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Friday, December 3, 2010

What about the holidays?

Oh, the holidays can be so trying, so exhausting and if you have a loved one who has died, they are so much more so.  For many of us, this is a time of celebration, rejoicing, and connecting with family and friends, regardless of your religious beliefs.  

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Bodhi Day, Shabe-Yalda, Long Night, Yule, or any number of Solstice celebrations, the month of December can be very hectic.  As you prepare for the festivities and rituals, you may find that your loved one's absence seems more profound.  It is as if you are dragging an emptiness with you.  

I remember surviving that first thanksgiving, only to be slapped with the fact that one of my favorite times of the year was fast approaching.  How was I ever going to do this?  I knew I wanted to put up the decorations, send out the greeting cards, and give presents, I just didn't know if I would have the energy.  It seems that those first few days into the Advent season, just caused me anxiety and stress.  

I wondered how putting up the Christmas tree would effect me.  How would I sign the Christmas and greeting cards?  What would I do with Rachel's stocking?  All these thoughts just plagued me in those first few days.  Just like today, as I wondered what to discuss, I felt I was in a state of flux.  I could feel the sadness, I feel today, knowing that yet again Rachel will not be physically with us to celebrate the holidays.  

Of course, that first Christmas season was very difficult, but the funny thing was that the second year was so much harder for me.  I guess I was still numb during those first holidays, she had died in September, so it was still early for me, I was still very much in a state of shock, of sorts.  The second year there were no buffers, no shock, it was reality.  This was no longer a dream, Rachel was really gone, and there was no way around this fact.  But yet I managed to survive the holidays, yet again, and have done so ever since.

One of the things that helped me in those first few days into the season, was my journaling.  The simple act of writing what I was feeling, helped me unburden some of the things I could not voice.  It freed my mind, giving me a place where I could release my thoughts, feelings and emotions without criticism or concern of having my words seem hurtful to others or having them pass judgement.  It was great.  

I chose to decorate and continue with many of the traditions our family have always participated in.  I knew in my heart that Rachel would not have wanted it any other way.  She loved the holidays, they were so very important to her, what she believed in and just the joy of being with family and friends, meant so much to her.  From early childhood, Rachel reveled in the Christmas season, she would brighten up like a Christmas tree when anyone would give her a present.  Just the joy of opening a package was enough, it almost didn't matter what was inside, it was the excitement of it all that made her happy.  And this enthusiasm was contagious to say the least.  

Yet, in my own family, I have had relatives who chose not to put up decorations after a family member had died.  When my grandmother Rose died, my parents decorated, but some of my aunts and uncles didn't.  My parents' reasoning was that first it was her birthday on December 25th, and second she loved the holidays, what better tribute.  For some of my aunts and uncles, they believed that by not decorating, they were also honoring her memory.  Was one more correct in their thinking than the other, no!  We all have to respect each others way of coping and dealing with grief and the holidays.

It's been said before, each one of us has to do what feels right to us.  Only YOU know what will or will not work, what feels okay, what you are comfortable with, after all only you know the pain you are in.  What I believe in and what I believe Rachel would want for us, may not be your belief or understanding.  A lot also has to do with how you and your family perceived the holiday season.  What it represented to you and your family?  We all have our own experiences of what this time of year means to us, and how we remember.  Were they fond memories, or were they not so good?  That too will have an impact on your approach to any of the celebrations and the holiday season.  

When our loved one died, also impacts the first holidays.  I remember the year my grandfather died, it was December 19th, we already had the decorations up, and after his death they stayed in place throughout the remainder of the season.  Yet my mom's brother and one of her sisters, took everything down.  It was a sad Christmas for all of us, but for me keeping up or taking down the decorations really made no difference as to the way I was feeling.   It was my grandfather that I missed, and nothing changed the fact that he had died.  

It was these earlier experiences with the death of a loved one that clued me into the fact the life continues, even if we step off the ride.  Everyone and everything keeps on moving as if nothing has happened.  We are the only ones aware that something is missing.  So far as the world is concerned it is just 'another day in the neighborhood,' and unless they know you, are not even aware that something has changed or that someone is missing from your life. 

You will make it through the celebrations, rituals and gatherings.  Yes, you will hurt, you will cry, and you will be missing your loved one, it is only natural.  How you choose to celebrate the holidays is of course entirely up to you and what you are comfortable with and capable of handling.  The most important thing to remember, is that, even though your loved one has died, and can no longer be with you physically, they are always with us.  You also have the memories of all the holidays before, so take out those pictures, hold onto that favorite ornament, and just allow them to be present, feel them all around you.  

Remember our loved ones may no longer be with us, but the love never dies.

Wishing you all a happy holiday season.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

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