I had decided to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year and stay home for Christmas. I was surprised about how much more sadness I experienced. I have done my grief recovery work with all of my family who have died through these past few years and so the grief that was present was very distinct – it wasn’t of any one person in particular but the loss of family tradition. All of the family who would hold stories and traditions were not present in the way I celebrated Thanksgiving this year. I was very clear that I wasn’t bringing any attachment of loss related to the 4 members of my family that are now gone, but the tradition and the feeling I had about participating in it with my family.
I stayed with my nephew and his family which always feels so warm and comfortable. They have two small children which makes for fun and activity during the days. We all went to his in-laws to celebrate and it was this distinction that made it feel so different, that created this “missing” in me. It was not my family and traditions. As I have grown very used to doing these past few years, I just found moments of aloneness to cry and feel the sadness that was percolating up in me. I talk to people all the time about the importance of acknowledging and allowing for sadness to flow in some way.
Then, two things began to happen. I took time to talk with others during the week and one of the people I spoke with was sharing how hard this season gets with all the activities and gatherings. It reminded me that this was not something that I ever had to contend with because I had moved away from my family when I was 20. I had always had a freedom to come and go to any events I wanted to and never had any sense of obligation because I lived in town and close to family. Does that sound terrible?! To some of you maybe, but to so many that I speak to, I hear about the feeling of obligation that is present around family activities at the holidays.
As I reflected on my life and the many holidays I had enjoyed with my family, and several that I had willingly skipped, it was a thought that seemed to bring some balance to the sadness I was feeling. The thing about grief if it is unresolved is that it can have hooks in it that can tempt you to become entangled in the emotion and over-dramatize and enshrine events or people. Yes, there are definitely things that I miss about my Mom and how much she brought to my family in tradition. I can acknowledge that and have sad as well as fond memories of her and some of the things that she did to make holidays special. And then I can look into my own life and see where she might live on in me and some of the things I might choose to bring to my life and the people around me.
So here is what it is for me today in the days that follow my Thanksgiving holiday and the days moving into Christmas – it is my Mom that I am remembering, the almost 9 years after her death. The last couple years have been about processing the deaths of my Dad and brother. As I process the sad moments of missing Mom, I’m also taking steps to continue moving forward. They include: 1) remembering what I learned from my Mom and celebrating that in me 2) making more of an effort to connect virtually with family that lives all over the U.S. 3) making one of the family tradition recipes during the weeks leading up to Christmas to give away to all my friends and coworkers.
If you are processing grief during the holidays, that feels like it will never go away, I encourage you to take a look at the Grief Recovery Method, an evidence based program to help grievers move past the emotional pain and isolation of loss.