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Middle-Aged Jane

  • Writer's pictureVicki Jane

Grief and the Holidays

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Tis the season to be jolly. Fu** la la la la.

My little-old-middle-aged self has started to notice that I attend more funerals than weddings, and this has reawakened by consciousness that this life is short. This is my first holiday season without my mum, June, who passed in September. As I'm grieving her loss, and have noticed that others are doing the same, I wanted to write about it and how it becomes even more obvious around the holidays.

I got a call from my brother at the end of August telling me that mum wasn't going to make it through the night and I should come home to Australia immediately. As I live 10,000 plus miles away and was a bit of a d-head and didn't renew my passport during COVID, I didn't think there was a chance I would see her alive. However, through some divine intervention, namely the Australian Consulate in New York who issued my passport in two hours (world record?), I did make it, and she had a bit of a rally when we arrived. So much so, that we ended up leaving two weeks later to come home, thinking mum might hold on for another month or six. We were embedded in the nursing home for 10 days and I cannot express my gratitude enough for this time and the chance to say goodbye. Alas, it wasn't to be, and I got the call just a few days later to go home to lay mum to rest. Delta Diamond status did not elude me this year.

In reality it had been a long-while since I've truly had mum in my life, as she suffered from dementia for about a decade. Although I have made several dozen trips to see her, it was usually when the wheels fell off and something big needed to happen, like a change of residence or eventually going into full-time care. I have been leading a double life for twenty years, disappearing to travel home, often for months at a time or for several trips a year. I'm proud of myself, my brother, and my mum's care teams over the years, as we kept her living at home as long as possible and only made the transition to nursing care after she was truly dilusional and a real danger. Making this last trip back for mum was monumental for me and the end of my long eldercare journey.

I cope with stresses with a dark sense of humor and I can be seen as stoic and cold in the face of some difficult times. As I got ready to leave again, one person asked me how my mother was doing? I replied, "yeah, no, she's dead." I watched the color leave their face, as I laughed and reassured them it was all good. Just goes to show we all grieve differently. But also, my feelings have been mixed with sadness, regret, gratitude, funny memories, and relief. Yes, relief. It's okay to say it and to have the rainbow of fruit flavors of feelings. I have become charged up to not just settle for mediocre in my short life.

My husband has always been a habitual obituary reader, and you'll often hear him let out a sigh of anguish upon opening today's haul. He then recounts how he knew the person in some form or another. He's emotional, contemplative, and mum's passing seemed to awaken him to his own mortality and that of his family.

A dear friend of mine is also experiencing her first holiday season without a parent, though her grieving process is very different to mine. Her father passed somewhat unexpectedly and she is plagued with guilt that won't relent. She doesn't have the same support from her family. However, we have supported each other through this, regularly checking in, and encouraging healthy grieving habits like writing. We are both hopeful for a better 2024 and though we will still grieve, we are looking forward to the new year and the opportunities to move forward that it brings.

So this holiday season I will be taking the time to write and acknowledge my mum and her role in my life. I also plan on raising my hand and saying "that's a good drink" with every bubbly adult beverage I consume. This was one of my mum's sayings on dementia repeat everytime she had a sip of Bailey's with milk, a beverage her poodle also enjoyed, but I'll save that for another post. I will be traveling for the holiday's and seeing the ocean. I always feel like salt water cures everything. My mum loved to travel and be by the water, but never in it.

So please take note that not everyone has the holly-jolly's and it is all okay and we will be okay.

Coping with Grief During the Holidays

Coping with grief during the holidays can be particularly challenging, as the festive atmosphere may accentuate feelings of loss and longing. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this difficult time:

Acknowledge Your Feelings: It's important to recognize and accept your emotions. Grieving is a natural process, and it's okay to feel a mix of sadness, anger, or even moments of joy.

Communicate with Others: Share your feelings with supportive friends or family members. Let them know if you need company or if you'd prefer some quiet time. Open communication can help you feel understood and supported.

Establish New Traditions: Consider creating new traditions that honor your loved one's memory. This could be lighting a candle, creating a memorial ornament, or preparing their favorite holiday dish. It's a way to include their presence in your celebrations.

Scale Back on Celebrations: If the usual holiday festivities feel overwhelming, it's okay to scale back. Give yourself permission to simplify traditions or decline invitations if needed. Focus on what brings you comfort.

Create a Memorial: Set up a memorial space in your home where you can display photos, keepsakes, or mementos that remind you of your loved one. This can serve as a comforting place for reflection.

Plan Ahead: Plan your holiday activities in advance, and communicate your plans with others. Knowing what to expect can help reduce anxiety and allow you to make choices that align with your emotional needs.

Take Care of Yourself: Grieving can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Pay attention to your well-being by getting enough rest, eating well, and engaging in activities that bring you comfort and relaxation.

Seek Support: If the grief feels overwhelming, consider joining a support group or seeking professional counseling. Talking to others who have experienced similar losses can provide valuable insights and comfort.

Honor Your Loved One: Find meaningful ways to honor and remember your loved one during the holidays. This could include writing a letter, lighting a candle, or making a charitable donation in their name.

Be Flexible: Understand that your emotions may fluctuate during the holiday season. Be flexible with your plans and allow yourself the space to adjust as needed.

Express Your Feelings Creatively: Consider expressing your emotions through creative outlets like writing, drawing, or crafting. It can be a therapeutic way to process your grief.

Celebrate in Your Own Time: If certain holiday events or traditions feel too difficult, it's okay to skip them or celebrate in your own time. Give yourself the flexibility to navigate the season at your own pace.

Remember that grief is a unique and personal journey, and there is no right or wrong way to cope. Be patient with yourself, and reach out for support when needed. It's okay to ask for help, and taking steps to care for your well-being is an important part of the healing process.

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