I’ve learned a lot over the past seven years of holidays without my mom.
Even as I type that I’m shaking my head at the overwhelming feeling that rushes over me when I read “seven years”. Some days it still feels like yesterday.
The holidays have been one of the most challenge parts of my grief healing journey. My mom LOVED this time of year. Even if she only had $1.00 left in her bank account on December 26th, she made sure my brother and I had the BEST holiday ever. And even though she’s not here anymore, I know that her energy and her spirit is all around. I sense her even more this time of year. I dream of her often. When the holidays are here, memories of my mom are more present and vivid than ever.
Over the past 7 years I’ve learned some lessons that have helped me move through the holiday season in a way that supports my healing journey. If you are facing a first holiday without your loved one, or feeling stuck in a pattern or cycle you want to break so that you can move forward- even through the holidays- my hope is that sharing these lessons that I’ve learned will provide you with a few ideas, inspiration, and hope as we approach the Christmas holiday and the new year.
Lesson #1: Bring the memories to life. The holidays were such a special time for my mother. She absolutely LOVED Christmas. Actually, she loved any reason to celebrate. I can remember late nights of baking cookies, midnight shopping trips to Wal-Mart, picking out (or chopping down!) a fresh Christmas tree and decorating it that night (she could never wait), and gift-wrapping marathons watching Hallmark Christmas movies over and over again. Every year I make sure to do most of these things as a way to honor her love of the holidays and keep her memory alive.
Lesson #2: Embrace change, and make space for hope and healing. The first time I thought of the first holiday season without my mom I realized that from this day forward I would only be celebrating the holidays that included a memory of my mom. That initial thought hit me like a ton of bricks. The thought of changing the holiday rituals and traditions I had known for 32 years were suddenly going to change. I knew that I could hold onto a few, but that some would inevitably change because they were driven by my mother and her love for the holidays-and she was no longer here. But then a friend helped me see that I could either spend the next 50 Christmases of my life wishing for what I no longer had, or begin to see the Christmas that was sitting right in front of me, that I could create out of that same love for the holidays that my mother instilled in me. And so I did. The holidays have become a hybrid of days gone by and new traditions that my family and friends have created as a way to lean into joy and the gift of togetherness. Embrace change, make space for hope and healing, and allow yourself permission to feel joy. Our joy when it comes, will be the greatest gift we can give to others who are also grieving during the holidays.
Lesson #3: Give. Giving to others has always helped me cope with grief; especially around the holidays. My mother was always ready to do something nice for others. Her late night baking adventures meant treats for my dad to take to work, treats for our local postal worker and even for the garbage collectors. This year was full of giving. Every year a wonderful group of my closest friends come together to prepare dinner and holiday cookies for the families at the Ronald McDonald House in Tampa. Giving to others fills a void and eases the helplessness you may feel after loss. It lifts your spirits and builds a grateful heart.
Lesson #4: Surround yourself with those who care the most about you. My mother was the life of the party. She loved socializing, and being around friends and family. The holidays are a time for togetherness, especially after the loss of a loved one. Make time to visit, have dinner with friends, be present and surround yourself with positive and joyful people. Nothing is more uplifting that good company, lots of laughs and making new memories with the ones you love.
Lesson #5: It’s ok to cry. Even seven years later, a holiday memory, scent, or tune can stop me in my tracks and bring me to tears. And I’ve learned that even though this is the most wonderful time of the year, it’s OK to experience this time of the year through tears. I miss my mother every single day of my life.
After the passing of a loved one, the holidays forever become a mix of bittersweet moments, and feelings of sadness and releasing tears let us know that we were truly connected to one another and that the love we felt, and that the memories we made were real. Tears are offering an acknowledgement that the emotions are there and need tending to. And even through those tears, we hope still hope to see those loved ones that are happy to be sitting near us at the table, the spouse that stops by the coffee shop on the way home to bring us our favorite cozy drink to enjoy, the friend who stops by for a visit with a token of their love and friendship, and the children whose eyes light up with wonder and innocence at the sight of Christmas lights hanging off the eves. Through those tears, these things remind us of all of the small moments during the holidays that make us feel loved and seen- no matter what emotions we are moving through. To cry means that you have loved. Tis’ the season for love.
Lesson #6: Healing happens in the present. Focus on being present this holiday season, because in the present is where we can find peace and healing. When you find yourself getting lost in the future (or drumming up regrets or guilt of the past- like saying “I don’t know how I’ll ever be happy again during the holidays without my loved one”, remind yourself to come back to the present. Notice what’s around you, think about or write down what you’re grateful for in that very moment, say something kind to yourself, drop what you’re doing and do something that brings you peace and calm. When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, center yourself in the present and intentionally seek moments of calm by noticing the love around you. It’s there in the simple cup of coffee, in the decorated Christmas tree, under the cozy blanket, inside that feel-good holiday movie, or even in that holiday greeting card message from a friend.
Lesson #7: Live. The most beautiful gift that the holidays give us is the gift of time. Schools are closed for winter break, offices shut down for the holidays, and vacation time is often given (or used). The holidays provide us with opportunities for togetherness, and quiet, peaceful times. Finding moments to spend that time with others who life your spirits, and taking time to honor your needs, is another way to practice self-compassion. Say yes to lunch with a friend, accept the invite to that holiday party, take your kids for a walk at the park, volunteer your time at a charitable organization, bake cookies with your spouse, treat yourself to a pedicure, take that fun exercise class you’ve been eyeing, go driving around looking at Christmas lights, start a new holiday tradition (or rekindle one from the past), sit on the couch and watch holiday movies in your pajamas as a family drinking hot cocoa (even if it’s 80 degrees outside). Life is for living, and our loved ones would want nothing more than for us to live it.
Wishing you a beautiful, fun and memorable holiday season! I hope you get everything you wish for!