Thinking Out Loud: Can we skip the holidays?

John T. Catrett III
John T. Catrett III

Whether the death occurred this year, or many years ago, the unavoidable sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday season trigger the painful emotions of grief. Those traditions of family togetherness and celebration will never be the same. 

Did you notice that in October the store shelves are already being stocked with holiday items? A common question asked by many of my precious patients' family members who lost loved ones during this time of year is, "How can I make the holidays disappear?" In other words, they are saying that they just can't handle the feelings of enjoying the holiday season without their loved one. 

You are correct in thinking that this season will not be the same; however, it can be meaningful and memorable. One common pitfall of holiday grief is denial. When we start wishing that these days would disappear from our calendar or that we could vanish until after the holidays, we are going through a season of denial. We are denying the loss of our loved one and are denying our continued life without them even more so. 

Although we might feel this way, it will actually delay the grieving process. The common saying "you must go through to get through" states that it is a necessary part of the grief work. No, it will not be easy, but we need to allow ourselves to feel and express these emotions of sadness, loneliness, disappointment, etc. I want to be honest with you by saying that it is not going to be easy. The evil one and negative thoughts will tell us that it's impossible to move forward… to move “through the grief” in our life. 

We need to ask ourselves, "What meaningful contributions will we make to our family, community, the world? What legacy will we leave? What will those left behind us grieve when we leave this earth?" 

Since we have to attend at least our immediate family holiday functions and should attend one or more church or friend-type gatherings – even if only for the requisite stop and say “Happy Holiday!” and leave. Here are three suggestions for making it meaningful: 

• Buy a gift in honor of our loved one and donate it to a charitable organization. This will give us a feeling of honoring our loved one as well as a feeling of gratitude. 

• Do something that our precious loved one always wanted to do but never did (whether or not we liked the idea) or an activity that our loved one enjoyed, like golfing, going to the museum, parasailing, mountain climbing, etc... This might even be an activity that was shared together in the past. If so, this will help transition us to our "new life" without our wonderful loved one but will aid in our remembrance of them. 

• Start a brand new holiday tradition for our family. Simply think outside the box and get creative with ideas. Remember, this is our personal journey. 

After reading this article, I trust you as your personal residential chaplain of this local newspaper to ponder how you can honor your loved one this holiday season. We will cover more of this with other articles during the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, you are encouraged to prepare your tender soul by cherishing each of the memories that will erupt in your heart and mind… and vow to make this holiday season meaningful, and Christ-honoring. 

John T. Catrett III is ONHL hospice chaplain and writes a regular column about loss of loved ones and how to cope with grief.