By Susan Dunn, MA, Personal Life & EQ Coach
"The Christmas cards," one of the women in the group said, and all the heads nodded slowly.
We had come together to talk about getting through the first Christmas after a loved one's death. The brochure had said "the first Christmas after," but some of us read it wrong. Grief knows no time frame.
"Christmas cards," I thought, my stomach churning.
I remembered the first Christmas after my son had died. 'What happened this year,' that's what you always write about. What happened this year is Chet died.
There were no Christmas cards that year.
The woman sitting in front of me turned and whispered, "My poor mother. Can you imagine what it will be like to not sign 'Martha and Fred' after 40 years?"
I couldn't imagine.
The leader kept trying to get us to talk about coping, but all we wanted to do was talk about our love ones. It is so sweet to hear their name.
Some things that can be said about that first Christmas (or whichever one it is) follow. I don't know that they'll help, but here they are:
1. When we grieve we have no energy.
Decisions are hard to make, the smallest chore seems monumental, ordinarily joyous things are not, things that used to bother you don't bother you any more, you don't defend yourself well, to pretend takes too much effort, and you need lots of rest. You will seek the solace of sleep.
2. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually -- supplements, eating right, rest, talking to someone, keeping your obligations manageable, getting exercise.
Your immune system will be shot. Outsource it. Therapy and support groups bolster your immune system.
3. You can cancel Christmas if you want to.
Sleep, take a walk, or study something intellectual.
4. You can also change the venue.
Celebrate on a cruise, or in a hotel.
5. People want to help you and they don't know how.
Nothing will help, you just want them back, but let others "do something". If they ask and you can't think of anything, ask them to "do something". They'll figure it out. Everyone knows houses must be cleaned, dogs walked, groceries bought, and meals prepared.
6. Alcohol doesn't help anything.
7. Explain what you need.
One woman wanted to have the traditional celebration in her home the first year, and another couldn't handle it at all. Half the women who'd lost husbands wanted to be called a "widow." The other half hated the word. How can people know unless you tell them?
Say, "If I get up and leave the table, just let me go. I'll be OK. I'll come back when I'm ready."
8. You might get some relief helping others - serving dinner to the homeless, or buying gifts for a needy family.
Then again you might not, but at least you'll have killed some time.
9. What will you do with their Christmas stocking?
One of the many jolts you'll get at this time will happen when it's time to hang up the stockings. One woman set out her husband's Christmas stocking with a journal beside it, inviting visitors to write in it. Another slept with her daughter's stocking under her pillow.
10. Avoid malls.
You see things you would buy for the one who is gone, you see the happy couples when you are no longer a couple, you see the cherubic face of a little boy who looks like the one you lost, and you hear music that makes you sick. Remember you can turn off the radio and TV.
The "firsts" are difficult. In the words of a caring friend of mine, "Have a Christmas." You may be hard put to supply the adjective, and that's okay.
Together our group had a beautiful holiday memorial to our loved ones. No one knows the author, but here it is: http://www.susandunn.cc/memorial.htm.
At the end you can speak their name.
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