Right before Thanksgiving a local radio station plays their rotating round of Christmas songs (nothing for Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or Kwanzaa, mind you, since it is a commercial station) and I cringe. Not because I don’t love the dazzle of decorations, the warmth of gathering with family and friends, the lyrics of love for God, or the delight of remembering the theme of all of the winter holidays, which is about calling in the light.
It is, in part, because like many, I have lost loved ones this time of year. Coming up on 17 years is the anniversary of my husband’s death on December 21st. I had spent the five weeks prior to that event, living in the ICU with him. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah were acknowledged in that room that had become a healing haven for all who entered and I am convinced that the music and decorations helped him to pass more peacefully. His death occurred on the Winter Solstice, on the day when the light was returning. His funeral was on Christmas Eve. For the next several years, I had a visceral experience, with sense memory as if it was occurring all over again. Many I have counseled over the years as a bereavement specialist, have reported that same paradigm.
Five years ago, my mother made her transition the day after Thanksgiving which was November 26th back then. This year, it was on the holiday itself. I spent it with my son, his girlfriend and her family, as well as three members of those I think of as family of choice. My parents and my husband were definitely ‘present’ in Spirit. They would have loved Lauren since she is a great match for their grandson and our son and the two of them are happy together. Still, there was a wistfulness.
My calendar is filled with all kinds of celebratory gatherings, one in my own home this weekend and several in the community and with family and friends. And yet….a bit of emptiness exists. I know I am blessed. I know I am connected to the people around me. I know that there are those who have no one with whom they feel that precious link. I know that there are others who have lost loved ones in more sudden and horrific ways than I did. Michael had been ill for six years and my parents were elderly and their bodies were no longer able to sustain life. And still, my pain is unique to me.
Ways To Move Through the Holidays When Facing Loss
- Create new rituals that may differ from those you did with loved ones.
- OR, if it pleases you, do some of the same things.
- Volunteer in the community, since being of service can be healing for the heart.
- Listen to music that brings back pleasant childhood memories.
- If prayer helps, have a conversation with the God of your understanding.
- Attend services from your own tradition or others.
- Write a letter to lost loved ones, telling them how you feel about them and their passing.
- Make food and take it someone else who might be lonely.
- Go to a nursing home and visit residents who may have no one to see them.
- Acknowledge your pain. Cry, rage, stomp around, pound a pillow.
- Ask for support. Let yourself be nurtured and held through it.
- Know that with each year, the experience changes. It may feel like riding a roller coaster. Some years, I wanted to curl up in bed until Spring and others I was joy filled to overflowing. Hard to know what to expect, so fasten your seatbelt!
What Not To Do
- Don’t isolate.
- Don’t turn to substances or overeating to self medicate away the pain.
- Don’t allow your emotions to lead you to self harm.
Some alternative holiday tunes for your listening pleasure that blend various celebrations:
Christians and Pagans by Dar Williams
Hare Krishna Christmas by Robin Renee
Christmas in the Ashram by Chris Rosser
Candle photo available from Shutterstock