* Editor’s note: This column originally was published in December 2011. Times and dates have been updated for 2012.
This is the fourth holiday season since the death of Beverley Radford’s beloved husband. Often, people mark the time by how many holidays have passed since their loss. The loss and grief can be intensified during a holiday, making it effortless to note, if painful to experience. Beverley has an additional hurdle. Christmas Day was her husband’s birthday.
“The holidays are still difficult,” Beverley said. “Not only was Christmas Day my husband’s birthday, a day we spent together, but we traditionally held Thanksgiving at our house — all the kids came over here. That first Thanksgiving, I told the kids I couldn’t do it. They were going to have to take it on.”
Beverley’s son and daughter-in-law have stepped up and hosted Thanksgiving at their home for four years.
“I commend Beverley for having the insight and courage to acknowledge and respect her desires and needs,” said Denise Rose, Yolo Hospice bereavement services manager. “It would likely have been emotionally and physically depleting for her to host the Thanksgiving gathering. It is good that she listened to herself and communicated clearly to her children.”
Denise shared her own recent experience with holiday grief. Her mother and newborn great-nephew died near the holidays three years ago. The family discussed if they would be able to hold a family gathering on that holiday. It was decided Denise would host as she always had, but everyone contributed their own favorite “comfort food.” They called it a Comfort Christmas.
“I learned you can change or replace traditions with what suits your life now, but it is harder for me at Christmas,” Beverley said. “I haven’t felt I could celebrate on the 25th. I’ve wanted to be alone, but I do visit the kids on the 26th to celebrate the holiday. Last year, I went on a cruise and returned Christmas Day. I was busy worrying about getting off the ship, getting a taxi and getting on a plane at the airport. By the time I got home, Christmas Day was almost over; TV was done with the parades and other holiday shows.”
Beverley and Denise found different ways to cope, but it is often difficult to know what is going to be best for you. Yolo Hospice suggests making a list of things you usually do at this time of year — the parties, decorating, cooking, shopping and other details of preparation and celebration. Then ask yourself:
1. Do you enjoy this?
2. Are you up to doing it the same way this year, or would you like to skip it?
3. Would you like to do it, but with changes?
4. What changes?
“Always, and most especially at this time of year, it is important to note grief can be draining and have powerful upsurges when you least expect it,” Denise said. “Consider following your heart and what means most to you. Changing or modifying your approach or rituals may be just the right thing for you.”
1. You have a right to have good days and bad days, or some when you are in the holiday spirit and some when you are not.
2. You have the right to say “no” to friends and loved ones. If you do not want to go to a party, do not go.
3. You have the right to change your mind. If you’ve said you’ll do something and you realize later you do not want to, it is OK.
4. If doing things exactly the same way is not going to be joyful or comforting for you, change things. If you do not have the energy or interest in decorating, having the holiday party at your house, cleaning for the party or cooking, ask for help. Someone else can decorate. Someone else can hold the event. Hire a cleaning crew. Make your holiday meal a potluck.
5. It’s OK to have fun. It’s also OK to be sad.
6. Take care of yourself: Eat right, exercise and watch your alcohol intake. You can nap, do something not associated with the holiday or read a book when you need it.
Remember, nothing you choose to do must be permanent. You can change your holiday every year or not at all. Yolo Hospice drop-in grief groups are free to community members. For information, visit www.yolohospice.org or call 530-601-5756.
— Mary Odbert is Yolo Hospice’s public relations representative. Her column is published monthly.