Christmas mourning and memories

My mother loved the holidays. She took great pleasure in creating a festive household: elaborately decorating our home with tasteful centerpieces and garlands, candles everywhere aglow from sundown to bedtime; house redolent with the mouth-watering aromas of Christmas cookies and wassail as we strung popcorn and cranberries to strains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Boston Pops drifting through the house. She loved having various friends and neighbors in; preparing for family to arrive and planning gourmet Christmas dinners to lavish upon her beloved. 
In 1996 Mom lost her battle with cancer 10 days before her birthday, and 2 ½ weeks before Christmas. Until the time of her death, each holiday celebration had been an extension of former joys, as I tried to recreate for my children the magic I experienced as a youngster.
Tradition creates a bridge from the past to the present. Upon the loss of a crucial element of the past, that bridge seems to collapse, leaving us to wonder how on earth we can carry on. 

But life goes on, and carry on we must, particularly if there are children involved.

When we are in mourning, the pain becomes unbearable. As much as we wish to escape the anguish, it is necessary to face it before we can move beyond it. When the feelings come, let them. It is not necessary to put up a front; let people know if you’re having a tough day. Don’t hide your feelings from children in an effort to be strong for them or to protect them. You’ll only be teaching them to deny their own feelings.

It is best not to isolate yourself too much. You may not feel much like celebrating, but accepting a few invitations to spend time with close friends or family can provide great comfort.

Some of us are inclined to turn to drink. Alcohol is a depressant, so drinking serves only to worsen the heartache, not to mention all the other complications created by substance abuse.

Families can spend so many years following the same patterns and routines that we forget these traditions were made by others, suitable to their experience. Customs created under different circumstances may no longer be appropriate for the newly bereaved and it becomes necessary to make changes in the routine.

Change and adjustment are essential for those in mourning. The early stages of grief require new practices. Even customs “set in stone” need to be modified. We need to remember to include other grieving members of the family, especially children, in the decisions regarding family customs.
Incorporate the memory of your dearly departed into the holidays: Share your favorite stories over dinner. Make a toast or light a candle in remembrance. Making a contribution to a favorite charity, donating a book to the library or making a plan to plant a tree in their memory is of great solace. This in itself may become part of your revised holiday tradition.
Traditions bind families and societies tightly to one another. But altering our traditions to suit our current state of affairs makes sense. Each moment, each stage of life, demands its own customs and its own rituals. For while family tradition serves to build a bridge from the past to the present, an adaptation of custom is necessary to take us into the future.

Since my mother had been the cornerstone of what the holidays meant to me, it just seemed too excruciatingly painful to carry on, and every year the season’s celebration became a chore. Decorations remained in the attic, cookies unbaked.
Several years after she died, the idea of honoring my mother by celebrating her birthday was presented. Dinner on that date, consisting of her favorite holiday fare has since become part of our amended family tradition. Last year my sister mailed a package with instructions to open it on Mom’s birthday. It contained a beautiful old photo of her taken during the holidays, along with a cd of her favorite jazz band. It was as if my mother was in the room with us. -RDW (11-30-09)




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