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Coping Through The Holidays

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    Coping Through The Holidays

    Help! Here Come the Holidays!

    The holiday season is upon us ~ it’s everywhere we turn.

    For some, this season is filled with merriment and anticipation.

    But for grieving parents, this season brings a dreading of the inescapable reminders that their children are not here to celebrate any of the festivities.

    Because the holiday season focuses primarily on family gatherings and connections with loved ones, the absence of our children is magnified more at this time of the year. While others are embracing their children, we are holding onto our memories of past holidays spent with our children and realizing that we cannot create new ones with them.

    Preparing special meals, decorating, shopping for gifts, sending cards, and joining in holiday activities with family and friends are unappealing to us, because we can no longer do these things with and for our children.

    Those in our close circle may not understand our sadness and our lethargy during the holidays. They are moving on with their lives and may find it difficult to relate to why we are not behaving as we did, before our children died. Holidays bring expectations.

    Holiday events plop us into uncomfortable situations. Strangers ask us how many children we have. Family and friends struggle to avoid the elephant in the room, or they encourage us to “get over” our loss and “move on” with our lives.

    Most grieving parents agree that the holidays are enormously stressful, and their conclusion is a welcome relief. Many would be grateful, if the entire season could be erased from the calendar.

    Of course, complete obliteration of the holiday season is not an alternative. Therefore, we need to focus on ways to cope throughout the holidays. More than this, we need to identify ways to give the holidays meaning for us, so that we can find peace during this stressful time.


    Reaching out to other grieving parents gives us strength to decorate and follow through on holiday activities. Sharing with others, who understand the inordinate stress of this time, is excellent therapy.

    Grieving parents have developed an assortment of ways to cope through the holidays. Some suggestions are listed below.

    Incorporate your child in holiday activities/events/festivities

    --Set a place at the holiday table for your child, with your child’s picture on, above, or next to the place setting; light a candle next to the picture.

    --Cook your child’s favorite meals, desserts, and snacks for the holiday gathering or just throughout the season.

    --Make or buy your child gifts ~ for your child’s gravesite, memorial garden, or sacred space in your home, such as flowers, statues, figurines, and candles.

    --Make or buy your child an ornament for the tree every year; write the date on the ornament.

    --Give gifts to others from your child ~ a gift, which represents your child to that person, or which you think your child would want to give to that person. Copy a poem or picture your child created and put it in a frame to give to others. This could help remove that elephant in the room.

    --Contribute money, clothing, toys, or your time to charitable organizations in your child’s memory.

    --Include your child’s name on holiday greeting cards ~ if you feel more comfortable, precede your child’s name with a word or phrase, such as “Angel,” “Our Dear Son,” “My Beloved Daughter,” “Forever in Our Hearts.”

    --Talk about your child and remember your child with others. If your child is not mentioned by others, don’t allow that to prevent you from mentioning your child’s name.

    --Let others know that it is painful to miss your child during the holidays, and thank them for their patience and understanding, even if they are not providing that to you.

    --Create new traditions ~ set aside a special time with family to share thoughts and memories of your child and light candles for your child or decorate the tree with ornaments for your child.

    --Find a small tree, decorate it with photos of your child, and items which relate to your child, such as jewelry, toys, or ornaments.

    --Plant or donate a tree for planting in your child’s memory.

    --Buy potted plants to plant in your garden after the holidays.

    --Volunteer at a mission or shelter to feed homeless persons during the holiday season in your child’s memory.

    If You Can’t Cope

    If you can’t cope with the holidays, don’t force it.

    A crowded party might be more than you can handle, so decline the invitation gracefully. Don’t put yourself through torture out of obligation to others. You won’t be good company anyway, so you might as well stay home.

    In cases where you simply must attend, try to make your attendance as brief as politely possible.

    Don’t feel guilty about not attending or leaving early. You are grieving for your child, and the holidays are an enormously stressful time for grieving parents. Others, who have not lost a child, may not understand your stress level, but a simple explanation of, “I’m just not up to it,” should suffice.

    Downsize the holiday events ~ commit to fewer activities, invite fewer people to your gatherings, reduce your shopping, give gift certificates, try to do less cleaning, cooking, and any other energy-draining activity.

    Double your recipes so that you can freeze leftovers, then you will have nourishing meals when you are too tired to cook.

    Sometimes a change of scenery is helpful. If you need a few days away from all of the hustle and bustle, give yourself that gift.

    Take Care of Yourself

    To the greatest extent possible, try to be in charge of decisions related to the holidays ~ what events you will and will not attend, how much you will and will not do in terms of shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, and other pressure-filled responsibilities of the season.

    When you set the parameters, it is easier to recognize when you have extended them, and you have guidelines to help you to rein it in, if things spin out of control.

    Naturally, this is the season of thinking of others, but try not to lose yourself in the process.

    Take a deep breath every so often. Take off your shoes, put your feet up, snuggle under a cozy blanket, and take care of yourself. That is the best gift you can give to you and to those, who love you.

    It’s flu and cold season, and your immune system is compromised by your grief, which makes you vulnerable to every germ in your proximity. Keep up with your daily vitamin supplement, your intake of water during the day, and try to get plenty of rest.

    Remember throughout it all that the holidays will soon be over, and you will have another year before you will have to endure them again. But, if you implement ways to cope this season, next year will be much easier for you.

    Blessings to all for Peaceful Holidays

    Love & Light,


    (This is a chapter excerpted from a book, which I'm writing for grieving parents. Please do not reproduce or republish. Thank you.)
    Mom to Jon, 49, & Michael, 32, born with an undiagnosed progressive neuromuscular disease. Angel Michael received his wings in 2003. Angel Jon received his wings in 2019. In 2020, Jim, their Dad, joined them.