The holiday season is not an easy time when you’ve lost a child. It’s a time of year when you get together to celebrate family. And lots of things happen that accentuate that loss. You see people that you don’t normally see all year such as grandparents, aunts and uncles. You take time off work so you have more down time and time out of your daily routine to think about that loss. It’s also particularly time for celebration of children with gift giving and sweets!
In my world, it’s even more meaningful and charged with emotion because my daughter Elizabeth’s death anniversary is November 18th so it leads off the holiday season with a bang! For me it has been six years now. Our new holiday traditions are evolving, and everybody’s new holiday journeys will be their own for sure. Also, I am not an expert and by no means am I trying to offer clinical advice. Although, in my law practice I have had the opportunity to speak with many families who have been through a loss like mine. It’s not an experience you want to share, but it is also comforting to not be alone, especially this time of year.
Here are 4 ways to remember and celebrate your child during the holidays:
1. Telling Stories of Remembrance
This is my favorite and best advice. I love love love telling stories of “remember when Elizabeth laughed so hard that the sweet potatoes came flying out of her mouth and then the dog ate them off the floor!?” Ha,Ha! Pulling out videos and photo albums can help with the memories. Some family members and friends may not have known your child that well, or at all, so this will help them enormously in both supporting you and sharing in your joys and sorrows. I love the idea that it keeps Elizabeth’s memory alive because I am always afraid of the idea that people are going to forget her and the world is going to move on without her.
2. A Celebration Meal That Includes Your Child’s Favorite Food Items
In our family, I still serve some of Elizabeth’s favorite things on certain holidays: Christmas breakfast has pancakes, and Easter will definitely have a ham. For many families, food is part of the tradition and food is love! It definitely is for us.
It also includes eating popcorn, pizza potato chips and onion dip while watching our favorite holiday movies: Christmas Vacation, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
3. Hanging Decorations That Your Child Made
Thank you so much to every teacher, aide and nurse who helped Elizabeth make every Christmas ornament, Mother’s Day Card and Thanksgiving Poem. I pull them out and go through them. Then I hang them throughout the house to have her close to me during the Holidays.
4. Doing For Others
During this time of sorrow – and it is always a time of sorrow for me – it really helps me to give to others. It’s a fact that getting up out of our own misery to help others can be just what we need to beat the holiday blues. Sign up to serve a holiday meal, deliver presents or warm clothes at your church or temple, or sing holiday songs at a local nursing home. Find some way to give back to your local community.
5. Self-Care is Very Important Too
Please be sure to take time for yourself as well. You may need time to be sad and grieve on your own. Be sure to seek counsel if that is in your self-care routine, get lots of sleep, exercise and eat well. The holidays can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Grief can be tricky and sneaks up on you!
Practice the art of saying no. Let someone else cook dinner for 20 people! It can be very stressful to do all that work, and as mentioned previously, seeing people that you haven’t seen all year who are naturally going to want to ask you about how you are doing. I used to get anxious for weeks before the holidays about what people were going to say or ask. And then I would be sleepless for days cooking and cleaning to get ready for the day.
It was a recipe for disaster! I was tired and sad and on edge. And of course, I would end up either being completely sad and withdrawn or blowing up at people. Not good!
This year, what is working for me is a change of scenery. My husband and I have decided to take the new puppy up to the mountains for a holiday getaway hiking extravaganza. I hope you find your way to both old and new traditions that work for you and your family. Many Blessings!
Annette Hines, Esq. is the author of Butterflies and Second Chances: A Mom’s Memoir of Love and Loss. She is a powerhouse advocate for the special needs community. Not only has she founded the Special Needs Law Group of Massachusetts, PC, specializing in special needs estate panning, where special needs families compromise 80 percent of the firm’s clients, Hines brings personal experience with special needs to her practice, as the mother of two daughters, one of whom passed away from Mitochondrial disease in November 2013. This deep understanding of special needs fuels her passion for quality special needs planning and drives her dedication to the practice. For more information, please visit, https://specialneedscompanies.com/ and connect with her on Facebook, @SpecialNeedsLawGroup and listen to her podcast, Parenting Impossible – The Special Needs Survival Podcast.