As a grieving parent, the winter Holiday Season can feel like a minefield of grief triggers that you have to navigate surrounded by people who don’t necessarily understand, even if they mean well. But how do you grieve and survive this family-oriented time of year when you are missing your child who has died?
Incorporate Your Child into the Festivities
Many families incorporate their child who has died into the Holidays in many different ways. Each family has its own traditions, and sometimes they choose to create a new one to honour their child who has passed. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Light a special candle at a family gathering.
- Share stories about your child who has passed.
- Purchase toys and donate them in your child’s name.
- Purchase or create a special ornament for the Christmas tree, if you have one.
- Decorate a tree just for your child.
- Put up their stocking anyway and fill it with their favourite things, then share its contents with friends, family or a local charity.
Self-care, Self-care, Self-care
Be gentle with yourself and do only those things that take care of your soul and your loss. Try not to place expectations on yourself or try to live up to others’ expectations when you just don’t have it in you. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Give yourself time and space to be in your grief throughout the Holidays.
Speak Your Truth
Let people know where you are at with your grief and tell them what you need. This includes admitting that you don’t know what you need. Do your best to share and not keep your feelings bottled up.
Allow others to help. If you’re the one who usually hosts a festive dinner, perhaps this year someone else can have the honour and you can be a guest – guilt free – as you are taking care of yourself and your loss.
It’s Okay to Say No
Do not be afraid to say, “Thank you for the invitation, but I/we will pass this year.” Feeling obligated to show up is tough. When your family has always celebrated together, this can be particularly hard. If it feels right for you to not participate, then say no.
Have a Plan
Some people find it helpful to continue and do the same holiday rituals and gatherings they usually do. They want to be a part of the festivities. In this case, it may be a good idea to have a plan B, and even C because it’s tough to know how you’ll be feeling on the actual day. Keep it flexible and feel free to abandon it, if you’re doing alright. A plan could be as simple as letting the host know you may cancel last minute and choose to do something at home instead. Sometimes just having a plan B helps, you don’t even have to follow through with it.
Have an Escape Route or Quiet Space
Large, festive gatherings can be draining and highly emotional without grief tacked on, so ensure you have a way out. Let the host know ahead of time that you plan to attend, but may need to leave early. Or you can make arrangements to have access to a quiet space to retreat to if needed.
Don’t Celebrate the Holiday
Yes, you can choose to not celebrate and it is totally okay. Take this year off. Celebrate next year. Some people even find it helpful to leave town and travel during the holidays just to make it a different experience from previous years.
Whatever you choose to do, or not do, this Holiday Season, will be the right thing. Grief is very personal; there is no “right” way to do it. Honour yourself and your love for your child that has died as best you can.
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