Six ways to cope with a death at Christmas.
On a December 22, I signed the paperwork to remove my mother from life support systems.
We buried her December 26.
That was the worst Christmas of my entire life.
I’ve never felt the same way about the holiday since.
Oh, yes, I know it celebrates the Savior’s birth. I know it’s a festive time of gaity, lights, parties and gifts.
I love the Christmas carols, Handel‘s Messiah and other musical treats. I sing in the choir and play in a woodwind quintet.
But I hate how I feel this time of year. Rejoicing makes me feel guilty. I remember Mom, and I feel sad.
My father never recovered, emotionally, from my mother’s sudden collapse while teeing off at the golf course. He had a crisis at Christmas for the next (and last) seven years of his life.
I spent too many “holiday seasons” discussing end of life issues with hollow doctor’s voices over the phone. Nurses called with requests for DNRs while I watched the lights flicker on the tree and listened to the rum-pa-pa-pum of the drummer boy.
My children were in elementary school when my mother died. I had a little girl who loved the idea of nutcrackers and baking Christmas cookies. She savored the excitement of holiday parties and wondering about mysterious packages. She begged to celebrate the season with every gusto in her body.
And my body? A dragging weighty horror that I had to relive this season one more time without my mother.
Intellectually, I understood. This was my daughter’s only childhood. Was it fair to her that for me every activity bore the shadow of my missing mother?
Of course not.
But it was just. so. hard.
How to get through a death at Christmas
1. Recognize how emotionally vulnerable you are and enlist help. My wonderful, logical husband didn’t understand how difficult everything about Christmas had become for me until I told him, oh, about year eight. Once he knew, he could help me. But if all I did was moan about how I hated Christmas, I didn’t provide him with any insight for him to ease my grief. My prayer partner, too, began praying with me starting in November!
2. Focus on things you CAN do with joy. I love to write and receive Christmas cards and letters. This I could do with joy and I focused there. I also could bake cookies with my daughter and create the annual pun, the Yule log, to serve on Christmas Eve. Of course I can sing in the choir and, sometimes, lose myself in that long ago joy of understanding, for the first time, how crucial the babe in the manger is for our salvation.
3. Consider who else is involved. I lost a mother, but so did my brothers. My children lost a grandmother and my poor father . . . I needed to think of ways to make “the season” better for them. My children could acknowledge the loss of Grammy, but did they deserve a mother who wouldn’t buy presents, wouldn’t cook a meal, wouldn’t attend a band concert, wouldn’t play Handel’s Messiah and who answered every breathless request with “no?” I needed to be selfless for their sake, but I also needed to mourn.
4. Remember to grieve. I remember my mother every December 22. I pull out one of her nutcrackers and think of her while I set it up. I cry when I hang the tree ornaments she purchased from all over the world. I tell stories about her, funny stories about her foibles, and sometimes we even remember to toast her at Christmas dinner.
5. Invent new traditions. I didn’t realize we had done this until my daughter-in-law asked “Where are you going for Christmas this year?” We started traveling the Christmas after my father died, not because of his death but because that was the only time our college students were guaranteed available. Or so I thought. In reality, maybe I was fleeing, but was that such a bad thing the first couple years?
6. Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. It’s about Jesus, God with us, not every other Americanized holiday tradition. We still are very busy at Christmas, but if I take my aching heart to the babe in the manger, I can put December 22 and 26 into perspective.
Jesus is the reason for the season, but I still miss my mother.
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