Archive for the ‘Surviving the Holidays’ Category

Children's Valentine in somewhat questionable ...

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It’s Valentine’s Day.  Are you groaning in disgust or dread? I picture Jennifer Garner smashing the heart piñata in last year’s blockbuster Valentine’s Day. Didn’t we all want to be her at that moment? I think at some point or another in our lives, we all have had a Valentine’s Day we dread coming, whether it’s because we are single, newly broken up, or just not feeling the love. 

It can be especially difficult for people whose spouse or partner has died. Valentine’s Day can bring up anger because your beloved is no longer here. If that’s the case, maybe invest in a piñata yourself this year! Or yell, scream, punch a pillow, or cry. The important part is to let it out—safely that is. 

It can also bring up a lot of sadness and loneliness. Or it might bring up guilt that you may not have expressed how much you truly loved your beloved while he or she was here. 

The gift that Valentine’s Day gives us (even if we hate this holiday) is that it reminds us of the deep love and connection we had with our spouse or partner. And for that we should stop to reflect and celebrate that love. It is a customary tradition to write a note to your Valentine. I would encourage you to take time to write a love note to your spouse or partner which shows your appreciation for them, their love, and the special connection you had together. Take the time to express everything you wish you had said to them. 

Or if you’re groaning at me right now for suggesting something so tradition, get creative. What could you do to commemorate the love you had and what it meant to your life? Maybe you purchase their favorite flowers and bring them to the cemetery; create a piece of art in honor of them; watch your wedding video; etc. The possibilities are endless and as unique to you as your relationship was. 

Whatever you do, at least take one minute to express gratitude for the special person who came into your life, gave you the experience of tremendous love, and brightened you life—if only for a short time or for decades. 

“Grief and pain are the price we humans have to pay for the love and total commitment we have for another person. The more we love, the more we are hurt when we lose the object of our love. But if we are honest with ourselves, would we have it any other way?”—C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed


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When I think of a New Year, I automatically think of resolutions. The most common resolutions are usually to lose weight, save more money, and get healthy. When you are grieving or having a tough year, you may not want to even think about resolutions, at least not the traditional ones. But goals are great to have because they keep us looking forward, make us aware of our behavior, and give us an opportunity to identify what we need in our lives and how to get it there.

This year, I’m focusing on my vision for what I want my year to be like. List 5 words that you would like to describe your year or yourself within this year. I’ve only come up with 3 so far for myself:

Creative: I would like to make time to paint and work with clay projects this year. I want to add more fun into my family time, so I’m thinking of hosting a murder mystery dinner at my house. I want to add more color to my home.

Nurturing: I want to practice good self care this year. I’d like to get a relaxation massage every month, practice yoga, sleep in when I want to, and cry when I need to.

Active: I started a new scheduled exercise program and I want to commit fully to accomplishing it. I want to go for more walks with my husband and dog. I want to challenge myself and do fun activities such as snowboarding, tubing, and rock wall climbing.

The other brilliant way to make goals is a strategy I read about in the January issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. In the article written by Martha Beck, she states that goals like, “I want to lose 10 pounds”, don’t often give people the results they hoped for when they are completed because the picture you had about what your life would be like once you completed the goal usually does not accompany the result. Instead, think of a goal you’d like to accomplish and list the adjectives to describe how you think you will feel or what it will be like for you emotionally to achieve that goal. Now think about all the activities currently in your life that make you feel like all of those adjectives you listed. You will find that in many ways you already have an abundance of what you desire, but may not have noticed. Then brainstorm ways you can add more of those adjectives to your life.

Here’s to wishing you a fulfilling and nurturing New Year as you continue on your grief journey.

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Trying to escape the holidays? Stop in at the Grief Resource Center Thursday December 23rd between 2:00-5:45 pm and be transported to the islands. We are having our first annual Grinch’s Gathering. It’s an opportunity to gather with others who are healing with a loss this season and who are not interested in holiday music, decorations, or all of the other holiday hub-bub. 

I know that the Grinch’s Gathering is only one afternoon—so how do you make it through the next couple weeks? Try these tips: 

  • Have a plan.
  • Be selective about what you want to do. With invites, consider instead of saying no, say maybe so you can decide on the day of the event.
  • If you’re on the fence about going—GO! Most people find that they have a good time. If you aren’t having a good time, go home.
  • Have an exit plan for any event or gathering you attend.
  • Don’t spend the day in bed under the covers—trying to sleep away the day tends to increase loneliness and sadness.
  • Do something. Go to a movie or restaurant.
  • Volunteer
  • Do something in honor of your loved one.  

Whatever you do, just remember that you are not the only one struggling through this season.

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Christmas tree

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Have you ever wished that the Christmas holiday would just carry on without your participation?  I have.  Several years ago I was simply unable to celebrate the holidays.  It’s funny but today, as I write this I can not remember why, though I vividly remember my lack of interest.  I told my husband that I did not want a tree and that I wanted no gifts.  I made no “list”.  I sent no cards.  I do not remember if I did any shopping. Maybe I was just too busy and tired, I’m not sure.  Sometimes you are just not up for a holiday.  I don’t think the reason really matters. 

The great thing about that year was that it did not seem to make any difference to others.  People around me carried on for me.  You see when a void is created it seems that it will be filled.  My husband decided that we were going to have a tree.  He bought the tree put it up and decorated it.  I baked no cookies, but others did.  The kids came home ready or not.  Christmas arrived, gifts were opened, we had a lovely meal, luminaries were lit, relatives stopped by.  I never truly “got into” the season that year. Maybe others noticed, maybe not so much. 

I say that it is ok not to always be the Martha Stewart of the family.  Yes, I do usually enjoy all of the details of preparing for the holidays.  What I found was that Christmas came, ready or not, and it was ok if I was not up to doing each and everything that I always did.  In the end it turned into a just fine holiday.  Not everything was the same. Not all of the decorations were up. I even forgot my signature dessert.  I do not think that anyone cared.  I’ve got to say the holiday was just fine. 

So, my theory on holidays is this.  Celebrate them in whatever way feels right for you.  If you feel like making cookies do so.  If you want to skip the cards, skip them.  Try something new, delete something you would rather not do.  Approach the celebrations in whatever way works for you. 

Now back to preparing for this year.

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A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...

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Traditions, particularly surrounding holidays, are very comforting. I in particular like the traditions of certain foods that I only make for those holidays. What would thanksgiving be like if i did not make five different pies during the Macy’s parade or Christmas without Beef Wellington? Well, next year, we are facing a break in our Christmas tradition, when two of our grown children will not be coming home and neither of our grandchildren. Can you have a Christmas without the children? The up side is that we will have a house full this year with all the children home at once for the first time in over seven years. 

I am not sure about how this is going to work or what new tradition we will develop but I do know one thing, we need to begin planning. While I want everything to remain the same, I realize that it will not happen. Our children are going to continue to grow and we are not the only loved ones in their lives. Thank goodness! We want them to have sound marriages and great relationships with their in-laws.

So how do we figure this out? Do we travel? Do we stay home? Do we do everything as before, just without them?

I don’t think there is any one answer, but I do think it is a good idea to plan. Just waiting to let it happen and hope we have a good holiday might not be a great idea. There is no way that it will be the same. So what new tradition do we add? Well, there are several things we can consider:

*. Add new guests for dinner

* Volunteer to serve dinner at a soup kitchen

* Take a holiday vacation

* Plan a completely different way to celebrate – new food, a play, an outdoor celebration, a traveling meal.

I realize that there are no rules to how to celebrate your holidays. We all have year after year traditions that we have refined over the years and sometimes they just can’t happen. I will plan to do what I can to make a memorable holiday season for my family next year. It will take some planning though. I guess it is time to begin thinking about it now.


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Thanksgiving oven

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When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of going around the table sharing what we are thankful for (even though this was never part of my family tradition). Many of you who may be grieving or just had a tough year with the economic downturn may be thinking that you have nothing to be thankful for. It’s precisely when you think that you do not have anything to be grateful for, that you need an “attitude of gratitude” the most.

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” is tough work, but worth the effort. I would challenge you not only on Thanksgiving, but for the rest of the year (come on, you can do it—it’s only 37 days!) to come up with 3 things every day for which you are grateful.

Some days, it might just be the things we take for granted—my car started this morning, I have a bed to sleep in—or it might be the people still in our lives. Other days it might be a memory of the person who passed that bought a smile or loving tear to our eye or a nice gesture by a stranger. It might even be a shift you noticed in yourself—maybe you smiled or laughed today, or had a “good hour” today.

In the beginning you will need to search hard throughout the day to find 3 things, but I gaurantee that within a few weeks you will be creating your list quite easily. When you begin to notice all the things that you have to be grateful for, your attitude and your mood shifts. It’s a powerful tool to add to your toolbox of strategies that will help you heal. In 2011, I challenge you to find 5 things every day for which you are grateful.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all of you. I appreciate how everyone who comes into the Grief Center shares their stories and themselves with us—what an amazing gift. I am thinking of all of you on this Thanksgiving—it is my hope that the anticipation of the holiday was worse that the actual day—and if not, I am thankful that it is only one day!

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As thanksgiving approaches, I have been thinking a lot about traditions and what they mean and what happens when traditions stop. As a child, I remember going to my Grandma B’s house every year. She would have the leaves put into the dining room table to make it big enough for all of us, and as the family grew, we even expanded into the kitchen with a smaller table. The places were set with multi-colored fiesta dishes some years, and the “good” china others. My mom would make things like scalloped corn and green bean casserole at our house, and wrap them up in newspaper and thick towels to keep warm on the way. When we got to Grandma’s she would be in an apron, shirtsleeves rolled up and call out “Hi?!” whenever the door opened. My mom would put on an apron right away and start basting or cutting or whatever needed to be done. As the family filtered in, the smells would get better. My uncle would bring fresh whole milk from the tank at the farm. The family would sit down at noon. Sometimes my grandma would ask one of us grandkids to say grace, and sometimes we all said it together. Everyone would dig in. After the meal, the guys would watch football, and grandma would start dishes, with the help of whoever filtered in and out of the kitchen. We’d all read the black Friday sale ads and tell each other what we were hoping Santa would bring us. When it got dark out, we’d load up the car and head home, full and happy. 

My grandma died in June of 2003. It’s hard to believe this will be the eighth Thanksgiving without her. In the years that have passed, we haven’t started a new tradition. Some years it’s been my parents and I at home. Some years we’ve gone to another aunt and uncle’s house for dinner with their big family. Maybe it’s because I’m the only child, but it still feels a little bit lonely when it’s just the three of us. This year, my parents jokingly asked me if I had any plans for the holiday. I suggested they come to my house and let me do the cooking. Maybe this will be a new tradition, something consistent to look forward to year after year. Maybe we’ve still been a little bit sad, still feeling a little bit of grief during these years where we haven’t been able to settle into a new routine without her. 

I think sometimes the grief is so large you just can’t continue to do what you’ve always done – it’s too painful. Sometimes you need to start something new. But don’t worry, the tradition isn’t completely lost. I’ll be serving Thanksgiving dinner on those same fiesta dishes at my house this year.

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