We just celebrated our third Thanksgiving since Casey's death. I remember that for our first Thanksgiving I wanted to say something for Casey but was too emotional and could not. I regretted not writing it down so that someone else could read it for me.In our family we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah and Casey loved both holidays.From carefully taking out the tree ornaments from prior years-many made by Casey when she was a little kid in school- and decorating the tree, waking up hours early on Christmas morning, having her gifts on the left side of the tree, her stocking hanging on the left of the fireplace mantel, looking for the Hanukkah gelt(chocolate candies looking like gold coins), lighting the menorah, and exchanging gifts there are just so many memories. As elegant, classy and well-dressed as Casey was when she would go out, I most remember and miss her with her hair tied back, half asleep, no make up and with an extra-sized night shirt on coming down the steps in the morning-as an 8 year old and all the years in between. Even after she lived away at college when she would come home I would so look forward to seeing her like that. Her looks changed as she matured but there was always something so simple, genuine and comforting to me about seeing my little girl like that during the holidays. Or making her favorite breakfast-2 slices of french toast placed together like a sandwhich with a bar of chocolate melted in between. I miss her every day--these little things that I won't see and there are so many memories surrounding the holidays. Holiday memories are built on family traditions and now one of our family is dead .
At the hospice where I work part-time I recently did bereavement programs for the families to help prepare them for the first holidays since their loss. If we can try to plan ahead and think of what the holidays will look like without our loved one we can try to make decisions about what we want to do or not do as opposed to just letting the holidays happen. Will we do things the same to carry on traditions, or will we purposely alter how we celebrate so it will be less painful? Will it be too painful to be around many people who are celebrating when we may feel that to celebrate at all and enjoy ourselves is dishonoring our loved one? Will we welcome suggestions of friends and family how to celebrate or will we feel resentful and consider it an intrusion? Will we feel up to all the tasks that the holidays bring, and, if not, will we feel comfortable saying no or asking others for help when we did not need to do so in the past? One of my clients told me that her daughter-in-law did not set a place at the Thanksgiving table for her recently deceased husband and she became so angry and enraged and confronted her daughter-in-law with her lack of sensitivity and caring at the table before the meal. It is almost impossible to predict how one will react who is still mourning , but planning in advance and talking about what you need should help. While those in mourning may not know how they will react, well-meaning family members and friends most assuredly do not know either. If those who are in mourning can, it helps to tell others what you want to do and what you need from them, knowing that you can always change those plans if you need to. We who mourn loved ones need to care for ourselves and may need more care during the holidays.