Grieving Your Way Through The Holidays

close-up of Santa in despair

The first holiday season after the loss of a loved one can be REALLY hard. I know this because I’m living through it right now. My mom died in March and the tears started up again at Thanksgiving — and they haven’t stopped since. The thing is, my mom was crazy about Christmas. I’m talking “Buddy the Elf” crazy about Christmas. It was irritating, really. So now I’m left with two feelings.

  1. Everything about Christmas reminds me of her. I miss her and her childlike joy of the season.
  2. I wish I could go back in time and enjoy her enthusiasm about the holiday instead of being irritated by it — ugh, regret is a hard thing.

Example: Mom would buy every kind of battery powered Christmas toy that moved or made noise (Santa, Rudolf, Snowman). One of her favorite things was to line up all these toys and have the kids try to race them. She was always way more interested in this race than the kids were, as the toys didn’t really walk in a straight line but limped around in circles or tipped over while banging their cymbals. (See me standing off to the side with the eye roll?)

 

She also had the annoying habit of buying motion activated Christmas toys that would burst into song whenever you walked by. These were very startling and I hated them. Although one year I did get some prurient joy from hiding one particularly obnoxious toy all over the house so she would set it off in the pantry, the kitchen cabinet, or the bathroom. (See me with a Grinch-like grin?)

 

Now I long to go back. To cheer on old Rudolf or praise the purchase of yet another obnoxious toy. I will never get another chance to jump up and down with her like Buddy the elf, “It’s Santa! It’s Santa!”  I can’t. It’s too late. (See the tears falling? Important note: Never try to write a blog about the loss of your mama during downtime at work. It’s really hard to explain why the new school counselor is crying).

 

I’ve asked my friends who have negotiated loss to share their wisdom about how to survive the holidays. Their outpouring of love and encouragement has been wonderful, and their ideas are really helpful. I thought I’d share them with you, in case you are going through this with me. And if you have any ideas to share, I would love to hear them!

Crowd Sourced Wisdom about How to Survive the Holidays after a Loss:

Robert: I found this book incredibly helpful after my Mum died. I did some of the exercises it recommended (wrote her a letter, made up a memory book). I commend it to you. 

Brooke: You do whatever feels right to you. If it feels right to make her favorite cookies say… Do it. If it doesn’t feel right to do it without her… yet, don’t. Cry whenever it hits you, and hard… sob if you want to, it’s healthy. There are no rules for grieving through a holiday – just be there for yourself like you would a friend.

Leanna:  Wish I had some magic advice to give. I lost my mom shortly before Christmas four years ago—very rough. Luckily I have a tight-knit family which I believe helped give us all some added strength during the holidays. Together, we got through it.

Peggy: Your mom was one of my favorite friends and she and I had a blast together both at work and just fun. My entire family has passed on except for my children and their families. I lost my hubby when I was 39. I don’t think I’ll ever get over any of it, but I find lighting a candle for them before Mass has certainly helped me remember their goodness and ask them to pray for me. You can bet your mom is always on that prayer.

Sharon: The first Christmas without my mom was rough. She made Christmas magical for the grandkids.

Karen:  It’s really a tough time.
And time is what you get… take time to enjoy the memories

Julie: Tell funny stories so that family will remember her with a smile and not tears.

Debi:  It’s not easy

Nancy:  I visited the town I grew up in and met with some high school friends from years past. It helped me feel closer to her.

Angela: It’s tough to do. I find if I keep busy I don’t think of my dad as often and I just remember the good memories we shared on Christmas. It’s been almost five years and I still find it tough. Draw close to those you love and good friends and family help too!

Bill:  Feel the feelings and go ahead and have a good cry when you need to, later you can cry then laugh and cry again.

Rebecca: My first Christmas also without my mom and dad. Feelings are all over the place. Looking at it but must admit escaping to Kansas to be with kids and grands. Entering their chaos this Christmas will help. Praying for you.

Naomi: I agree with Bill. I just kept sacrificing the pain to God and trusting that he had us all in his hands. Feel what you need to feel and do what you feel you need to do to grieve – whatever it is!

Julie:  Write her a love letter full of memories and promises that you will see her again and how wonderful that will be!

Christy:  All these are wonderful ways to help. I found spending time with the little ones in the family really makes it easier. New fresh spirits brighten the day.

Cindy: Jacci listen to “a different kind of Christmas” by Mark Schultz

Tammy: With our recent loss of our young son-in-law, and my mentor’s help, I’m learning the important connection of deeply and specifically counting our losses, mourning those, one by one, and then learning to receive the Lord’s comfort on each. In other words, the loss of Ben is central towards seemingly endless losses. The loss of a father for my grandson, the loss of marriage for my daughter, her loss of her best friend, the loss of my relationship with him, etc. ALL these need their own mourning and comfort in order for deep healing and meeting Jesus there. So, to recap, Losses need mourning, which needs comfort (felt and real) from Jesus. My grief book encouraged those who have a loss to actually put themselves in situations and places that cause grief and mourning or trigger it. We are so good at avoiding pain, but the heart is still wounded if we avoid.

Dear Friends, your love and wisdom is overwhelming. Thank you! Anyone else want to weigh in?

 

The Closet is No Place to Live!

fat dancer

My Zumba instructor is at least 75 lbs. overweight. I wondered when she came in to replace the petite blond, with impossible abs and a tight rear, if people would leave the class. Surprisingly, the class got bigger. As my new instructor danced with joy, her jiggly bits happily bouncing to the music, I started thinking about the power and freedom of authenticity. What does it mean to be your true self in front of the whole world?

You see, none of us could ever hope to look like my first teacher, but all of us could look at the second and say, “Well, if she can do this workout, so can I!” It was freeing not to be held up to an impossible standard, even if the standard was only in my mind.

I’ve just had a similar “coming out” experience. For the last two years, I was asked by my Christian employer to keep my advocacy for the LBGTQ community under wraps. My advocacy didn’t fit into the parameters of my employer’s theology. Because I loved and wanted to keep my job, I submitted to this request.

The problem is that when you agree to muzzle yourself about something important to you — to live in the closet — it has negative effects on your life.

First, you feel like a hypocrite. If I believe that equal rights is a justice issue, and I don’t speak out about it, then I’m promoting an unjust system. But, I justified my silence with the hope that I might be able to be a voice of reason from within my organization, so I stayed. Still, I felt bad about it every day.

Second, you spend a lot of time walking on eggshells. Walking on eggshells is exhausting. Wondering if pressing “like” on a Facebook post will get you fired is not a good way to live. I have a friend who was going through the exact same thing with me, and when we talked, we’d often end our conversations with, “At least I’m not fired today!” Until I was.

Third, you live with a muzzle around your mouth, constantly monitoring what you say to make it palatable to your bosses and others. Being muzzled is not fun. My dental hygienist says I’ve been clenching my teeth. “It’s the muzzle,” I say.

Forth, you become paranoid. Knowing that my Facebook posts were being monitored, that conversations were being reported, made me anxious. It felt like I was in the Red Scare, that I was about to be accused of being a communist at any minute. I just love gay people for Christ’s sake! Literally, for Christ’s sake.  Aren’t there bigger things we should be putting our energy into? Sex trafficking, racial injustice, world hunger…

Fifth, I lived in fear of the backlash. Would friends and relatives not like me if I came out of my self-imposed closet? Thankfully, for the most part this turned out not to be true. Sure, there were the exceptions; like being unfriended me on Facebook by someone dear. But, the support from friends and supporters was overwhelming! Even those who disagreed still assured me of their love. And the beautiful stories that started coming our way, almost daily, from gay friends, and parents of gays and those still living in closets, were worth it! What a privilege it is to be a safe person to talk to! There are so many who have no one in the Christian community they can trust with their hugely painful story.

So, what does it feel like when the closet door swings open and the fat girl comes out to dance? Ahhhh freedom, sweet freedom.  I feel at peace, lighter, happier even as I mourn the loss of all that I knew before. I feel the hope of living an authentic life. The thing is, I’m extremely aware that my hardships over the last two years are only a tiny taste of what my gay friends live with EVERY SINGLE DAY! As my wonderful husband is fond of saying, “The closet is no place to live.”

So, this is me, folks, I’m not the perky blond you might think I am. I’m the fat, dancing Zumba instructor with all of my jiggly bits out for the world to see. I love gay people and I want to help them heal from the pain the church has caused them and provide a safe place for them to be with Jesus. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed in me, but I’m not sorry enough to stay in the closet any longer.

I’m too busy inviting people to dance with me! Would you like to dance?

 

Beautiful Photo Credit: Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel