Thursday, December 4, 2014

12 Days of Christmas: Day Four

Welcome to Day Four of the All That Love Can Do 12 Days of Christmas! You can read all about this online event HERE. If you'd like to catch up on all the posts from this event, you can find them HERE

Facing the holidays without your baby, or when you know your baby's life is going to be short, is overwhelmingly hard. Please, above all else, be gentle with yourself. 

If you'd like to connect with other loss families facing the holidays without their children, you can join the private group on Facebook, HERE

We hope you find peace and healing in the days to come <3. 

 ~ ~ ~

Day Four: 6 Ways to Survive the Holidays Without Your Child
by Angela Miller

For a bereaved parent, this time of year might not be the season of Yuletide-cheer it once was. Your eggnog might taste like crap even if it is homemade. The lights and Lords-a-leepin' might have lost their luster. The whole season might feel like a cruel joke. Worst yet, you might feel like the only person who has one or more missing from your holiday table. 

For bereaved parents, the anxiety of the looming holidays can be downright debilitating, and surviving it can feel virtually impossible. 

But guess what? That's perfectly ok. It's not easy, but it's ok to allow it to be exactly what it is-- nothing more and nothing less. If you feel like shit, allow it. Though repugnant, this is is your new holiday reality. 

You certainly don't have to like it. It's also possible you might need some new traditions and tools to help you cope. Here is the good news: there are compassionate souls ready and willing to offer their open arms, shoulders to cry on and hard-earned wisdom to help you navigate the emotional landmines of the holidays. Seek the support of these gentle and loving hearts often. 

Keep in mind, none of this is simple or "easy" to do. 

Nothing post-loss is. In fact, oftentimes it is excruciatingly difficult, and might feel more like torture and a whole lot of 'Bah! Humbug!' than 'Happy Holidays!' 

Here is what has helped me survive the holidays these past six years as a bereaved parent. Keyword: survive
. . .

6 Ways to (Better) Survive the Holidays Without Your Child:

1). Practice radical and sensational self-care: Give yourself permission to take good care of yourself. You deserve it. More than that, you need it. Trust me. Treat yourself as you would a physically wounded person with deep, visible, bleeding wounds. Just because emotional wounds are invisible, doesn't make them less debilitating or less real. Remember that. Remind your family of that too. Treat yourself extra gently this time of 
year-- like the carefully marked packages that read, 'Fragile: handle with care.' More than that, be proactive--have a plan to give yourself the gift of good self-care all season long. 

2). Remove expectations: Free yourself to participate in as little or as much holiday hoopla as you'd like. Forget about everyone's expectations, especially yours. Adjust your expectations to be realistic with what is. Keyword: realistic. This year might look much different than last year so adjust accordingly with what you can handle right now, as you are, in this moment. As hard as it might be, try not to compare what you are able to do this year with anyone else, including past versions of yourself. Yes, I know: so. painfully. hard-- but do it anyway. Be realistic, radically kind and oh-so-loving with  yourself. 

3). Just show up (or not.) Allow yourself to change locations, holiday traditions or defy social norms. Allow yourself to show up, or not. Here's the thing: nothing is "normal" any more. Normal died when your child did. Which means you're living in the land of defying normal now. Anything goes. Give yourself permission to do what you need to do this year, even if it seems "abnormal" or outlandish to yourself or anyone else. 

That alone might feel liberating. Laugh when you feel like laughing; cry when you need a good cry; let yourself wallow if you need to wallow. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks. Staying in bed until the holidays pass, or ditching town altogether are all completely acceptable options. Think outside the box and don't be afraid to do something completely different that shakes up all expectations, past holiday traditions-- and possibly your Great Aunt Bertha. What worked in the past might not work now. And that's perfectly okay. Sometimes a change of scenery is exactly what's needed to survive the holidays without your precious child.

4). Honor your child in ways that are meaningful to you. Keywords: meaningful to you. Participate in random acts of kindness in loving memory of your precious child gone too soon. Donate your favorite grief book to your local library, church, hospital, grief center or therapist's office. Volunteer at an international orphanage. Volunteer right in your neighborhood. Or, one of my all-time favorites: buy gifts for children in need who are the exact same age your child would be. No matter what you choose to do, spread hope and help to others even if you don't feel like you have much to give. 

Whatever you give will be multiplied, and it will be more than enough. After all, the true gift is in the giving, especially in the midst of deep grief. 

5). Feel your feelings, no matter how messy they are. Give yourself ample space to feel however you feel, including opposite emotions at the same time. You might feel hopeful and defeated; joy and sorrow; happiness and sadness; gratefulness and ungratefulness; anger and peace; loneliness and the opposite of loneliness. And all of these might be even more amplified during the holidays. A wise person once told me that being able to hold space for contradictory emotions at the same time is a sign of extraordinary  emotional maturity. It's true. You're not crazy, you're extraordinary. Remind yourself of this often. Especially every time you feel ripped apart by your dueling and opposing emotions. It's hard work to keep feeling that way. Grief is unpredictable, exhausting, confusing and messy. Do your best to feel all of it until you just need a break from feeling. It's ok to take a break and re-set. Deep breathing, chatting with a friend, a brisk walk outside, yoga, exercise, herbal tea, and healthy eating are all good ways to support the emotional toll that grief takes on your body during the holidays.  

6). Ask for help. Whether online, or in-person, compassionate, empathetic support saves lives. Period. Having a village of support can often make the difference between surviving or not. I wasn't lucky enough to have a village, but I had one person-- and that was somehow enough to keep my head above water. I hope we all have a village of kindreds, or at least one dearest one who knows how to offer us compassionate and loving grief support whenever you we need it. If you don't have anyone, count me in your corner. Seriously. I'd be honored. Everyone needs someone to lean on. There is no worse feeling in the world than 
feeling utterly and completely alone. Trust me, I've been there. Do yourself a favor and be proactive during the holidays by having your core support "team" at the ready. For whatever might come. Your "team" might be made up of one person, or ten-- it doesn't matter. What matters is that a support person will be there when you need him or her the most. It might be your spouse, your best friend or your therapist. Whether you need  someone to listen, cry with you, or lie in the ditch of grief with you, have these dear hearts at the ready. As your safety net, your soft place to land, your whispers of hope. It might be the one sure thing that eases your mind and heart this holiday season. In the words of Sarah Longacre, "Let your support rise up to meet you."
. . .

Remember, these are just ideas of things that might be helpful to you-- take what is helpful, leave what is not. 

I'm no expert, only an expert at trusting my own heart and doing what works for me. Just like grief, there are no rules for surviving holiday grief. Do what you need to do to survive, honor your child how you need to and do what feels best for your fragile, aching heart. You are missing a huge piece of you, so do whatever you need to do to find a sliver of peace.  

Remember that no one, no one, no one has the exact relationship you do with your precious child. No one will feel the exact same agony, pain and longing you do for your child this time of year. Therefore, no one has a right to give you unsolicited advice about how to tend to your soul-deep wounds-- this holiday season-- or any day of the year. 

Throw out well-meaning, but unhelpful advice. Throw out any to-do lists that don't work for you. Yours or anyone else's. 

Except maybe this one: 

That's it. Pretty much sums up everything you need to know for surviving the holidays, right? 


Probably not, but it's a great reminder to keep things as simple as possible. Realistic. Do-able. If it feels like too much this year, listen. Follow your heart. Let it lead you through this holiday season. Your heart knows exactly what it needs to comfort itself and to prevent further damage and unnecessary bruising. Give yourself radical permission to trust your own broken, beating heart.   

And if anyone gives you crap, blame me. 

 ~ ~ ~

Angela Miller is a writer, author, and grief advocate who provides support and solace to those who are grieving. She is the mother of three sons, two she holds in her arms and one she forever holds in her heart. Angela is the author of You Are the Mother of All Mothers: A Message of Hope for the Grieving Hearta writer for Still Standing Magazine and the founder of the award winning online community A Bed For My Heart. Angela writes candidly about child loss and grief without sugar coating the reality of life after loss. Her writing and her book have been featured in Forbes, MPR, BlogTalk Radio, Open to Hope Radio, and Writerly, among others. Angela is also an advocate for Faith's Lodge, a retreat center in Wisconsin for families who have lost a child.


Shauna said...

I love your grieving To Do List--I wish I had had this 5 years ago, I've wasted too much time trying to pretend everything was okay and normal at the holidays when after my babies died it was NOT normal or won't be normal ever again. <3

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for these posts! <3

Unknown said...

Very well written. Thank you for these words that are full of wisdom, experience, and freedom. This holiday season marks the 7th year of our firstborn's death. We have 2 little ones who were born after him. It's hard for me to navigate this season with their excitement and expectations and feeling a HUGE piece of our family is missing and it hurts more than I thought possible...

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