celebration laundry list

The Celebration Laundry List

Last time I wrote about celebrating the holidays – how they can be a stressful time for everyone while acknowledging the added difficulty for bereaved parents in particular. Today I want to delve into some of the whys this season (and frankly any celebration) can be so utterly wrought with conflicting emotions for parents who’ve gone through the death of a child, at any age.  And while I can only speak from my own experience of losing a child, I suspect much of what I say will resonate with others who’ve lost anyone significant.

Even though it’s been over fifteen years since Alison died, sitting down with paper and pen I was able to come up with the following “Laundry List” in less than two minutes:

  • Facing the Obvious Hole – There’s no ignoring not buying gifts, the empty seat at the Thanksgiving table, or the lack of Halloween costume.  So what do you do about the hole? You try your hand at…
  • Creating New Memories – You know you should celebrate somehow, but how?  And if you do, there’s guilt around actually enjoying anything and with that comes the…
  • Stress of Perfection – For some crazy reason many of us place an expectation of perfection around holiday celebrations. We place it on ourselves, the “scene” we attempt to create, others around us, and how we are coping with our loss.  Not to mention the pressure we feel of others expecting their version of perfection from us, which leads to…
  • Watchful Eyes – Family and friends who love you will be watching to see how you’re doing.  On the one hand it’s nice to know you’re loved, it’s just so freaking stressful and uncomfortable knowing you’re under the microscope. Knowing it, you start feeling anxious wondering if you have the energy for…
  • Setting Boundaries – Now more than ever you need the time and space to do and feel whatever you need, and now more than ever, you feel more depleted from the get go. You may not have the bandwidth to think about setting boundaries, much less how to effectively do it. And finally,
  • The Unknown – Even if this isn’t your first, second, or even fifth year without your child, you still have no idea what is going to hit you, nor do you know when or how it will. And that not knowing is stressful.  Especially if you’re many years in, you’ll most likely find yourself in celebration situations with folks who may not know about your child. Now you have the added bonus of preparing yourself for how you’ll respond to questions or comments leading to your past.

Each item on the laundry list could be a stand-alone topic, full of its own complexities. What I’ve also discovered over the last seventeen years is that thankfully there are ways to navigate through each item on this list. So over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing what I’ve discovered has worked for me. For today please know you are loved, you are not alone, and your experience is normal. 

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