“Grief is a normal response to loss during or after a disaster or other traumatic event. Grief can happen in response to loss of life, as well as to drastic changes to daily routines and ways of life that usually bring us comfort and a feeling of stability.” (CDC)
COVID-19 and loss has hit my family in many ways this year. My sister-in-law lost her mom to COVID-19 in April, my husband’s grandfather and grandmother passed away of old age, and then his mom passed away suddenly just a few months later. I know we aren’t the only ones that have suffered so much loss. Does anyone else feel like there is no time to really grieve because of the amount of stress we feel daily due to this year being so uncertain, intense, and in crisis mode? There seems to be no time to cry or process. The focus has been putting one foot in front of the other, getting through each day for each other and for the kids. Now it’s the holidays and we are given the time to fully process, if not forced to recognize lingering feelings of loss and sadness.
Loss of loved ones, no matter how recent, can make the holidays hard. I know my sister-in-law is struggling with the thought of not celebrating the holidays with her mom like she had for 39 years. I have a few less Christmas cards to send on my list (Grammy and Pa always loved getting our card). My family in Canada and Norway won’t be visiting either, and they always do.
This holiday will be quiet for our entire extended family as we are all separated. I am sure you all are experiencing this as well. Will we Zoom? Will we FaceTime? Will we play games and host happy virtual hours? Absolutely! We will get through it….together. We are strong. We are resilient. We will hug those we can and hold on to cherished memories knowing that there are more to be made both this year and in the future.
What gets me through is thinking about my childhood and fun memories growing up. From making a skating rink on the lake (did you know I’m Canadian?), celebrating Christmas Eve at my Uncles Stew’s house, or Christmas Day when my husband proposed in front of my entire family. The memories and the photos and videos are what keeps us all smiling.
My fondest memories growing up were with my Aunt Erma and Uncle Buffy. They spent over 23 holidays with us. Every year on Christmas morning there would be a special present under the tree from them. It would always be our favorite bag of chips, but it was special because Uncle Buffy had magical powers. We would look inside the clear bag of chips and see a bright $50 bill. My sister and I inspected that bag inside and out and it was sealed on every corner. This year my mom shipped a few fun imagination games along with money to do the same thing for my kids. My kids will love it! Even at the ages of 11 and 13, they will love seeing the cash hidden somehow in the game.
Other memories with Erma and Buff included a pancake breakfast with Canadian maple syrup and the day playing with all of our gifts. When it was time for dinner, my sister and I would help my mom place the Christmas crackers (another Canadian tradition) on each setting. We would say grace and then pop crackers. Everyone would hurry to see what prize they got, read the included joke, and wear a silly hat. My mom also invited both of my grandmothers, Nanny and Bubba, for Christmas. A packed house for sure. Nanny’s pies were the best and I would fight my dad for the second piece. Every time I bake a pie, I think of my grandmother. My Bubba was from England and loved when I would make her tea and toast each morning. The tea was full of sugar and the toast was covered in butter. The best!
I’m now turning 43 and these memories are still with me. Even though I miss my lost loved ones much more over the holiday season, as a family we keep the memory alive and carry on the tradition that my family help set. It really helps me get through the season with more smiles and less tears.
I am also reminded what a difference staying in touch makes. It is so important to stay connected and check in with those that have suffered loss. A simple text, call, or note saying you are there for them or thinking of them can go a long way. We are all grieving this year. Invite others to share their cherished memories and favorite holiday stories. It can be very cathartic.
Finally, last year over the holidays we shared this great website Sightlife.org. It is a non-profit that had tips for coping with this season. Below are a few recommendations that I found helpful.
- Be kind and gentle to yourself emotionally and physically.
- Try to get adequate sleep.
- Fit in a little exercise daily.
- Engage at least one person each day.
- Assess your needs and let others help.
- Share a photo or story of your loved one.
- Recognize that not all people will be able to provide what you need. Let them do what they can.
- Learn to receive graciously without a sense of obligation.
- Give yourself permission to do what’s right for you.
- Maintaining some traditions can be comforting to other family members and stabilizing for grieving children.
- Structure your time and activities. This will help you avoid just reacting to whatever happens and getting caught off guard.
- To decorate or not is your choice. You might find comfort in visiting the cemetery with special decorations or sentimental tributes.
- Keep things simple.
- Try catalogs or online shopping rather than dealing with crowded malls.
- Overspending to compensate for that “empty feeling” inside can create added debt and depression later on.
- Accept invitations from family members and close friends.
Another great resource on campus is UW CareLink. They are there for you with confidential counseling. Please share in the comments below how you remember loved ones over the holidays.