I have had many sad holidays, grieving the loss of my parents, during my separation and divorce and the times when money was sparse and good cheer was short. But holidays without your child, is a test of endurance, a counting of the days until it is over, forced cheer. Here are a few excerpts from Whisper their names. The journey to peace after losing your child. You cannot anticipate when grief will hit hardest. I remember walking into Canadian Tire two years after my father passed. The sight of a poinsettia display stopped me cold. In a heartbeat, my eyes welled up and I couldn’t swallow. I had always bought my dad a small poinsettia for his apartment when he no longer wanted Christmas decorations up. The thought that the simple tradition would never happen again left me still. That’s when grief slaps you in the face. Maybe it’s the smile of your neighbor’s child or the toy display at the checkout. Maybe it’s the color of the hair of the person standing ahead of you in line. It can happen at any time and it hurts just as any physical pain might. Regardless it can act as a deep ache of longing that nothing fills. There, of course, will be predictable hard days and occasions. Certain days take on significance of course: your baby’s birthdate, the day you lost them, the first after the loss, the first Christmas, etc. Some have described it as a “roller coaster you never really get off.” But I can offer you some hope. The bad days will eventually become less intense and will happen with less frequency. And as your pain fades, the memories will increase. In fact, it is a lifelong journey of learning to live the loss.

You will always retain your connection to that person who you have invested in however brief that connection was. As stated in several books I have read over time, “ Grief is not an illness you recover from”. Another thing to remember at this difficult challenge of holidays, your trauma is valid. Even if it has been many years since you lost your child, and someone thinks you ‘should be over it by now” . That is not true. You are changed. You need to set loving boundaries, you have worth and you need to surround yourself with the people that accept your bad days and good. You do not need to please others or apologies for who you are. Living without your child takes courage, to get up and move forward. If you don’t have supportive people, your own company is good too. Sit with your own grief. Figure out what you need, and give it to yourself, if no one else will support you. Maybe it’s a day at a spa, or an art gallery or in the woods. Find your truth. On Mother’s day, I would buy a fruit plant and plant it. After many losses on this very difficult holiday, I needed a way to honors the children I had lost. The bushes return each year and remind me that though they are not in my life, the children remain in my heart and soul. Estrangement, divorce and loss through custody battles makes the holidays particularly harrowing. The emptiness of Christmas morning when your child is not there. The forced change of timelines, to celebrate when no one else is, because that is when they are with you. The missing seat, if one of your kids is not talking to you.

The gifts that were bought and wrapped, but not given. My husband told me of several incidents over the holidays, a result of his divorce. He had bought his children their most desired gift, only to find out that the ex-wife had given them the same gift (knowing what he had bought) the night before. They had been offered a trip to Disney no less, on his designated holiday year. Of course, he allowed them to go. But he missed out on that holiday, and years later, he is still bitter that she chose to manipulate him into making the decision that best served her. There can be many of these small incidences during child-rearing in a divorce, and it slowly erodes the relationship between parent and child. As parents, we grieve the lost years, the ‘what could have been and should have been” . I am sure it is a reality that many parents can understand. We come to terms with it over time, and if we are lucky enough to have a relationship with that child, sometimes there is a chance to explain the circumstances to them. But in life, there are no “do-overs” are there? As a parent, I think we can all agree that moments are fleeting with our children and we want to be a part of every single one, so the mere thought of not being there, or giving them to someone else, is heart-wrenching. Just knowing you won’t have that child makes the holidays something you may dread. Giving up a child I knew that somewhere, someone else was enjoying my daughter’s excitement. When your child has passed, there is just heartache. Other people’s happiness and good cheer is like rubbing salt in a wound. If you can, stay out of stores.

If you must buy gifts, maybe do it online and ask someone else to wrap them for you. Find quiet ways to fill your time. Maybe have lunch with a friend at a restaurant that isn’t so geared to the holiday (A non-traditional eatery that is a different faith or culture) Maybe find some way to honors your child. A new tree ornament each year. Maybe a gift appropriate for the age of your child would have been donated to a toy drive. I make a new flower arrangement each holiday for my parent’s headstone. It changes with the years, and it is easy to make and gives me some tangible hands-on thing to do. The year we were going through the divorce, I took my kids to a movie on Christmas day. We were together, and we got through the day in an enjoyable way. Can you go away, somewhere warm, and less Christmassy? I never have but I am sure it helps. Let’s face it, January comes, but it can seem endless getting through the holidays, especially if you are off work, or the kids are home from school.

Maybe opt to work this season. There are always people quite willing to give you their Christmas booked shifts. As far as children who are grieving, the advice I have read is to acknowledge that the day will be difficult. This applies to anniversaries, special moments (graduation, etc.) or holidays. Ask the child how they want to manage it. Maybe it will be that they honors the person at a certain time of the day, and leave the rest of the day alone. Everyone has their own idea on how they want to mark the day, or if they want to. It may change through the years. It is also important that teachers, babysitters etc. are informed if the day ahead might be difficult so that they can support the child.