One of the hardest things about Thanksgiving Day, and then of course the Christmas holidays, is dealing with loss and grief. It's just difficult to be in the holiday season when you are still dealing with sadness over the death of a loved one, loss of a marriage or other changes in life that take us away from our traditions and ties to the past. But there are ways to make the holidays bearable and even pleasant. Here are some things that have worked for me in the past.
1. Grieve. Take the time to be sad, angry, quiet or talkative about the lost loved one. I really think we do grief badly in this country. It's almost as if the day after the funeral, life should be back to normal, but for someone who has lost a dear friend or a loved one, that "normal" life is over and it takes time to find out what the new normal is.
Photo by Juliett- Foxtrott
2. The same will be true for families after a divorce, or a serious illness, or for family with loved ones not able to be with them for the holidays. It's okay to be sad about that and to miss the familiar.
3. It sounds like a cliche but it's true - time really does take the sting of pain away. Not that it's ever gone all the way, but the intense, breath sucking sadness does fade with time - take hope in that. I also think it is important to deal with the pain in some way before the holidays. I love that Thanksgiving is in November - the month that Catholics particularly remember our beloved dead. I have found that so cathartic and a good way to prepare for the holidays without their physical presence. Now that I have spent weeks focusing on their memories, I am prepared to give thanks for what their lives meant to mine.
4. Make new traditions that include your deceased loved one if that helps. We have visited my baby's grave site every Christmas Eve since the year he died. We put little tea lights out, sprinkle the grave with glitter and sing Silent Night. It has become our ritual. Last year we included my mom's grave too. And apparently we aren't alone. The cemetery can be a beautiful place at Christmas time with wreaths and decorations. I found a lot of comfort and even cheer in seeing that. A new tradition I want to start this Thanksgiving is to bring the basket with holy cards to dinner so that we can remember to pray for those lives as a part of our grace before the meal.
5. If it's too painful to do the same things during the holidays that you did with the deceased, then do something new! Change the menu up, or go and see a different Thanksgiving or Christmas program or participate in a different Christmas activity. Change can be good too.
6. Downplay the holidays. Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a big home cooked spread. It could mean helping out at the homeless shelter, delivering meals to shut ins or walking/running for a charity. It could also be attending mass or a religious service followed by a simple meal. If Christmas is too painful - you can downplay that too!. There are other meaningful days during the winter months for Catholics - like Epiphany or Feast of the Holy family. Find the ways of honoring our Lord and celebrating his incarnation that aren't as loaded with sad reminders. Immerse yourself in the season of Advent! If you used to go to Midnight mass, try a mass on Christmas Day, or even visit a different church. Let the beauty of the season fill your senses without triggering some of the sadness that comes with holiday associations.
7. As children get older and independent, and significant others become part of their lives, dinner and holidays with mom and dad isn't what it used to be! Mr. Pete has a great solution for that (sometimes his simple wisdom floors me!) His solution is that we plan Thanksgiving and Christmas for what works best for us and everyone is invited. Whoever shows up... great!! and if you can't make it that's fine too! And if you want to show up and TAKE US somewhere - even better!! I think especially as parents to four sons who will have girlfriends attached to their own families, this is the best approach. It gives the adult children freedom without guilt and it keeps our hurt feelings (OK, my hurt feelings) to a minimum. We have some mid-summer family feasts that don't coincide with anyone else's idea of a holiday and hopefully they will all make an effort to attend those.
8. Sometimes less is more. That goes with celebrating Christmas and New years too! Give yourself permission to skip the Christmas cards, or forget the sugar cookies this year. Steak tastes good at Thanksgiving too! It's okay and people will understand.