Coping with holiday loss
On these gray winter mornings, I like to walk around Green Lake and watch the sun rise. This time of year, I think about my mom’s brief illness and death four years ago, which quickly followed Christmas. It was both a sad and sweet time. I was able to help take care of her and comfort her during her final weeks. On my early morning walks I find myself recalling those last mornings, watching the sun rise from her Florida terrace, listening to the sounds of tropical birds, wondering if each day would be her last. I think about her often.
I miss her terribly.
While the holiday period, from Thanksgiving through Christmas, can be filled with strong family ties and holiday traditions, it’s also a time when families reflect on those that have passed away. This is especially true as we get older and loss becomes more common.
I think that it is particularly hard for families when this is their first holiday without their loved one or if a family member passed away recently.
Loss is part of life. And, for a variety of reasons, many of our relatives come to the natural end of their lives around the holidays. Studies show that there is a 4% increase of mortality within two weeks of Christmas and the New Year.
Like most families, we gathered around the holidays. So, it’s not surprising that I think about my parents and in-laws that have passed on. It’s sobering for me when I realize that I have become the older generation! I was fortunate that my parents lived into their late 80’s and early 90’s. Not everyone is so lucky.
How can we handle these inevitable feelings of loss during this festive time of the year?
Honor your feelings.
While I feel sad when I think about my parents and relatives that have passed away, I also like to remember them. I like to reflect on many of the happy moments we shared. These memories are sweet. I like to reminisce with my wife about our parents. Yes, it does sharpen the pain of loss—but these memories are part of who I am.
Express your emotions.
Don’t keep your feelings inside! Share them with friends and family. Writing your thoughts and feelings down can be helpful too. It’s important not to keep them to yourself.
Share your stories.
By acknowledging our loss, remembering our loved ones, and sharing holiday memories when we gather, we can be more fully be present in the moment. By acknowledging yesterday, we can enjoy today more completely. This helps us make new memories with those that are still with us.
Take care of yourself.
It’s good to lick your wounds, just like our four-legged friends. When I’m feeling sad during this season, I like to walk outside, and experience our beautiful environment (even in the rain!). My emotions ebb and flow on these walks and I always feel better when I’m done. For some just taking quiet moments with a cup of tea brings comfort.
Give yourself the gift of self-care.
It’s a present you will surely appreciate.