But when your loss is actually at Christmas time the struggles seem even more great and it seems to take an even longer time to move past the triggers...they are EVERYWHERE!!!
Our loss was 12 days before Christmas and to be honest, that Christmas is a complete blur. I have no idea what I gave anyone for gifts. No idea what I got for gifts. I do remember where we celebrated because I can remember sitting quietly in each of those houses, in a corner, hoping that my lack of joy wasn't pulling anyone down.
The next year went better but it still was so damned hard to feel joy when all I could think was I should be buying two of this, I should be pulling two sets of Santa jammies out, I should, I should, I should... everything was a reminder.
It has gotten better for a few reasons I think and today I thought I'd share some thoughts on how to bring the joy back to this season.
Open up your heart and your eyes too. There is so much that you miss when you close down due to loss. Smiling at even the smallest of things, opening your heart the tiniest connection you make with someone and not letting yourself feel guilty for it...that will bring you forward baby steps at a time.
Allow yourself to feel all the emotions...the joyful happy ones but the sad and painful ones too. So often we push those feelings that are 'negative' in nature down so we don't upset others, bring everyone down. The thing is that all of those emotions are normal and expected. Those who don't appreciate that are not worth worrying about and those that do will surround you with love and support and help you through this. No one can be happy all the time, no one can feel joy all the time...so why should you have to.
Make New Traditions - or in my case, let go of the idea of the tradition you had planned to have (the two boys in matching pj's, two boys in matching Christmas outfits, one on each of Santa's knees, unwrapping matching toys etc) and start a new one. No one said you have to continue to go to church on Christmas Eve. No where does it say you have to hang stockings on the fireplace. Find something new to do and maybe make it something that you can honour your loved one with. Buy the gift or gifts you had planned to buy and donate them in their memory. Go for a walk or drive to enjoy Christmas lights instead going to church where the atmosphere, songs, memories etc might just be too overwhelming.
Say No or Take a Timeout
Creating new traditions is part of healing. When you lose someone you love your heart's not in it. You don't feel like doing it. And it can be anything from family gatherings, to shopping, to putting up a tree or to even celebrating all together.Do what feels right to you and if saying 'No, I'm not coming' or 'No I'm not doing that this year' feels right then don't beat yourself up over it. Maybe you just need a break from it all and maybe that break is vacation somewhere warm. Do what you can but if you can't...then don't. Instead find joy in doing smaller things that don't involve so many feelings and memories.
Honour your Loved One - There are so many ways you can honour your loved one and make them a part of the season they are missing. Light a candle, put ornaments on the tree, make a donation in their name, make their favourite foods or if it was a child you lost early in their life (before they developed likes or even began to eat) make the foods you craved from the time when you were expecting them.
Go to the cemetary or a place that is symbolic for you...for us it's Cole's garden... and have a heart to heart with them. Share what is going on in your life, connect with them on a spiritual level.
Share memories, talk about your loved one. Since they can't be with you fill your life and others with stories of them...even for those who died before they were born. Share the stories of when you found out about their existence, share the kicks you felt.
Maybe there is a way you can be invovled in something that is honouring to them. Perhaps there is a charitable event that connects you to them somehow...do something to get involved with that event or organization. Doing what we do for Mt. Sinai has been so empowering and so joy filled for us.
Discover Small Joys - Sometimes it's the little things that can turn a day around... I found this online and thought it was good advice.. "As the holidays unfold, tune into small joyful moments. When you hear the laughter of children, focus on how good that feels. When you eat a piece of pie, really taste it. In the moment, it tastes so good -- and in that moment, you're outside your grief. Also, look for opportunities to laugh. When you're laughing, your brain produces endorphins to boost the immune system. Give yourself permission to find things that make you laugh".
It takes time and set backs happen all the time. Forgive yourself when they do and don't feel guilty when you find yourself feeling joy. Our loved ones would never have wanted us to not enjoy the times without them. Most of all, be gentle on yourself and remember you only human...a grieving human.