My mother died one warm September evening nearly 20 years ago, and I remember well the first holiday season that followed—the sense that someone was missing from the table, that something was wrong with all the rejoicing, that everything had changed forever—and not in a good way. With time, I came to adjust to the reality of my loss. And I learned to cope as best I could at the holidays. But would I ever be able to do more than just “get through” the difficult days? Could I learn to transform them somehow into experiences that brought some comfort and healing to my grief?
Working your way through.
In the decades since my mother’s death, other losses have come my way—your way, too, no doubt. Though each loss brings a new measure of grief, the good news is that there are ways to work with that grief on holidays and other special days, a way that can even bring some warmth, celebration, and gratitude back to these special days. It’s a simple practice I have found helpful; I hope you find it helpful as well in your own journey through grief.
Make your list of cherished days and qualities.
First, go through the calendar for the year ahead and make a list of days that are extra special to you. Big national and religious holidays likely make the list, as well as more personal days that mark the passage of time—anniversaries and birthdays, for instance.
On Memorial Day, remember their courage.
Though her life had not been easy, my mother was not one to complain. A dedicated bridge player, she made the best of the cards she had been dealt. And so when the cancer arrived and the prognosis was grim, she faced her approaching death with the same courage she had displayed during life. Remember that courage doesn’t mean you are never afraid. It means you are willing to move forward despite the fear. As you recall your loved one’s courage, call on that quality to help you move forward with your own life and to get “unstuck” if you are stuck somewhere that needs changing.
On the 4th of July, celebrate their spirit.
The notion of spirit also has some pretty deep spiritual roots that can help us through our grief. So, along with the fireworks and the barbecue as you celebrate the nation’s birthday today, take time to celebrate the “birth in the Spirit” that unites you and your loved one.
On Labor Day, recognize their sacrifice.
It’s no secret most of us would not enjoy whatever health and happiness we have but for the sacrifices of our parents and others who have come before us and done so much for us. Today is a great day to recall the sacrifices, great and small, that your departed loved one made on your behalf.
Be sure to wish them a happy birthday!
Whether your loved one lived a few years or into the triple digits, spend time on their birthday reflecting on the life they lived—the joys and sorrows, the accomplishments and setbacks, the hard times and the happy days.
On Thanksgiving, give thanks for their kindness.
Think of the small acts of kindness your loved one bestowed on you—the attentive ear, the shoulder to cry on, the wise counsel, the support when times were tough or money was tight, the humor that brightened a dreary day.
At Christmas, cherish their generosity.
There is no easy way through Christmas when grief is fresh. But even at our most wounded, as the gifts are passed around the room we can make space in our hurting heart to cherish our loved one’s generosity.
This year, make room in your calendar to honor the wonderful qualities your loved one shared with you. And make room in your heart to carry those special qualities with you in the coming year and beyond.