moving forward, oscillating between sadness and living life presently, blending the death into your current life.
One of the many ways to ease our sadness and loneliness is by doing something for others. This is not intended to add additional stress to an already stressful time. The holiday season abounds with opportunities to do so. It can be simple things like going caroling in your neighborhood – particularly where you know there are older adults or others whose loved one has died. Reaching out can include Bell Ringing for the Salvation Army, helping to serve a community meal, volunteering at Five Loaves, it can be buying the person behind you a cup of tea or coffee – paying it forward. Reaching out to the community, churches, civic groups, or one person right in your own neighborhood can break the cycle of loneliness and loss. Reaching out should always be in consideration of how much we can give of ourselves right now.
During this busy time, children may need a few more hugs, even adults may need a few more hugs. Celebrating a joyous family time when your heart is shattered, can be difficult. Take more time to ask your children about their feelings, and reflect back to them what you are seeing. If that’s not what they are feeling, they will let you know. If they are, let them know your concern and care for them. Remind them that all their feelings are ok. By showing them this care and love, you will strengthen the bonds between you, supporting them through this season, and those yet to come.
For the adult, holiday time can be both joyous and stressful. For those bereaved, these heightened emotions, compounded with the pain, loneliness, and brokenness you may feel after the death of your loved one, can deplete you even before the season starts. At this “most wonderful time of the year” families will benefit, early in the season, from a discussion on how to keep the holiday, keeping past traditions – meaningful for children, starting new ones, or a combination of both. Most of all, give yourselves a little grace and forgiveness. The season will not be the same, how will you keep it, in a way that is still meaningful to your family? May peace walk with you this holiday season.
Other Helpful Resources:
• Surviving the Holidays, ADEC, Association for Death Education and Counseling.
• Preparing for the Holidays, Chaplain Julia Rajtar
• Sesame Street Clip, When Families Grieve, Message for Families, Big Feelings
Helping Grieving Children Cope with the Holidays, Patti Anewalt, Ph.D., LPC, FT, ADEC, Association for Death Education and Counseling.