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Dealing with grief around the holidays
The feelings that we experience when a loved one dies are never easy to deal with, but they can be even more difficult during the significant dates in your life and the holidays. Celebrant Roslyn McFarlane walks us through dealing with grief at this time of the year...
Holidays are traditionally the happy times we spend with our loved ones to celebrate those special occasions, but when we have lost someone special, the sadness and loneliness may increase or we may feel as if we are being disloyal by being happy and celebrating when we are in mourning.
You have the right to cancel plans or do things differently. There is no right or wrong way to handle holiday grief. There will be things that you are OK with and not others. If at all possible do try to attend the functions but if you really cannot deal with it this year, be kind to yourself and do something that will enable you to grieve alone but in a positive way; go for a walk, read book, watch a movie or listen to music that you both enjoyed, . You might work in your garden and plant a tree in memory of your loved one, or create a peaceful memorial space where you can go for quiet reflection whenever you need to.
It is very natural to feel you may never enjoy this time of year again because they will certainly never be the same as before your loved one’s death. In time most people are able to participate in the usual family celebrations.
There are ways that you can incorporate your loved on in your regular Religious, New Year or Birthday activities.
A perpetual wreath or floral arrangement can be made by one person or together with others who are mourning. Each person brings an artificial flower or two and the arrangement is made. It can stay at one home or travel between homes as each family event occurs during the year/s. Small children like to be a part of this activity by helping to make the wreath or by carrying it and putting it in a place of honour at each family gathering.
The life can be honoured by making a charitable donation in their memory, by volunteering, buying a gift for someone in need or inviting a lonely person to share the day with you and your family.
Some people are comfortable setting a place at the table and raising a toast, while others have a memorial table, candles or photos of the loved one in the room.
When the Christmas tree is set up, individual memory baubles with the loved ones name can be placed in clear view or if the deceased is a child a beautiful angel can adorn the top of the tree. The placement of these ornaments can be a family ritual that is carried on for years and even into the next generation.
Choosing a few special items that belonged to your loved one and gifting them to friends or family who will appreciate them will help keep their memory alive.
If the loved one enjoyed sport or the outdoors an annual family cricket or football match or beach picnic can be a time to remember the happy times. It can be a time to reflect and share food, music and activities that are associated with the deceased and to recount all the shared and happy memories.
For birthdays and anniversaries, continuing the past practices can be a beautiful way of keeping their memory alive with family members. A dinner at a favourite restaurant, serving their favourite meal, watching a movie you all enjoyed together
Do not overlook the children. Young children do not fully understand the concept of death and they will grieve but it may be in a way that is unexpected.
You can help children through this time by helping them to create a memorial space or other activity together where the person who has died is spoken about, remembered and memorialised. For example you and the child could plant some flowers, draw a picture or take flowers to your place of worship on special days, or the child may like to make something that they can keep as a lasting memory.
Traditions and rituals are a big part of holidays. This can be the time to create new ones in memory of your loved ones. In my family we honour my late parents once a year when the whole family meets at Mum and Dad’s favourite fishing spot for a picnic on their wedding anniversary.
As time passes and the pain subsides, it will become easier to enjoy the holiday times again.