I have always looked forward excitedly to the coming of Christmas. The bright lights, the sound of holiday jingles, and the smell of nutmeg and cinnamon beckon me to my hometown to spend Christmas with my parents. Sadly, Christmas will not be as joyful this year. You see, my mom died in October after suffering a traumatic brain injury in August. Instead of watching my son tear into the numerous gifts my mom always gathered for him, the day will be a much more solemn and toned-down affair. Everyone in my family is grieving the only way they know how to. Sometimes, I smile as I picture my mom standing on the porch waiting to welcome us in for the holidays. At other times, all I can do is tear up, because the loss just seems far too great to bear. No more hugs. No more phone calls. No more words of wisdom. No more stockings filled with chocolate bars and homemade knickknacks.
My chief concern remains the impact that my mom’s untimely death has on my son. When we first learned that my mom would never be able to return home again, I broke the news to my son through a wave of uncontrollable bawling. Since then, I’ve been able to hold myself together while I express my sadness to him in a much more restrained manner. But still, I worry that my son may not have the outlets needed to appropriately express his sorrow. Since we are in the midst of a global pandemic, children do not have the seemingly unrestricted access they once had to their friends, teachers, and school counselors. Without this support net, how can we ensure that our children are given sufficient guidance and encouragement as they deal with loss during the time of COVID?
According to Solace Tree Incorporated, a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping children process grief after they have suffered the death of a loved one, children can suffer from intense feelings of loss for weeks to years. Children’s emotions, and their reactions to these feelings often include guilt, anger, and resentment. If left unresolved, these emotions can lead to debilitating fear and depression. Clearly, we do not want our children to face these troubles without help. It’s going to be difficult enough just trying to survive the holidays this year. Having trusted resources to lean on for support is just what parents like me need this holiday season. Solace Tree recommends these six tips to help children and teens cope with loss during the holiday season, which have been adapted from social worker Wendy Young’s grief and loss tips:
It’s simple, it’s effective and it’s really important. Allow grieving children to talk about whatever it is they wish. Tell them they can talk to you at any time about anything. Keeping the lines of communication open is crucial for grieving children. They need to know they have someone to talk to who cares about what they are going through.
Allow Any And All Feelings
Children may feel a wide array of emotions when grieving. Let them know there is no one way or right way to grieve. Validate their feelings and try to help them explore what they are feeling and why.
Ask For Their Input
Ask children how they want to celebrate the holiday now that things have changed. Old family traditions may be too difficult to manage after the loss of a loved one so ask about what traditions children think should be preserved and what should be put on hold.
Children’s expectations regarding the holiday, feelings about what they want or don’t want to do may change from one day to the next. Be patient and go with the flow. While on one particular day a holiday activity might seem too difficult for the child to cope with, the next day the child may feel differently. That’s ok.
Create New Traditions
Ask the child if she would like to come up with a new way to celebrate or honor the memory of the lost loved one. Perhaps lighting a candle in their memory through the holidays, creating a special memory tree with ornaments that reflect the loved one’s life, or making a donation in their memory to a favorite charity.
Moreover, Wendy Young recommends that you remember to have fun during the holiday season. Personally, I know that I feel guilty merely smiling at times. And laughing, well laughing almost feels as though it should be forbidden since I’m here, but my mom has departed. If you have experienced the death of a loved one, you know that grief is oppressing and exhausting. So, when moments of joy and laughter arise, feel free to grasp them, even if the happiness you feel is fleeting. This will permit you to take a break from coping with the weightiness of grief while spending time with your kiddos.
Furthermore, remember to invite your children to share how they are feeling. I have found that sharing how I am feeling in a direct, somewhat unemotional way helps my son feel a bit more open to share the emotions he feels. This is a delicate process, so I make sure not to pry, or pester him too much about how he’s feeling. My mom always said that I was a worrywart. Nevertheless, I can assure you that fussing about your children’s wellbeing is warranted if one of your loved ones recently passed away.
To help children cope with loss during the “season of family,” the National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) recommends that, since there will most certainly be amplified awareness of missed loved ones, that you honor the season and your loved ones simultaneously. As a result, the NAGC and Solace Tree Incorporated have created holiday toolkits designed to inspire families to celebrate the holiday season while honoring the loved ones still with you, and those who have departed this life.
Activities for the Holiday Season:
Share A Silly Holiday Memory
Share a silly memory of your loved one during the holiday season.
Are there any traditions that you want to change this holiday season?
If gift giving is a part of your holiday celebration, before the gifts are exchanged, have each family talk about a special gift the loved one has given to them. It could be a tangible gift or perhaps even more meaningful would be an intangible gift.
Ask family members for ways they would like to incorporate the loved one that has died into the “season of family.” This could mean including a portrait or belonging to be a part of the decorations, positioning an empty chair at the table, setting out their favorite coffee mug, or an array of other meaningful items. Look for ways to honor and remember your loved one as you go through the holiday season.
Purchase cylinder candles. Use a variety of materials such as self-adhesive foamy shapes, letters, jewels to decorate candle. Written words /phrases and scrapbooking supplies can be attached with Modge-Podge. Especially meaningful could be including photos or pictures of loved ones and family that can be attached with Modge-Podge. The family can choose a way to incorporate a family ritual when lighting this candle to remember your loved one.
All About Book
Place a notebook, journal, scrapbook in a place that is accessible to all family members through the season. Invite family members to write, draw, paste, thoughts and memories about your loved one. Choose a special time to share the book with each other.
Place a multitude of photos of your deceased loved one in a basket. Gather family members and take turns sharing photos and telling stories about your loved one.
With some hope and holiday spirit, these tips and activity ideas will help you get through these emotionally exhausting times. There is never a good time to lose a loved one, and to lose a beloved friend or member of the family is especially troublesome leading up the “season of family.” Nonetheless, the holidays are upon us. From my family to yours, I hope that those of you coping with loss during this pandemic are able to muster up some holiday cheer.
In memory of my mom: