The holiday season is right around the corner. Due to loss and deployments, the holidays can be a time of grief instead of joy for many. Feelings of not measuring up to treasured traditions, or shame for not feeling like celebrating at all, can steal your peace.
I lost my husband Gene right after Thanksgiving 2016. The following holidays were awful events that I put on a smile for the kids and tried to make the best of it. Thankfully my littles and I attended a grief share class. One session specifically discussed how to get through the holidays while grieving. The phrase was “The Empty Chair at the Table”, that person whose presence you were missing as you celebrate. I want to address this for our mamas who are not looking forward to the coming season.
A good friend and military wife of eighteen years, Ashley Turner spoke with me about holidays and deployments. A mom of two gorgeous girls, Ashley has had to do many holidays without her husband, Will. Not having any experience here myself, Ashley graciously agreed to share with me for Midwest City Moms so we can honor this journey for our military mom readers.
The first thing to realize in death or deployment is that we are grieving the absence of a loved one. This is a big load to carry, mamas! Please make space and be kind to yourself. We can often be unkind to ourselves when struggling. Let's all say no to that this season.
Comparison is a Thief
Be aware of comparison on these upcoming holidays, it is an easy trap to fall into, and hard one to climb out of. One option to help while grieving through the holidays is to celebrate with extended family or friends. For some, this can be a good distraction and a way to make new memories. Be conscious that seeing others celebrating with their whole family can make your missing person's presence be that much more magnified. For Ashley and I, being with others brought the grief of comparion up sharply. Don’t feel ungrateful if you experience this- listen to your emotions.
Do Something New!
Ashley and family were stationed in Hawaii for several years. One deployment was thirteen months long. Ashley and the girls had to celebrate all the birthdays and holidays that year without her husband. She decided instead of mourning that things were not going to be like normal, she and the girls would make a new experience. For Thanksgiving that year, they had BBQ on the beach. For Christmas they bought several extra Christmas trees. Ashley let the girls have a tree to decorate for their rooms. Realizing that things will be different and making a safe space to do something different can take the heavy emotional weight off the holidays. You would be surprised what treasured memories you can make when you throw out the rule book!
You Don't Have to Do it All
Did your husband cover every inch of your house in Christmas lights Griswold style? Did your mom cook the entire meal by scratch? You can treasure these memories without tiring yourself out trying to recreate someone else's role all by yourself. This will be a wide open door for comparison and feeling not enough. Be realistic. Maybe hire someone to do the lights. Ask Auntie to help make moms spread. Make Grandpa's favorite dish or watch your brother's favorite holiday movie. You can keep special traditions but be aware of your capacity. Speaking from experience trying to do it all can leave you feeling empty and dissatisfied. The phrase “he/she would have wanted it this way” does not honor your current circumstances. Don't let that thought keep you captive to something that no longer works for you. My husband loved the old blow mold yard figures. I was stressed thinking of trying to get the time, with six littles, to set them up, let alone not burn the house down. Instead I made some of my husband's favorite dishes for us and we watched his favorite Christmas movie, Home Alone. Ask yourself what you want from this season and leave the rest!
Be With Family
As I mentioned above, another option for the holidays is to celebrate with your family and friends. Having a support system around you can give you a chance to step back and breathe. Going to Grandma's house means prep, conversation, and clean up is not solely on you. Spending the holiday with your friends, the family you choose, can also make you feel less alone. Being around others that understand and share your grief can be a healing process. Sharing your favorite memories, laughing over old times, and if you feel comfortable crying over them too. Whether your loved one has passed away or deployed, being with family and friends can be a huge support.
Remember the holidays can still be beautiful! Treasure your old memories and traditions, but also make some new ones, mama.
To all our Midwest City Moms grieving this holiday- you are in our prayers.