I usually write about autism, but my "writer's mind" is filled with candy canes and ideas for decking the halls. I am thinking of holiday parties, traditions and the expectation of seeing my children's faces on Christmas morning. Yet also in my thoughts is the memory of own upbringing, family traditions and the loss of my Mother.
Even before the big day, everything reminds me of my Mom. At my kindergartener's winter concert last night, I held back tears as the children sang my Mom's favorite song. This will be the second Christmas we are celebrating without Mom, and I still find myself asking, "How do you get through the holidays after losing a loved one?"
I am a fierce autism mama, not a counselor, psychologist or grief counselor...hence the question mark after the title. I am one of the thousands of people faced with celebrating the holidays who have lost someone very close to them. I can honestly say that I never really understood how people could not just LOVE the holidays. I am one of "those people"...you know the person who is ready to decorate the house as soon as the turkey is eaten on Thanksgiving day. I revel in cookies, decorations, singing carols and lighting up the house like Clark Griswald. Up until the day my Mom died, I happily celebrated almost every holiday with both fervor and intensity. As soon as she died, however, I knew instantly that all holidays and birthdays would now be filled with just a little bit of sadness.
No longer do I sail through the holidays with the care-free spirit of a child seeing wonder in all around me. Instead, I always seem to have at least one thought that ties back to my Mom and reminds me of how much I miss her. I wish I could go back to when it didn't feel this way, but now, the holidays bring both the excitement for my wonderful husband and kids along with the grief I feel from losing my Mom.
Like other people who experience loss, sometimes feeling happy about the holidays isn't as easy as it should be. Whether it be the loss of a spouse, parent, child, sibling or close friend, many of our memories are tied to the holiday....The funny thing happened one Christmas day. The gifts you exchanged. The tradition that you always did with that person. It is different for everyone. For me, being the Italian girl I am, it is food. Beyond making lots of pizelles, my mom used to make crepes for the family every Christmas morning up until the year she died. It was her special thing...now I guess my thing. Even though I know my crepes won't be the same nor will they taste as good, I will make them for my family.
Having kids has kind of forced me to snap out of it...focus on them and their happiness and less on the fact that I have lost my Mom. During this journey, I have discovered there is no quick fix to getting through grief of losing a loved one. And there is no perfect way for every person to feel better over the holiday. But there are some things I have done to at least move on. When trying to get myself out of that holiday funk and get back to being my jolly ole self, here are some things I've done:
Write a Letter - I can't take credit for thinking of this, because it was our therapist who told us to do it. And while I didn't write a letter to my Mom, I did write articles about her, and it really helped me to get my feelings out about how much she meant to me and missed her. Even writing this article is a way for me to express my grief over losing my Mom and talk about what a great person she was. I was lucky in a sense. When my Mom died, there was total closure. We had plenty of time to say goodbyes and I love yous, but having closure did not ease my sadness or prepare me for her passing. But writing to her and sometimes just talking to her out loud, makes me feel better. If she can see me up there, I want her to know how special she still is to me even though she is no longer with us. Everything about her made me who I am today, and I am forever grateful for having such a wonderful Mom.
Take a Moment to Celebrate the Person You Miss - Getting back to the crepes...Mom made the best crepes. So I have decided to give my family the same gift she gave me growing up. From here on out, I will be making the crepes for my husband and kids. And during breakfast, we talk about how good the crepes are and remember how Grandma used to do it for us. At dinner, we will remember her in our prayers and try to remember and talk about fun times we had with her. I want my kids to know how special their Grandma was, and if I don't tell them, they won't know.
Go on a Vacation - I know it seems crazy to travel at Christmas, but sometimes getting out of the old routine, even if just for a day or two, making a new routine can help you feel better. Last year, our first year without Mom, changed everything about our Christmas. My Dad and Brother came over in the morning and then left for Florida. Two days later, we left for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Now some people may think what we did was avoidance, and it probably was, but it did help us cope a little bit better. And planning for vacation and going on the trip helped us not thing so much about the holiday and what it would be like without her.
Do Something For Someone Else - My Mom was the queen of volunteering. But it wasn't until I got older that I truly realized how much doing something for someone else makes you feel good too. Instead of focusing on how terrible the holiday is for us because of our loss, we can focus on helping someone else and making them feel cared for. Sure it is probably a temporary fix but it can be a long lasting gift to someone else and in the end, it may lift your spirits as well.
Take Care of You - This is the "mom" in me speaking. Now in theory, I know this is a good idea but us moms know it doesn't always work out that way. This year, our family has no vacation planned this year to kind of escape things so I am going to plan some special things for the family, just me and my husband and then just for me. Maybe I will go get a massage. Exercise everyday at the gym. Go see a movie...maybe even two. Take a long walk in the park. Get a sitter and go to the city for the night. Honestly, I don't have it all worked out yet, but I am going to keep busy and take care myself. My kids and husband need me...in the here and now. And I can't sit around waiting for people to take care of me...most moms will understand that!
In the end, I am figuring out how to get through the holidays after my devastating loss. I may not always do it with grace. But I am getting through. This year is better than last year. And maybe next year will be better than this one. I still wish I could just not feel sad that my Mom is no longer here with us. I wish I could just simply feel better and not think about how my kids will grow up not knowing their Grandmother. But the reality is that those feelings are real and therefore not going away. It just is what it is.
The best I can do during the holidays is get on with being the best mother I can be for my own children. My Mom would want me to remember her and all the wonderful traditions and memories she built over my lifetime. But more importantly, she would want me to get on with things so my kids could have the same warm, loving memories of the holidays that she gave me.
I wish all my readers Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. Now, I am off to dig out Mom's crepe recipe. :-)