The first Christmas after we lost our daughter I successfully pretended the holidays did not exist. Hiding inside our home, ignoring the phone and invitations for gatherings was perfectly acceptable. No one knew what to say to me anyway.
The second Christmas we attended one small family event. We exchanged gifts with our immediate family and conveniently ran out of time to put up a Christmas tree or mail Christmas cards.
By the third year, I felt the unspoken pressure to return to the holidays. I spent way too much time trying to create photo cards that didn’t glare with the loss of my daughter. I swallowed tears through decorating the tree, never managed to put up Christmas stockings and cried to and from every holiday get-together.
This year will be our sixth year without Hadley and while there is part of me that misses the “free pass” we were given the first year or two to grieve, I have learned to like the holidays a little again. There are a few small things that I have done over the years to cope with the holidays:
1. Buy something meaningful. Every year I find something that is just for Hadley. An ornament, a figurine, a donation to a little girl who is less fortunate. Making a conscious effort to buy something in her name makes me feel like I’m giving her a present, even though it is not the stack of gifts under the tree I had once imagined.
2. Include my daughter. It took me years to buy a stocking for her because I couldn’t imagine it hanging empty on our fireplace but I have felt comforted by it sitting exactly where it should ever since I bought it. I like that other people see it and the reminder it gives everyone that she is never far from our hearts.
3. Find new ways to do things of the past. My mind was stuck on the wording of our Christmas cards and holiday photos so much so that I skipped them all together. The past few years I have signed our cards “from the kids” instead of wavering between including Hadley’s name or not and I’ve used collage photos instead of a family photo because I’m just not ready for one without her.
4. Give yourself a break. There are things I’ve learned I just can’t do anymore so I don’t. Huge holiday parties are too much for me and visiting with people who are likely to say something insensitive isn’t something I enjoy either so I’ve crossed both off of my list. It took me a little while to not give excuses and just be okay with saying “no” but I’ve learned that setting boundaries is the key to maintaining my sanity.
5. Connecting with other loss moms. I can’t put into words how important it has been to have a few women to go to who understand my grief. Even if it’s a quick text to say “I cried over cookie-making” or “I made it through tree decorating,” knowing there are people out there who are in my shoes and don’t need a long explanation for my tears, or lack of, is a lifesaver for me during the holidays and we all lean on each other a little bit more this time of year.
What do you do to help you cope with the holidays?