Excerpt from Life after Losing a Child (Young & Romer): Holidays


If you’re a newly bereaved parent of a deceased child and you haven’t encountered a major holiday yet—say Thanksgiving or Christmas, be prepared for a shock. The holidays can bring home the extent of your loss in a way that nothing else can.

Having recently lost a child, you might not be thinking about the holiday or how it will affect you. This is a mistake. It is better to face it in advance and decide how you will handle the holiday. Will you decorate for Christmas as you’ve always done? Will you go to a relative’s house and try to get through the whole thing as quickly as possible? Or will you close up shop and absent yourself from the holiday completely, traveling to Cancun, Key West, or a neighborhood motel, with or without your spouse?

Paulette Jarnagin lost her son Keith in a drowning accident six months before Christmas. Paulette, who admits to “always going overboard” at Christmas, didn’t want to celebrate the holiday that year, but her family and friends talked her into it. After she put up the tree, her husband suggested placing a photo of Keith under it, and that small gesture helped a lot.

“We had Keith with us for Christmas,” Paulette said.

Whatever you decide to do, make your plans in advance. Don’t let the holiday ambush you and leave you sitting home alone crying on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or your child’s birthday. If all else fails, go out to a movie. Movies are almost always open on holidays and can provide you the comfort you need.

Here are some other things you can do on a holiday:

1. Visit an elderly or sick relative or friend, and bring a gift. Focusing on cheering someone else up will help cheer you up.

2. Go shopping. Many malls or discount outlets are open on the holidays—Christmas Eve, if not Christmas Day. Go out and buy yourself something nice. Or visit a National Park, museum, planetarium, or mountain retreat. If going to a local park, bring a lunch with some festive food to enjoy.

3. If you’re going to a relative’s home for Christmas, make something special to contribute—a pie, an unusual salad, or hors d’oeuvre. This will serve to distance you from some of the feelings that may well up in you during the day. 

4. Volunteer to serve a meal at a homeless shelter. No, this is not for everyone—but it will certainly take your mind off your loss.

5. If you and your spouse are planning to have a holiday dinner at your home for your other children, go out of your way to make them feel special. Be grateful that you have other children or relatives to care for, and do something nice for each one individually.

Holidays can be difficult for many people—widows, widowers, divorcees and those who are alone. They can be especially hard for grieving parents, but they can be made easier with a plan—and gratitude for the time you did have with your beloved child.

Life after Losing a Child is available online, at retail stores, via Kindle, and from msipress.com/shop. The MSI Press webstore offers a 25% discount, using coupon code FF25.

Read more posts by and about Pat Young and Joanna Romer.


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