Trying to Cope with the Holidays
It was a simple post the the Infanlos list server that showed up in my email box that day. It was October 22nd. Another bereaved mother wrote asking if any of us on the listserver were also dreading the holidays. And suddenly I remembered that it was the time of Halloween, Day of the Dead, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years. Dreadful, indeed.
If you talked with my mother-in-law, she would tell you how "crazy" I am. Afterall it's been three holiday seasons now since my son died. I should be "over it by now," she would tell you. Understand my monster, I mean, mother-in-law is a German woman who was orphaned during WWII. She was raised in Germany. She saw friends and family die, lands destroyed, fortunes lost. Her daughter's first child died at birth. Her other son (my husband's brother) had a child who died at birth. So by the time my son died at birth, their family had long ago learned to "get over it."
Of course I'll venture to say that if you've had any experience with therapeutic models at all, you'd see pretty clearly that their family had long ago learned suppression because in the hard times of WWII there was no luxury of processing grief and healing. You simply went on or died with everyone else around you. My mother-in-law learned to "get over it" in that environment. And those are the coping skills she taught her family in later years.
So to them, I am quite simply "crazy," and I need to get over it and come around to celebrate holidays once again. When I wrote about this to another bereaved mother she offered the following advice:
"Healing is not about letting go of your child. It is about letting go of your expectations of others. Even if it means essentially ending your relationship with them."
Wow. I had tried many times to explain holidays and family events and the pain they caused me. My husband more than understood and felt quite the same way as I did. My mother-in-law and other in-laws would shake their heads "yes, yes" and then go on about how I should be over it by now. And there was to be no discussion of my dead child in front of the other children in the family. This meant that there was to be no stocking acknowledging my son. Afterall, there were other children who had died and they weren't acknowledged, so why should my son get special attention-- that's how the thinking goes. Not to mention that if there was acknowledgment of the full medical history of these stillbirths, then there would be many young women in the family who might feel cheated out of knowing their other siblings or might feel anger at not know the full risks they faced when getting pregnant themselves. GAWD forbid we would ever deal with that much "real stuff" ever, let alone during the holidays.
I considered the advice of the other bereaved mother. "Let go of your expectations of others, not your child." And so I made a decision and wrote a letter that became the gossip of the family. I simply refused to ever again come to family events. I explained that this was not a judgment of their very different ways of "healing" after the death of a child, but an acknowledgment that I am different and always will be. And so I will go off on my own and be my different self. Rather than expect something I'll never get with this family, I will let go. I did offer to go to family therapy with as many members of the family who might wish to join that healing effort. But beyond that, I was simply letting go.
This is only one story of how the bereaved cope with holidays that come after loss. There are lots of friends and members from my mother's family who *do* understand, who write notes to put into the stocking I put up in my own home for my son, who send cards just to say they, too, are thinking of what my son would look like this year as he became conscious of "presents" and "santa." There are lots of people in the world who honor Children's Memorial Day on the second Sunday of December. They all understand what it means to be without your child for the rest of your life. And these people are all the more precious to me because I know what it is like to have the "clueless" around you. (Please see the KotaPress Dictionary of Loss for the definition of "clueless.") I know what it is like to have to draw a boundary in the sand between yourself and the "clueless" in order to honor and remember *all* your children, those living and those dead.
I tell you all this because these are the things that come up during the holidays after someone you love has died. I tell you this because I want you to know you are not alone. I offer the following list of links to other articles that give tips and ideas on how to deal with the holidays because you most likely are needing them about now. I send my heart out to you in case you, too, are having to endure a "boundary drawing exercise" this holiday season.
Other resources for getting thru the holidays:
This one has a letter suggestion to friends & family:
Editor's Note: I'd like to thank Jamie and the women and men of the Infanlos Listserver who contributed to this list of resources.