The Thanksgiving holiday is in the past, and Christmas is closer with every day.
This holiday season brings joy to us. It also brings memories of loved ones no longer with us. With that comes a flurry of emotions – different for each person who has lost a loved one.
I know I’ve used this picture in previous posts. It is my first complete Christmas memory. My Dad has turned 40 that year. Mom was 33. I had turned 4 that year, and the dog behind me was still a puppy – maybe about 7 months old. This picture helps me cope during any holiday event.
What does this have to do with coping with loss over the holidays? Simply this: It’s one of the happiest memories of my childhood. There are times during the holiday season I have to stop and look at this picture to remember that.
No childhood is perfect. The memories are not all pleasant. My long term illness stressed Mom and Dad to the max, I’m sure. No matter what, they were always there for over fifty years of my life.
The first Holiday without Mom
Mom passed away in November, 1996, beginning the internal conflict over Holiday events. My Dad held in his emotions inside. The only indication of his feelings was his insistence we have the usual decorations for Christmas after refusing a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
This was the real start – where I began to learn how to cope with grief and loss. Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as I struggled to control my emotions over “my” loss and focus on helping my father copy with his propensity to hold in all emotion, I remembered a book I’d read a few years before. I’d even participated in a web chat with the author on CompuServe in ’93 or ’94.
The book is “Many Lives, Many Masters” by Dr. Brian Weiss, a Psychiatrist. His experiences, detailed in this book and it’s sequel, strengthened my ability to understand and come to grips with my emotions. See his website here. With understanding, even a little understanding, comes peace.
Don’t get me wrong, peace isn’t instantaneous. And even though I found myself skeptical at first, what Dr. Weiss documents is real from his own clinical files. The more I read, the more I found myself able to overcome the negative emotions from my Mother’s death.
Holidays after Dad Passed
Fast forward to the Holiday after the passing of my father in September, 2002. After his long illness, grief was not the top of my list. Initially, I felt more guilt. I’m told that’s natural. No matter. It hurts. The first holiday after his death left me with little joy.
Being with my family for Christmas day brought its own additions to the pain I carried after Dad’s death from cancer. My grandson made my day by talking about how much he loved his great-grandfather, and the fun they’d had talking about cars and planes. However, another member of the family had other words quietly for me, just adding to the feeling I’d not done enough for him.
That continued for several years. I pushed my way through the holidays. Yet something happened for me in 2006 after the death of another family member in August. I pulled out “Many Lives, Many Masters” again. Then, with an almost unbearable thirst for more, I pulled up Dr. Weiss’s website and found he’s written more books. In them, I found healing.
I’m not saying these books were my only help. I spent many hours in prayer and meditation. After reading Dr. Weiss’s books I found prayer more fulfilling, and the guilt lessening. I had done everything within my abilities and resources. The healing process actually began then.
The Holiday Season Now
I have to admit there is still an emptiness, albeit a much smaller one, during the holiday season even after all these years – Mom’s been gone 21 years. Dad’s been gone for 15. Even though we didn’t always see eye to eye, as parents they rated at the highest level.
How do I cope today? When I feel the empty spot opening up, I look at these pictures, and some from later years. I remember all they sacrificed for me over many years. The pictures bring back the fun and joy. Prayer and meditation, along with my son, grandson, and boyfriend, closed those doors to vacant rooms. I let myself tear up when watching my mother’s favorite Christmas movie (“The Bishop’s Wife” – the original version), or hearing her favorite holiday songs. There’s no shame in remembering.
Yes, I still feel the guilt – the wondering if I did enough for each of them. Recently, I was diagnosed with a mild version of the same heart condition Mom carried for the last 20 years of her life. Believe it or not, I felt guilty because there is now a medication that would have given her a much longer life had it been available then.
I also know I did what I could under the circumstances with the resources available. Knowing that helps me fight that guilt – and makes their absence each Christmas a reason to remember them.