The holiday season is upon us.
It is the season of parties, merrymaking and family gatherings. We all have reasons to be grateful to be seeing the end of another year but for some of us, it’s a season mixed with sadness, grief and pain, of memories that fill us with longing and which make apparent our loss.
Holidays can be very tough on families that are grieving especially if it’s the first holiday after the loss of their loved ones. Because holidays are about being with family, the loss is more amplified when a grandparent, mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, sibling, cousin etc is missing. I have had cause to reach out to several families this season and it’s true that for those mourning, the season can never be the same again. The dynamics of a lot of families have changed and although they are grateful to be alive and well, the grief can be overwhelming especially when they remember how the season used to be and the changes that have occurred in their lives.
It’s my 2nd Christmas after Mr Aisi’s death but it feels like the first. The first Christmas after his death I travelled away from home and because I was in a different country and environment it made the season bearable.
Like most families, we had our holiday traditions, Christmas and New Year was a time to let our hair down, catch up on each other and just have fun. On Christmas mornings, we always had a big English breakfast featuring cheese on toast ( Mr Aisi’s speciality) sausages, bacon, eggs and bread and we always went out for lunch. Our house was a meeting point for siblings and cousins and my larder and freezers were always stocked with several delicacies. We slept late most nights binge-watching films and TV series. On the 31st, we went to church and when we returned home around 10 pm, we held a family council where we reviewed the year, commended good behaviour, pointed out bad behaviour, affirmed ourselves, spoke about our goals for the incoming year and prayed. At 12 on the dot, Mr Aisi and the kids fired up crackers and then we had a mini party where we danced into the new year.
This year I will be alone, in my home, without my children and with only my memories of how special Christmas used to be.
I speak to myself when I say that for those grieving, we must come to terms with our new realities, our traditions will change, our celebrations will be muted, We cannot do anything to change them and accepting them will make it easier to bear. Things will be forever different in our family gatherings but we must try to join as much as we can in the festivities. We must give ourselves permission to enjoy the holidays especially if we have young children who don’t really understand what has been taken away from them. It is true that our loved one is gone, However, we still need some normalcy in our lives, our children will want to go out, be with friends, enjoy the season (sometimes as a distraction and sometimes because they can’t comprehend the loss) and we must allow them. We must not begrudge people for enjoying the season, the reality of life is that it goes on.
We should express our feelings but not wallow in them. I do understand that It’s a delicate balance to express oneself and not do so in a way that makes others guilty for being joyous in this season but it is doable.
A word of caution though, please don’t allow yourself to feel pressured to partake in everything that you used to do before. If you are not up to it, DON’T.
You are not in a competition to see who can recover from grief faster or to try to prove that you are strong. If you are overwhelmed by the holidays, bow out of some things and don’t feel like you have to give an excuse.
Decide which traditions you want to keep and which you want to change. Sometimes, doing things the way you’ve always done them makes your pain worse. This year I didn’t hang up any decorations, didn’t cook Christmas breakfast or lunch, didn’t stay around family but went out every day with friends to fairs, shows, parties etc.
It’s my new reality and I am making the best of what I have and no I don’t feel the least guilty.
Please ask for help, in providing meals, taking the children out etc. A lot of people do want to help but don’t know how to or think we will be insulted if they do. Please let’s learn to ask for and receive help. We cannot do it alone.
Take some time to be alone, to think, to restrategize, to forge your way forward, to care for yourself.
For those who have friends or family that have lost someone this season I understand your dilemma.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know what is appropriate for the season, also because the emotions of the bereaved fluctuate we are not sure what they will like to do and we don’t like to broach the topic of their loved one because of the pain we believe it will bring. I speak from experience and attest to the fact that no matter how they may act, our friends and loved ones need us near them now more than ever. They need to be comforted by the presence of other people in their lives, they need to know that they are not anathema and although they may understand our reluctance to stay away they wish we didn’t.
A word of caution, however, please don’t smother them with your presence either.
So please visit, call or text them but always take your cue from them. Let them know that they are in your thoughts and prayers
Help as much as you can to relieve them of the day to day activities that surround the season- help to buy gifts for the children, for a husband who has lost a wife bring food, take the children out, help them especially young children to forget their loss for a moment by entertaining them.
Invite them out, let them know they are free to accept or decline the invitation without feeling guilty and if they do go, allow them to do what they feel comfortable with.
They may choose to talk or not to and it’s okay. Offer your support but do not pressure them to accept it. Share happy memories. Help them to remember that at some point in their lives, they had good times. It may not encourage them to cheer up and enjoy the holiday season, but it will at least give them a smile in the midst of their tears, help them to be grateful for the past and inspire the hope that one day in the future they will again experience happy moments.
Lastly if the deceased was your friend, remember the loved ones of the person you lost, reach out to them, let them know you remember the deceased and that they were important to you. Try as much as you can to help fill the void their absence has caused.
In helping people go through this season it’s important that we are thoughtful, sensitive and present.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance.