1. Planning ahead for the holidays is very important. Have plan A and plan B just in case the first plan does not work out. Decide what you can handle comfortably this year and let your family and friends know. Can I handle the responsibility of the family dinner? Could I ask someone else to make the big meal? Do I want to plan a trip for the holidays this year?
2. Tradition can change for this holiday season.
Often it is good to change your traditions- things will be different this year and from now on. Open presents Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning. Vary the timing of family gatherings. Go to a different church this year. Go with someone you can rely on if you feel you may break down during the service. Have dinner at a different time or place. I know of a family who went to the lake, had sleigh rides and a wiener roast that first Christmas after their loved one died – and this became a new tradition for them to do each Christmas.
3. Sometimes it good to re-evaluate your priorities: Do you really need to send greeting cards? Do you need all this holiday baking? Do you need to do all this decorating? Maybe you can decorate one corner of your house- like a tree and a nice table centerpiece and omit the rest of the decorations.
Will you put up a tree this year? Maybe you will put up a 10” tree that has all the decorations on it already. After Christmas you can put it away all decked for the following year. Will you do a big family dinner? Dinners can change- menus can change. Maybe no one else knows how to make the sauce for the fish, so it will taste different this year.
Ask yourself, “Do I really enjoy doing this?” If not – don’t do it. Are there tasks that could be shared – or could someone else take over the task for this year?
4. Volunteering often is a good thing to do during the holidays Consider doing something special for someone else. Volunteer anywhere – giving to others is very healing Help out in a care home, thrift shop, children’s hospital, school, food bank. Volunteer in a store - no one turns down volunteers.
5. Donate a gift in the memory of your loved one. In our community we have women’s shelters – give gift in memory of our loved one – or help out a hurting family. Help a needy family this holiday season. Invite a guest to share in your festivities. We have many seniors who live alone – Invite them over this Christmas. We all know of other people who have also lost a loved one and find this Christmas very difficult – invite them over.
6. Recognize the need to honour your loved one. Hang a stocking for your loved one in which people can put notes with their thoughts or feelings. Listen to music you enjoy. Look at old photo albums. Make memory pillows/quilts and give as gifts for your family. Make up a new photo album of things just about our loved one.
7. Children often can be of great assistance. We can let the children take over decorating the house, the tree, putting up the lights, and help with baking and food preparation.
Children of all ages can help at this time. Children love to wrap gifts, and with gift bags – anyone can wrap up gifts. Children love baking and decorating cookies - so let them help. Children are a good diversion during the holidays. They take our minds off ourselves. Children have this magical power of making us laugh.
8. Handle the Christmas shopping. If you decide to do holiday shopping, make a list ahead of time and keep it handy for a good day, or shop through a catalogue, or internet. Shop early in the season and during morning hours when there are fewer people in the stores. Go to speciality shops and stay out of the malls. Let others shop for you – like your children or your friends. Do gift certificates or money gifts- these are always the right size and no one needs to exchange them.
Instead of shopping for new gifts, why not hand out family treasures this year; mom’s special cookbook, dad’s old baseball glove, the trophies your loved one owned, a neck tie or necklace to the younger generation and in passing on these treasures, we can keep the memory of our loved one in the hearts of our young people.
9. The best way to observe the holidays. Observe the holidays in ways which are comfortable for you. There is no right or wrong way of handling holidays. Be with people you enjoy being with this holiday season. You are not selfish. You are surviving this Christmas.
10. The holidays can be very draining. Try to get enough rest – holidays can be emotionally and physically draining. Sleep when you can – even if it is in the middle of the day. Avoid alcohol as much as possible. You do not need to attend Christmas parties or gatherings this year. Watch your diet. Too many sweets are not good for anyone. Get out in the fresh air. Gathering with people is a draining event- Professionals tell us that putting on a false happy face for 1 hour is equal to 8 hours of hard work. So, no wonder we are worn out after the holidays.
11. The need for support is often greater during holidays. Allow yourself to express your feelings. Holidays often magnify feelings of loss. We gather together and the loss is noticed more when not everyone is around. It is natural to feel sad this time of the year. Let the tears come. They are healing tears. Share concerns, apprehensions, feelings with family and friends. This is the one time of the year that we really need each other.
12. There may be community events that you would like to take part in. Join in the Christmas healing and remembrance services in your community - It is a time to gather and remember loved ones in a community of people who know what it feels like to lose a loved one. This is a safe place to release emotions that you feel deep in your heart. Attend the tree of memory in your church or hospital – You may be able to honour your loved one and place an angel on the tree of memory.
13. Things families can do together. Put up your Christmas stockings and in the stocking of loved one, write love notes. Write a letter to your loved one and place it in the stocking. Visit the cemetery and place flowers on the grave, if allowed. Set a place setting at the table for your loved one and remember the times you shared together. Cry when you need to. Light a candle, say a prayer and include the person which has died. Get yourself a special Christmas gift this year in memory of your loved one. Ask family members to share their memories about the person who died.
14. Laughter and having fun are not disrespectful. Give yourself and your family members permission to celebrate and take pleasure in the holidays. Laugh when you can. Remember the good times. Allow the children to share. They often bring the greatest joy to the holidays.
15. The greatest gift you can give yourself this Christmas is permission.
Give yourself permission to grieve – this is the greatest gift you can give yourself. You are not selfish when you do what you want to do. Do what feels good- If it brings pain do not do it – there will be more Christmases in the future. Be around supportive people. You are not selfish. You are surviving. There will be other holiday seasons to celebrate and time for you to enjoy the holidays again.
16. Outside support may help families cope with the holidays. Never overlook the professional help that is out there for you- Your clergy, social workers, the palliative care team, home care, or support groups that may be offered in your community. Call your funeral home they will have information on support groups in your area. The professional team is there for you so don’t be afraid to use them.
“Remember the anticipation of the holidays is worse than the day itself.”
At this time I would like to wish our readers the blessings of the Holiday season. May the warmth of the Christ child live in your hearts today and all year long.
Margaret Anne Yost nursed for 35 years, working mostly on medical floors. She has journeyed with many clients who were dying, and she tried to comfort their families during this difficult time. She has completed two units of Clinical Pastoral Education.
Returning back to school she completed classes from the Red River College in the areas of Gerontology, Bereavement, Death and Dying. She was enrolled eight years in lay ministry training. At present, she enjoys her role at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Yorkton in the area of parish work. For the past ten years she has also been employed at Bailey’s Funeral Home working in the area of Continuing Care.
Comments and articles may be forwarded by mail to: Margaret Anne Yost, P.0. Box 554 Melville, Sask. S0A 2P0
Or phone 1-306-621-9877 (9 am-5 pm) or at home 1-306-728-4744 (evenings).