My son Reeves was 3 years old when Madison was born asleep. It was October, and I can remember being very fearful of the upcoming holiday season and how we would navigate it. I have often said, if it had been just Jeff and I, we would have gone away until it was over. I wanted nothing to do with a “normal” holiday as nothing about my life felt remotely normal anymore. But, we had Reeves to consider.
Looking back, these were the things that helped us the most that first holiday season after loss:
Avoid your triggers. For me this meant music. Christmas music has always been very emotional for me, and on a good year, certain songs will send me running for the Kleenex. I also got very upset and anxious around large crowds of people or events, so I avoided those as much as possible.
You don’t have to go big. We have worked hard to keep the holidays low key since having Reeves. That first year, we insisted upon it. Anyone who has kids knows how quickly it can get WAY out of hand. We did minimal gifts and decorations. We did not make plans to attend any parties or gatherings. For the first time ever we did not send Christmas cards. I conserved my energy for the things that meant the most to us, and allowed the other things to go undone.
Do the best you can. At this point in my first year, I was still crying and sleeping a lot. My energy level was extremely low, and somedays just getting dressed and coming downstairs was all I was capable of doing. If I forced myself to get involved in something that was a trigger, or overly stressful for me, it would cause a lot of undue anxiety of Reeves and I. I learned very quickly to do only what I could when I could.
Be kind to yourself. There is no playbook for this stuff. What worked for me one day didn’t work the next, and it won’t necessarily work for you. Imagine for me if you can that you are your own best friend. What would you say to her? How would you treat her? Would you be kind and loving? Would you tell her to be easy with herself? Would you encourage her to rest and grieve as she needed to? I bet you would. Be that good friend for yourself.
Our little boy who had seen his parents go through a life changing time filled with despair and grief, was still filled with the wonder of the holidays. The truth is, his expectations of that first holiday were really a lot lower than the bar we mentally set for ourselves. He really just wanted to be around the happiest and best version of his parents, and when we took care of ourselves we were able to give him just that.