Christmas has always been a time for family. But when you feel like a part of your family is missing, it can be a particularly difficult time of year. Although it has been thirteen years now, I vividly remember our first Christmas after Bret died. He was born with angel wings in August 1995, but his original due date was November 30. Therefore, we had planned on having a new baby with whom to celebrate Christmas with that year. That Christmas, I worried that my emptiness would swallow me.
In the past, I relished our tradition of opening up a nice bottle of wine, cranking up the Christmas carols on the stereo, and helping our son put as many lights and ornaments on the tree as we could without toppling it over. That Christmas, we continued our tradition for our son's sake, but my heart just wasn't in it. Everything took on new meaning that year. Remembering that it was baby Jesus' birthday just reminded me of the baby I lost. The angel we always put on top of the tree gained new significance—I prayed an angel like that one would be watching over my baby. Shortly after Bret died, we were touched to find a teddy angel ornament that was dressed in blue. That Christmas, it was the last ornament we put on the tree, and many tears flowed that night as we ached for our baby boy to be with us. I dreaded Christmas day, not wanting to revisit my pain.
But like most other anxious experiences, the time leading up to the event was worse than the day itself. On Christmas morning, I began to find solace in the symbolism of the season, and I found a lot of comfort in our little blue teddy angel. I felt as though Bret was there with us. Losing Bret made me cherish my son and husband even more. It turned out to be one of the most meaningful Christmas seasons I had ever experienced.
The most important tip for handling the holidays after a major loss is to be gentle with yourself, and do what feels the most comfortable. Here are some other suggestions:
- Acknowledge that Christmas is coming. As much as you may want to avoid it, you can't.
- Try not to “float” into Christmas. Be deliberate in choosing what you would like to do.
- Avoid thinking about what you “should” do. You need to do what is right for you instead of feeling obligated. Decide to do what you can manage and let your friends and family know. There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to celebrate the holidays.
- Make Christmas a “season” rather than a day. Trying to do too much on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will put too much pressure on you.
- Don't take on too much. Decide on your priorities, including baking, decorating, sending greeting cards, or having a large family dinner. Are these things that really need to be done? If so, perhaps others can assist you.
- Set times for the things you really want to do. If you don't schedule it, it probably won't happen.
- If you plan to shop, create a list ahead of time so it is ready for when you feel up to it. Or you may consider catalogue shopping.
- Realize that Christmas won't be the same. Honor your feelings and don't pretend you are happy if you are not. The holidays may increase your feelings of sadness. It's okay. Share your feelings with your supportive family and friends.
- Try altering your Christmas traditions, and create new ones, if that feels comfortable. Or you can just change the schedule of your traditions. For example, if you are accustomed having a large dinner on Christmas Day, perhaps have it on another day instead.
- Honor your baby. For example, you may hang a special tree ornament, or burn a special candle in his/her memory. Another suggestion is hanging a stocking in which family members can put notes expressing their thoughts and feelings. You may also donate a gift to charity in memory of your baby, or the money that you would have spent purchasing gifts for your little one. Remembering is healing.
- Attend a special candlelight ceremony or church service. (A list of services is included in on our website at http://www.angelwhispers.ca/)
- Take care of yourself. Create a balance by making time for socializing and time alone. Get plenty of rest, because the holidays can be very draining. Exercise, eat well and take care of yourself spiritually.
- Remember that time and love from a relaxed you is the best gift for your family and friends.
- Having fun will not dishonor your baby. After all you have been through you deserve some happiness. Allow yourself and your family to take pleasure in the holidays. Wouldn't your baby want that?
And as hard as it may be, keep in mind that you will come to enjoy Christmas again in the future. May the meaning of Christmas be deeper, its friendships stronger, and its hopes brighter as it comes to you this year.*Reprinted with permission from the blog Angel Whispers of Hope http://angelwhispersofhope.blogspot.com/