It’s the holiday season and things are feeling less magical this year. Things don’t feel the same. How could they? After loss, the absence of traditions becomes apparent. Maybe it’s the sadness that overcomes you as you bake the pumpkin pie, something you always did with your child. Maybe it’s the silence that fills the room as you look at your partner and wonder if you should hang their stocking or not. If there is one thing, we know to be true about grief is that it is always with you, always a part of you, growing deeper at times… like the holidays.
Here’s what’s real: I’m not going to sugar coat it for a moment – Life after the loss of a child is … excruciating. It feels nearly impossible. However, it is survivable. It is possible to love and honor your darling one, while moving forward.
Here are a few tips for navigating the holidays:
Holidays come with expectations and traditions. Maybe your family has always opened presents at Grandma’s house on Christmas morning. After loss… things change. It may or may not feel right to continue the tradition. It’s okay if you and your partner aren’t even sure right now if you can participate in some traditions.. You are allowed to sit in the unknown or even change your mind. It is common not to know what you need 5 days or even 5 minutes from now. Grief works that way sometimes.
Here’s what that setting that boundary could look like:
“Hey Mom, I know we have always opened presents at your house on Christmas morning. This year it feels too painful for Sara and me to attend. I imagine you are disappointed and that’s okay.”
Integration of Traditions
You and your partner may decide that you can best honor your child and the rest of your family by integrating your traditions. Although it may not be the same, your child can absolutely be included in the family fun! This may look like going to the ice-skating rink because it was your child’s favorite holiday activity. If you have other children, odds are they are missing their sibling too. It may be helpful to get them involved. Maybe you pick out toys that your child loved, as a family, and donate them to another child in need.
Maybe it is just too painful to carry on with the same traditions. That’s okay, that is allowed. For some couples who have experienced loss, it can feel more authentic, more freeing to move forward with new traditions. Thanksgiving filled with pie and turkey? No thanks, I’ll take a movie day filled with buttery popcorn instead. The point being: whatever feels right to you and your partner is right.
Holiday season will never be the same. Heck, it can’t be! The common saying holds true, “We don’t move on from grief, we move forward with grief.” The same can be true with love. We don’t move on from love, we move forward with love. The love you carry for your child shines brighter than any holiday light. The best way to honor your child is to do what is best for you, your partner, and your family. Your child is with you and a part of you, whether you choose to integrate your traditions this holiday season or forgo them all together.
Do what is right for you and your family.
Written By Gracie Epping, LPC Associate