Remembering the LIFE not the LOSS this holiday season
Every year as soon as Halloween arrives we are thrown into the holiday season inundated with joyful music, holiday gift lists, delicious foods and family gatherings. It’s truly an exciting time of year as the snow begins to fall in the northern states and many flock to the warm states to embrace their traditions of the holiday season.
For some, this year might be plagued with emotional turmoil as your traditions have been derailed by an untimely passing of a loved one. The music is still joyful, the holiday gift lists still exists, and the foods are delicious; however, the missing family member or friend leaves a pain in your heart and a mixed-reaction to the season’s festivities.
What if you approached the holidays with a different outlook by including your loved one in your festivities in a way that you cherish their memories and life, rather than the pain associated with the loss. Of course, the real desire would be to have them with you sharing the joy, tasting the foods, singing the carols and feeling their presence; yet, that would be impossible given the situation.
This past weekend I participated in the Georgetown, CO holiday market, sharing my book Living with Loss, One Day at a Time with festival attendees – supporting those who were less joyful this holiday season and help them embrace the season with love, memories and a warm feeling in their heart. A gentleman in his late teens approached me and asked if he could share a personal story with me. He had experienced three suicides within his circle this year and carried a very heavy heart. He showed me the stocking hat that belonged to his best friend who had passed this year, which he had decided to wear throughout the winter traveling around Colorado and sharing his experiences with his special friend. He described the gesture as a connection to his friend who otherwise would not be with him. As I looked in his young eyes, I felt his pain but also felt his connection to his lost friend.
There are many conventional customs of sharing the season with those you have lost, including visiting their resting place, cooking their favorite meals, setting an extra seat at the dinner table, purchasing a gift for the house in loving memory of your special person or engaging in one of their favorite activities. This season, what if you reached past the more traditional memorial activities and embraced the LIFE of your loved one. Here are a few ideas:
Writing their story – Whether you embrace the project individually or recruit your family and friends to help, capture the full story of your loved one’s life, whether a person or pet. Start at the beginning, trace their history and truly tell their unique story. Embrace the life milestones from birth to death including personalities and experiences. As we age in life we tend to remain in the present rather than sharing with others where we came from and where we have been. When you share these stories with your family and friends you truly memorialize the life and not only the sadness of the death. For instance, the summer after my husband passed away, his siblings, their spouses and I hiked a mountain to create a memorial resting spot for Rod. Each time we took a break during the hike, a family member shared a story that they believed no one else knew. I learned so much more about Rod and who he was during the 4-hour hike. Share your stories this holiday season and capture the special moments for the next generation of a LIFE that has been lost.
Engage is something on their bucket list – How many times have we said, “If I was not so busy, we would love to _______”. Make it happen and engage in exactly what your loved one wanted to experience. It is okay if you skip a year of family tradition, decorating the house or attending friend/family/neighbor’s holiday party. You have the power to decide what is best for you. Let the feeling of empowerment, memorialization and independence feel good. Continue the LIFE of your loved one and embrace your emotions with them. I have a friend who lost a child several years ago and she shared with me that during the first holiday season, she just didn’t want to embrace the traditions of the past. She felt pressure from her family that she should attend family gatherings to embrace the loss. She wanted to instead just do something wild, different and inclusive with her child. At the last minute, she booked a trip to Africa as her son always wanted to see the zoo animals in their natural habitat. She brought his favorite childhood stuffed animal and spent two weeks photo shooting the trip with the stuffed animal, creating the feeling she was connected to her son the entire journey.
Just as the young man wore his lost friend’s stocking hat and traveled to share the joy of the season, find you special personal item, your special place to go or your special activity to participate in and embrace the season with your loved one by your side. Whether you chose a more traditional approach or create a new and exciting adventure, be sure to remember the LIFE and not the pain of the loss.
Happy holidays to you, your loved one and your family!
Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time.