Copyright: rck953 /123RFPhoto
Copyright: rck953 /123RFPhoto

The arena filled with a buzz from the chatter of more than 10,000 women gathered for a two day conference. Each time a speaker took the stage, a hush fell over the crowd. But, as soon as there was even the smallest break in the program, chatter quickly filled the arena.

On one break I struck up a conversation with the two ladies, a mother and her adult daughter, sitting next to me.  Somehow we got on the topic of fear. I’m not sure how, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s because I told them about A Search for Purple Cows. The daughter shared that she’s a police officer. One of her biggest fears is also a significant motivator for her. She sometimes fears what’s on the other end of an emergency call, not because she’s fearful of the danger rather she’s seen the pain and heartbreak when the emergency involves a child. Her strength and compassion has made a difference in some really tough situations.

Her mother proceeded to share a fear that she lived through fairly recently. Living several states away from her parents, her dad had been diagnosed with lymphoma. He was a proud navy vet who lived too far away for daily or even weekly visits. She made arrangements to visit him as often a possible despite the miles. She watched from afar as cancer took its toll on her dad, claiming his life just before the holidays. She shared her fear of surviving the holidays and life’s road ahead without him.

As she shared her heart and her deepest fear, I sat quietly until she was finished. It wasn’t until then that I told her my dad, a proud navy vet, who lived several states away was fighting for his life against lymphoma. When I met her, he had already begun his battle through chemotherapy and the treatment had already robbed him of much of his strength. A daddy’s girl, my biggest fear was knowing one day he wouldn’t be here to share the holidays, a peanut butter Ritz cracker, a laugh, a story, or the future with me. Struggling with the miles between where I lived and home, I visited as often as I could but I knew one visit would be the last. Although I was blessed to share two more Christmases with him after that conference, this year will be my family’s first without him.

I think back to the blessing of sitting next to a total stranger in a crowd of 10,000 who shared a similar journey. She too knew facing the holidays would be a challenge. When prayed about it, she received a reassuring peace. While she wouldn’t be able to spend the holidays that year with her dad, he would have the chance to celebrate it on the other side, pain free and strong. The peace in her heart reminded her that she would see him again and, one day they’d even share the holidays together again.

Her story brings me hope this year. Not just her perspective on the holidays and knowing my dad will be spending them cancer free and strong on the other side, but also knowing I will see him again one day. I find peace choosing to believe it wasn’t a coincidence that she shared such an intimate story with me that would ultimately mirror my own journey with my dad. In an arena of 10,000, she shared it with me. Perhaps it can give you hope this Christmas as well.

How do you celebrate, find joy, or survive the holidays when your heart is broken? I’ve pulled together a list of several things you can do that will help. Pick the ones that will work for you the best. I know I’ll be using these this year and probably for the years to come as well.

Things you can do to survive and celebrate the holidays:

  • Buy or make a Christmas ornament that reminds you of them and hang it on your tree.
  • Write a tribute to them online or on paper.
  • Light a candle in their memory.
  • Carefully consider which traditions you want to keep or which ones you want to change.
  • Communicate how you’d like to spend the holidays with your friends and family so that they know how you’d like to celebrate.
  • Give in memory of your loved one to a charity or organization important to them.
  • Donate a toy, or food through a local charity in their name.
  • See a counselor to talk through your grief.
  • Put a wreath or decoration at their grave site.
  • Take time to journal your feelings.
  • Don’t overload your schedule. Allow for some down time.
  • Don’t feel guilty for saying no to some invitations.
  • Send or don’t send Christmas cards – and don’t feel guilty for your choice.
  • Attend a support group such as a GriefShare Holiday event http://www.griefshare.org/holidays
  • Simplify your decorations. Don’t be overwhelmed by thinking you need to do it all.
  • Remind yourself, it’s ok to cry.
  • Let go of holiday perfectionism and enjoy whatever unfolds.
  • Take time to be thankful for three things every day throughout the season.
  • Don’t over indulge on food, alcohol, shopping. Overdoing it in any area can lead to regret and rob your enjoyment.
  • Say yes to the help offered by others.
  • Make plans to joins someone for dinner. Don’t feel like you need to host or cook this year.
  • Identify people who provide you with support and those who fill you with stress. Spend more time with the supportive people than the stressful people.
  • Enjoy some quiet time.
  • Donate flowers at your church in memory of your loved one.
  • Prioritize your list. Let lower priority things fall off the list this year.
  • Talk to supportive friends or family.
  • Choose to be blessed by “coincidences” that show up and warm your heart. They truly are treasures!
  • Remind yourself that your loved one is celebrating the holidays in heaven. They’re pain free and strong. They’re no longer weakened by cancer or disease. And, you will see them again one day.
  • Let yourself enjoy the holidays and be happy. Your loved one would want you to have a smile and would want you to enjoy the season!

If you’ve lost a loved one in the past, how have you survived the holidays? Any tips you can share with me or others going through their first Christmas without a loved one? I’d love to hear from you!

Susan Call - Author

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