The local stores have been reminding us for weeks already that the holiday season is upon us. It is now November – the month we give thanks. However, for families who have experienced the death of a child, it can be almost impossible to find reasons to be thankful. This is especially true for families who have suffered a loss in the last year.
Families who have endured infertility would love to see a Christmas morning through the eyes of a child. Families of stillborn children wish they were giving thanks for the healthy arrival of their baby. Families who have lost older children identify the contrast between the holidays last year and this year. The scenarios are endless, but they are all painful and heartbreaking.
The “stages of grief” often refer to emotions such as denial, shock, anger, guilt, etc. None of these emotions lend themselves to thankfulness.
How are families supposed to deal with their loss while the rest of the world appears to be absorbed in joy?
Just as grief is different for every person, our needs during the holiday season will be different as well. We may want to stay busy or do nothing. We may want to surround ourselves with family and friends or spend time alone. We might find comfort in familiar activities, or they may be too painful. Even more, what sounds like a good idea initially may become too difficult. There is no way to predict or prepare. All we can do is the best we can.
If you know someone who is grieving this holiday season, be there for them by understanding and supporting their needs during this challenging time. Avoid platitudes or clichés that are intended to be helpful, but, instead, put pressure on the grief process. Acknowledge their emotions and be willing to change plans if needed.
If you are grieving, the holidays will not be what you had hoped or expected. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to do what feels best to you in the moment. There is not a manual or map for the grief journey, so take the path that comforts you, respects your grief, and honors your loved one. Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Most of us are surrounded by people who are willing and eager to help if we identify what they can do. It may be big or small, but if it makes your day a little easier or puts a smile on your face for a few seconds, it’s a gift.
This holiday season, I wish you all comfort, gentle days, and the love of friends and family.
And most of all, you were sure it would be impossible for you to function as a whole human being not buffeted by the waves of sorrow that swept over you in the early days of your tragedy. But you will. You will do all that and you will do more. ~ Harriet Schiff