by Victoria Shea
(December 2018, Plain Press) Sitting at my desk the other day, I was staring at a blank word document, trying to decide what to write for this issue of the Plain Press. For several days now, I faced my worst enemy-writers block. It was my own fault, as in the last few months during this fall semester, I have been incredible hard on myself to the point that I had literally driven myself into the writer’s block when my eye caught the corner of a trade journal off to the side of my computer. Picking it up, the words Holiday Grief Guide for Familiescaught my eye and forced me to read the short article on the topic, which caused me to begin to reflect on how after the loss of a loved one, the holidays can take on a completely different meaning.
For many, it is natural during the holiday season to, at some point, gather together as a family. Whether that be for dinner on Thanksgiving to opening presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. Nearly every family has some sort of tradition. Something they do every year that holds meaning to them.
Yet, when a loved one passes away, their death can change those traditions.
In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” With the passing of a loved one, especially during the first Christmas holiday without them, that fear can be very real and very scary. I can remember eleven years ago when my grandfather was dying of going to my grandparent’s house for Christmas Eve which has become the normal tradition for my family. But instead of it being a happy celebration, I can remember it being very solemn. The grandkids were expected to be quieter than usual and forget the elephant in the room of my grandfather’s impending passing. He would pass away the night before News Year Eve. The next year, I remember there being a sense of uncertainty in the air. As it was our first Christmas without him, how were we still the same? How were we different?
For several Christmases after, my siblings and I would write “grandpa” in our Christmas cards that grandma gave us, because for all those years they had always being since “Love grandma and grandpa.” My grandmother continued the tradition of having her children and grandchildren come over on Christmas Eve, and we would share the stories of my grandfather. It helped to keep him alive.
In 2015, when my other grandfather passed, new traditions were formed. Instead of my grandmother waking up alone on Christmas morning, she now wakes up in the guest room of my house where she spends Christmas day with me and our family.
Change, although always new and fearful, can be good.
So where is the hope for a family whose is about to experience their first holiday season without their loved one? According to the article in the trade journal, “Grief can’t easily be defined or categorize, and with holiday grief, no one person will react the same. When the holiday season-traditionally a time of togetherness and family-comes this year, the grief, the grief they already feel can become unimaginably more difficult.”
That hope, at least according to Doctor Alan D. Wolfelt, a noted author, educator and practicing clinical thanatologist, is love. “Love does not end with death,” he writes in his brochureHelping yourself heal during the holiday season. “As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love.”
So, in this holiday season, be good to each other. Be open to change. Don’t be afraid of the emotions you will experience. It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to laugh. Share the memories. Share the love. Redefine who you now are verse who you once were. But most importantly, remember, celebrate and believe that happiness will one day return to your holiday celebrations. Your pain will lessen and when it does, you will be stronger than you ever imagined. Happy Holidays!