My mother died last Christmas. How do I even celebrate this year?

The question:


My family loves the holidays. But last year, my mother passed away around this time, which was an incredibly sad time for everyone. I took it especially hard. Now that it’s a year later, there’s a weird feeling in the air, for me at least, that the holidays won’t be the same ever again. My husband and two daughters are usually a very festive family, but I’m worried I’ll forever associate her death with the holidays. I don’t want to be a drag. How can I grieve for and remember my mother, without depressing the spirit of the season?


The answer:


My sincere condolences on the loss of your mother. Nine years ago my father died – unexpectedly and at a very young age – around this time of the year, so I can understand how difficult this is not only from a professional perspective, but also from a personal one.


The death of someone dear to us takes a huge toll on the happiness and joy we may usually experience around the holidays. I can promise you it won’t always feel as hard as it does this year. You will always think of and remember your mom, and miss her presence, but you won’t always feel the depth of sadness that you are right now.


The year of “firsts” is always the most difficult: the first birthdays, the first Mother’s Day – and the first holiday season. Give yourself permission to be easy on yourself this year.


Two things I would suggest: First, have an open and candid discussion with your husband and your daughters. This conversation should be age-appropriate, given the developmental stage your girls are at. Be honest. Let them know that you know how much your family loves the holidays, but this year you are feeling sad and not in a very celebratory mood.


Be candid in conveying that you want them to have fun, but you want things to be a little lower key than usual. You may be surprised to learn that they also feel awkward about how to approach the season and may welcome you speaking openly about this, particularly if they have observed the impact your mother’s death has had on you over the past year.


Second: Find a way to honour and incorporate the memory of your mother in the season’s celebrations. Involve your girls in this discussion. Ask them how they think Grandma would like to be remembered, and what things you could do as a family to remember her. You could light a candle; pull out some of her favourite Christmas decorations; go to a place or engage in an activity she loved; or visit her grave or a place where you have shared positive memories with her.


Often a big factor that holds us back from wanting to celebrate after a loved one passes relates to guilt – guilt at being happy when our loved one is no longer here. We may feel like we don’t have the right to celebrate when their life has ended, or somehow feel that we are betraying their memory if we are having fun. Know that none of these things are true.


Enjoying and celebrating the present, with your family who is with you, in no way negates the love you’ve had for your mother. The best way to honour the memories of those we have lost is to maximize our enjoyment of our loved ones while they are alive.


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