We think of the Christmas holidays as a time of joy and celebration, a time of giving and receiving, and above all, a family time.
Unfortunately for lots of us, life intervenes and we find ourselves dealing with grief at the holidays. Many are entering the Christmas season with a keen awareness that one or more of their family will be missing, whether by death, divorce or circumstance.
In mid-December, 2008, my daughter Monique died, and earlier that year our son Colin died. In late 2006 my son Richard died. My wife and I are already discussing the gap Colin’s absence will leave in our Christmas.
Monique’s mother, my ex-wife, lost her husband two weeks before Monique died. I don’t have to speak with her to know that she is entering the Christmas season with a heightened awareness of her losses, as we are with ours.
So the question is this: is there a way to enjoy the holiday season while dealing with grief?
Back in my 30s I was separated from my young children for a few years. In the process of dulling the pain I became an alcoholic. Trying to be unconscious of the pain was dumb, and I paid a high price to realize it.
Years later two of our adult children were not getting along with each other and refused to come to our place for Christmas if the other one was going to be here. We made a conscious decision to try something quite different for us: we went away on holiday. We did that for three Christmases until the kids had sorted out their differences and become friends again. We missed the kids, so it wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was much better than remaining in the midst of conflict and hoping for a reality that wasn’t to be.
With our losses of the recent past, we are deliberately being quite conscious of the absences. We will have our own rituals for acknowledging and celebrating the lives of our children who have passed on. We may hang stockings. We certainly will talk as much as we want to about Monique, Colin, and Richard—how they enriched the lives of others, and what they taught us.
Christmas only has to be a dreaded time if you make it so. If you are dealing with loss this Christmas, make up your own rituals to acknowledge yourself and the one now absent. Drink less so you can remain more conscious of their absence and of your own presence. If possible, connect with others who know your loss, and without judgment can accept your need to acknowledge your loss. Avoid people who will make it their mission to cheer you up and make you forget.
Talk to your cat; pets get it.