I am not an expert. I wanted you to know that first and foremost. I am simply a woman who is facing her first holiday season without her mother. If you are looking for a cure or the 7 steps to navigating grief, I’m sorry this one is not for you. If you are looking for someone who feels what you feel in hopes of healing that comes from a friend in the trenches- YOU, my friend, are in the right place.
My mother died on December 29, 2010. We had celebrated Christmas eleven days earlier-as is tradition for my family as we all travel to be together and then return to our respective homes to wake up for Santa with the children.
Mom attended our Christmas gathering although that was a tough one. She had suffered a stroke and had an Alzheimer’s diagnosis five years previous, but she was there. We shared a bite to eat. I sat with her in the comfort of my sister’s home. We spent some time in silence and some time sharing a photo and a moment of talk of Christmas.
Somehow, I knew that would be our last Christmas together- although I didn’t want to believe it. I pushed that thought from my mind.
The day came and went and my boys and I returned home to celebrate the coming of Santa Claus. On the 28th I got a phone call from my dad. He said he thought I should come back. When Mom woke on the morning of the 28th, “she just wasn’t herself- something has changed.”
This was it. I laid out my clothes for “a funeral.” Not, my mother’s just “a” funeral.
I did NOT pack them.
I only laid them out for my husband to grab when he had to come behind me. I made arrangements for my children and got in the car. I don’t really recall the two hour drive. I only remember arriving; steeling my nerves before opening my car door and then walking into the facility that had been “home” for my mother for the past three years.
When I arrived, my dad, sister, and one brother were already at Mom’s beside. They had been there since the early morning. My two other brothers and their wives would arrive around midnight as they were driving further distances. No flights accessible, due to the weather.
Much of the next twelve hours I will keep as private time among our family. Suffice to say my brothers arrived safely around midnight and two am. My sister and I spent the night in Mom’s room. She passed about five in the morning on December 29th with the two of us on either side of her whispering words of love, giving comfort, and understanding that she had to go.
Fast forward to this season:
We have spent our first Thanksgiving without Mom. I totally broke with all tradition and took my family to New York City to see the Macy’s parade. There were several things playing into this decision, not the least of which was a desire to be connected with Mom. How in the world? You ask. Well, my mom and dad were once in New York for Thanksgiving and did the parade. I remember it as something my mom spoke of fondly; a real enjoyment.
That memory of her enjoyment made me want to do it. So, we did.
It was a good time with my boys, but at times I felt my heart sad- grief. Grief is a strange thing. It will sneak up on you like a shadow. It acts just like regular shadows which show up most profoundly when the light around you is the brightest. Don’t be alarmed, my friend. That is just how it happens.
The key I have found in the last year is to NOT let it totally envelop you. Take time to step out of the brightest light. Retreat to a darker spot temporarily. Allow tears to flow. Cleanse your soul and then, step forward again. Look around to the folks who love you- including your pets. Sometimes I love just sitting with my old mutt, JR. He “gets” me.
From one heart to another, here is what I can share. You have to let the emotions be what they are, but you also must live. As I stated up front, I am not an expert. I am a heart making it through a first holiday season without her momma. Here’s what I plan to do from this day through New Year’s Eve.
Maybe, if you are faced with the same situation some of this will help. Maybe you have a better idea- please leave a comment below and share it with all of us. I know we are not alone. And that, my friends, is a HUGE part of what helps me keep going- knowing I am not alone.
Here are my thoughts going forward through this holiday season. I am going to take care of myself. This is huge when I anticipate that a struggle is on the way. Grief gives me the feelings of confusion and emptiness. Knowing this, I am planning ahead because a plan will empower me. Here’s my plan:
1 - I am watching what I eat- oh, don’t think this is a diet! No way. I mean I am going to watch myself and poise myself to eat foods that will support the best emotional health I can manage. For me, this means avoiding the sweets because while they are comfort foods, they actually make me feel sluggish and more depressed. I know this about myself so they are going to happen in small doses (they will happen-remember this is not a diet). But, I will comfort myself with foods that actually make me FEEL good- for example, fresh squeezed orange juice.
*I hate making it, but I love drinking it!- so, I’m mentally gearing up for the squeeze. I’m going to put on some great Christmas music and get my juicer going. Making it an event will change the activity from drudge to something “special” for me.
2 - I am going to ride. My regular readers know I LOVE to ride my bike. Part of my plan is to take short rides several times a week. Notice, I am not committing myself to some long ride or 7 days a week- that will only set me up for guilt when it doesn’t happen. I am NOT into guilt. This is about taking care of me- not making me feel worse! I will take about three short rides each week. That’s the plan. Then, everything over that will make me feel even better- like I’ve done extra! (If you are navigating the boat of grief with me, I encourage you to embrace the feeling of completion. Completion is the antithesis of confusion. It provides a physical feeling that impacts the emotions in the most positive way.- and can be accomplished in lots of ways, not just bike riding)
3 - I am going to plan for time to myself. For example, I am going to tell my husband several days in advance of Christmas that when we are at his family gathering, I may take a walk around the block midday. That way, when I need time to think of Mom I’ll have it without a bunch of questions. Nothing is worse for me than when my husband asks a ton of questions about how I’m feeling. He means well, he is trying to be loving and supportive, but sometimes I just need to be able to exit without talking about it. So anticipating ahead of time and sharing that with him will allow me to take time easily.
*Note here: I’m not pretending the holidays are going to be easy. I KNOW I will need some private time. I’m planning for it. Pretending it won’t happen would be counter-intuitive. Be real with yourself!
4 - I am planning to put out the decorations. Yes, I am. I have an eleven year old who of course will push for Christmas to be the same as always- but that’s not my sole motivation. I think even if it weren’t for him, I would still decorate. It will be more difficult I know, but when I think of my momma, I think she would want me to continue living. In fact I think she’d be mad if I lay down this holiday season and said, “Oh to h*!! with it.” Ha! Even that phrase makes me smile. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard her say that in a variety of situations- most usually with great sarcasm. Remember, the shadow of grief comes, but we do not have to be engulfed in it. I’m counting on a few twinkling lights within a dimly lit room to shoo the shadow of grief away for small bits of time over the course of the season.
That’s it; my four step plan to deal with this first season without my momma. I’m not claiming it’s perfect, but I think it will help me. Perhaps it will give you some ideas on how to navigate this season. I surely hope so.
One thing I know is that having folks around who can simply say, “I know” is one of the best comforts. While I hate that my husband totally “gets it” because he lost his father- it is indeed a tremendous comfort when sometimes I say, “I’m sad about Momma” and he gives me the look that says without speaking, “I know honey.”
Let’s be here for each other. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Together we’ll make it.
May the holidays be a time of taking care of yourself that surprises you with some joy here and there throughout.
Peace be with you,
(Sad Angel by Akseez (via Flickr))