How can you possibly go on after you lose a child? And how on earth, can you celebrate Christmas? There's a hole in your family. Someone very important is missing - your child.
We were faced with that reality 17 days before Christmas in December 2015.
That day, I decided to take the afternoon off of work and spent the afternoon Christmas shopping for my two kids. I was behind on everything that year! I thought I'd take the time to catch up on shopping, baking, and decorating.
It was a pretty average day - until the police and coroner came to my door. Five days after that we had Katie's funeral and less than two weeks after that was Christmas.
Looking back, it seems impossible that we made the 2-day journey to go snowboarding on Christmas Day. We had made plans prior to Katie's accident to spend the holiday with my brother and his wife in British Columbia, so that's what we did the first year. Less than two weeks after our daughter's funeral we somehow packed suitcases and a car full of gear and headed west. I'm still not sure how it happened, but I knew I couldn't be at home that year.
We marked the day with whatever had been bought before Dec 8. It was quiet and we spent the majority of the day on the slopes at SunPeaks and ended it in the hot tub looking at the stars. Katie's spirit was everywhere.
Here's what I want you to know - Grief at Christmas time is beyond hard, but somehow grieving families survive and you will too. Self-care is of the essence at this time of the year. Try to get outside for some fresh air, eat foods that make you feel good, keep up your fluids, and sleep as much as you can. Instead of wandering through malls, take care of your self and avoid the tasks and people that are challenging you right now. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself.
Like it or not, Christmas is coming. Each year I feel a bit like the Grinch when he thinks aloud "I must stop Christmas from coming!", but we all know we can't. Instead we must learn how to get through it.
Five things I recommend to help you cope with
child loss & grief at Christmas:
1. Plan ahead. Know the season will be hard. Stores will be crowded and carols will be playing incessantly everywhere you go. Plan to shop during quiet times when you can get in and out quickly. Shop online or better yet buy gift cards.
2. Establish healthy boundaries. Ensure that you always have a place to retreat to and a place to cry or be alone, or stay in bed if needed. Communicate your needs and plan with friends and family so they know and can support you and your wishes.
3. Find ways to include your child in the holidays. It can be aggravating when it seems that our child has been forgotten. Most likely they have not, but others don't know how to respectfully include them, so I suggest you set the tone and find a way to include them. You might set a place at the table or have their picture as part of the centrepiece. Let people know that you love to hear your child's name and to hear stories about them.
4. Create new traditions. It can be incredibly difficult to do the same thing you used to do when your child is no longer here. An incredible angel mom that I met early on my journey inspired me when she said "We still do Christmas, but it's different now. We do puzzles and have chilli now and we look at photo albums. I hurts too much to do the things that we used to do with our child, but we do new things".
5. Give yourself permission to opt-out. If it's just too much to fathom right now, then hit the pause button. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Book a massage and buy a good book, soak in the tub, and be gentle with yourself. Gently inform your friends and family. Let go of the idea you have to please everyone and hold your ground. People may be upset, but this is not about them.
Do Christmas and the holidays YOUR way this year.
Wishing you peaceful moments at Christmas time.
I have created a 5 part video series just for grieving moms and dads that discusses the common struggles faced by grieving parents. Request the free download here: