Holidays From the Heart

There are ways to turn a season of loss into one filled with meaning.

As if it isn't enough when you're grieving, along come the holidays. Most likely, you've always spent them in a certain way. Your home may have been the hub of celebration and activity, or you and your loved one may have always accepted the invitations of particular friends or relatives.

This year will be different. Your grief will be present, changing, possibly permeating, the way you feel about the holidays. And it will reshape your approach to them. You may find yourself wishing that the upcoming days would speed by as quickly as possible so as not to prolong your personal torment.

But you don't have to be the holidays' victim: There are ways to take the dread out of this celebratory period. Start by deciding that you will not just let the holidays happen to you. Instead, you'll exert some influence over them. You'll make the choice to arrange your activities this season to fit your mental and emotional needs.

First, accept that you're feeling challenged, that you have your limitations. As a result, you may not have the energy or desire to follow all-or any-of the familiar traditions. You may not even wish to give them a try.

Next, talk over the situation with the friends or family with whom you usually share the holidays. Explore some ways you may want to change traditions. For example, you may still wish to host Christmas Eve dinner, but this year it can be a potluck instead of your sole responsibility. On Christmas Day, you could forego the usual visit to the neighbor's annual open house and replace it with a brief visit to your loved one's grave. In this way, you can direct your grief. With a few other friends or family members, you can enjoy some moments of quiet meditation, share some thoughts about your loved one, shed some necessary tears, and place a seasonal wreath on the grave.

As you prepare to observe Hanukkah, you could set aside a quiet time to talk about the gifts your loved one passed on to you-through example, love, encouragement, or advice. You may gather together to read a letter or note written by him, or share one of her favorite sayings, poems, or songs.


When making your plans for the days ahead, you may also like to include an activity that is directly related to your loved one's interests. In this way, you can feel the comfort of experiencing something he would particularly admire or enjoy. One family, whose son had been a classical musician, celebrated their first Christmas after his death by attending a symphony concert together. A wife whose husband had always prided himself on being a gourmet chef prepared his favorite dishes and delivered them to their closest friends.

It is also gratifying and calming to honor your loved one by giving a special gift or donation in his memory. It can be a pleasant task to match the type of gift you give with the particular likes and fascinations of your loved one. Be imaginative. If your dad appreciated good theater, you might purchase a block of community-theater tickets for a group of drama students at a low-income school. If your mother was very fond of pets, you could contribute a needed item to the SPCA, or volunteer your time for a month in your mother's memory. If your son was an enthusiastic member of the high school basketball team, you could set up a small annual award in his name so that the most improved player can be recognized by the coach and his teammates at the end of the season.

And, of course, you can always donate clothing, toys, or books to any community organization that serves the needs of others. Or you may help the residents of a women's shelter by leaving individual gift bags of mini-sized lotions, shampoos, and other toiletries that are necessary but costly. You may offer a computer, chair, or desk that you no longer use to a halfway house for people who are working their way back into the community.

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Carol Staudacher
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