Holidays are not easy for many. In my heaviest grief days, I still always loved the holidays because I really love this time of year, as hectic as it can be (but that’s not to say that I didn’t feel a heavy weight, at times).
I was making my vegan cheesecakes today and thinking about recent conversations and tears with friends about lives lived, including my 3rd born, Bazil, that died at full term. So, I stopped what I was doing and sat down at my computer to throw a blog together about ways I keep lost loved ones close to me at this time of year. Whether you have recently lost someone or have been living with the death of a loved one for years, there are little ways to include them in your holidays. I find bringing them along in your celebrations and traditions helps ease the pain of missing them. Once you’ve loved someone, they are never forgotten. So why not celebrate them still? There are no rules. Grieving doesn’t stop one year later, nor does talking about them.
Ok, ways to keep someone close to you, over the holidays (and beyond), when they are no longer, physically, here with us:
1. LET THE TEARS FLOW First of all, tears flowing are healthy, so don’t shy away from doing something (ie, #2-6 below) that is going to make the tears flow and emotions surface. I watched an insta story last week that played a song that resonated with me back in 2009, when my baby died. I smiled as I watched and listened to it. I watched it a few times, just to hear the song. Then, I had a good cry for about 20 minutes. Then, I felt better. I obviously needed it. For me, in moments of sadness – for whoever I am missing – I’ve learned to welcome those moments because they make me feel closer to that person that I no longer get to hold. Especially, because as time passes, those moments of sadness are less frequent, so when they happen, I slow down and pay attention.
2. BUY A CHRISTMAS TREE ORNAMENT OR DECORATION This is a tradition in our house. We choose one for Bazil every year. This year, I found the sweetest, white metal painted angel wings. Our tree wasn’t up when we brought them home so I hung them on a nail on our white brick fireplace and I think that’s where they will stay. It can really be any decoration, not just for a tree. For my Dad, his nick name was Trout and he was Grandpa Choo Choo to my kids, so some years we buy a train or fish. It’s a nice way to bring them into your thoughts as you decorate every year, hanging and talking about past ornaments that were bought in their honour.
3. LIGHT A CANDLE Buy a candle that is only lit for when you think of that person. It becomes ‘their’ candle. If you have kids, let them help pick one out. We have a candle for Bazil that we never light for any other purpose other than when we are thinking of him. You can also bring it out for family holiday dinners. Light it on the day the person died. My kids always love blowing out the candle together and will gently run their hands through the smoke as it fades away, as if to feel his spirit. You can let other family members know about the candle or it can be your little secret.
4. TREE OF LIGHT CEREMONY Bereaved Families of Ontario – Toronto or other BFO organisations in your area usually have a tree of light ceremony. You donate money to have a dove put on the tree with your loved one’s name. There is a sense of importance going down to the ceremony and searching for and seeing your loved ones name written on the card. The Toronto ceremony takes place in early Dec at the city hall. We couldn’t go this year, so we lit Bazil’s candle instead. I liked remembering the day of the ceremony because it gave me a reason in my busy week to slow down and think of Bazil, and light his candle on a day where I would not have. BFO organizations also do butterfly releases in the spring and fall, another fantastic way to take time out of our busy schedules to devote to celebrating someone we love. (We also have a small wooden Christmas tree tucked away in a corner, up high in our house, where we hang some of the name tags that get sent out after the tree of light ceremony is finished. It’s also collected some doves that were purchased at those ceremonies and other little ornaments hung by my kids over the years. It’s not visible enough that causes attention or explanation to others, but it’s enough that we pass by, smile, think of them and feel its warmth.)
5. STOCKING We hang a stocking for our 3rd born. You don’t have to fill it, or you can (Santa usually puts something in it that the whole family can share) and no one has to even know who it is for. Hanging a stocking can be simply decorative and representative of the person that used to be there. For us, it’s also symbolic that Bazil is always a part of our family – he’s always with us. It was especially therapeutic in the years right after his death. A tradition my kids have always loved. (I made his stocking out of his siblings adorable, red and green striped Petit Bateaux pjs he would have worn – a process that was highly therapeutic for me.)
My girlfriend called me last week thanking me for helping her open her mind in finding ways to support friends who are grieving. Her one friend lost her daughter years ago. They were out shopping for Christmas decorations last week and when her friend was choosing stockings, my friend pointed out that they had one with the initial of her daughter’s name. After acknowledging that she wanted to get one, but questioned whether someone would find it weird, her friend ended up getting the stocking. It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks it’s weird. If it works for you, do it.
6. GIFTS I give birthday and Christmas gifts to the kids from their little brother. It’s a tradition I started the year he died when my kids were 3 and 5. (I also gave them a gift that year from my Dad, as he died, suddenly, that same year.) It was nothing more than finding a way to include them in our special celebrations. My kids knew it wasn’t really from them – but, in memory of them – but they cherished their little gifts. (Some of my intention with starting traditions like this was to also help them grow to not fear death, to embrace love and loss and to feel comfortable honouring and talking about someone they love that had died in a society that is bred to do the opposite.)
Remember, you are doing this for the person you lost and for yourself. No one else has to know, or you can share your ways of honouring. I always feel better when I make time to do these things. People that know me know that I am very open about how we honour those we’ve lost. Having some traditions or reminders help us to take time in our busy lives (often, just a moment) to honour the ones we’ve lost. We often don’t make time, we forget or we don’t know how and life moves on but the emotions don’t. Emotions only get harder to handle when you don’t address them and let them out. Most importantly, these traditions can lessen the weight of the person not being with you by giving you a sense of their presence.
Who you love is always with you.