How to share the spirit of the holidays when you've lost someone dear

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It is early December. The air is crisp. A fluttering of snow flakes drifts slowly down from the sky. It may be a white Christmas this year! You don’t care. You don’t even think it’s Christmas. The love of your life is dying or more sadly, has already left you.

You are hurting.

Again and again, you tell yourself, “How can I go on?”

You can. And you will.

There are ways to lessen the pain or briefly put your grief aside and catch a glimpse of the holidayspirit. And, as time passes you may overcome the devastation of your loss and once again experience the joy of living.

Last year, at the beginning of December, Jo Ann watched anxiously and with deep devotion over her husband, Fred, as he lay dying of Alzheimer’s disease. Concerned for their mother, her four adult daughters came to comfort her and prepare the family home for the holidays. She was unaware of the activity going on around her. It was late in January when Fred died. This year, Jo Ann is once again decorating her home herself and preparing a festive dinner for her entire family. “I have found myself,” she says. “I have found Jo Ann, again.”

On the fourth of December two years ago, her husband Ted passed suddenly in his sleep of a heart attack. Donna was shocked, bewildered. “The days through the holiday season,” she told me, “were surreal. I couldn’t, I didn’t believe he was gone. We were such a devoted family.”

She and her children decided not to attend the usual large family Christmas day gathering. “We stayed at home, went downstairs in our pajamas and robes. It was comforting, just the four of us. We sat in front of our tree and exchanged happy memories of Ted, the best we could.”

Jo Ann and Donna are fortunate to be surrounded by family particularly during the holiday season. Sadly, many who also are bereaved find themselves alone when they most need friendship and compassion.

Julie, who had lost her husband, was alone during that first Christmas. Her son Jonathon had visited her often and they’d spend quiet, gratifying times together. But that holiday season, Jonathan was in Paris on a previously committed study program at the Sorbonne. After a while, she reconsidered and remembered others she knew who were also alone. Julie e-mailed a half dozen of her friends asking them to celebrate the day with her. Three women immediately accepted her invitation.

Three decades ago, Daisy’s husband died of cancer and she was left with two young daughters to nurture, care for and bring up. Then, the family faced another tragic loss. One of Daisy’s now grown daughters and her husband were killed in an auto accident. Daisy suggested ways that would help them accept the loss … that they should meet in small groups or all together from time to time and talk about their love for one another and for the love they had for the ones they had lost. She assured her family that they could share the joy and the spirit of the holiday season and would grow closer together. In time, they did.

There is hope for brighter holidays to come. Here are a few ways to help you feel some of the joy of this season:

  • Having a family meeting and discussing what you, as a group, want to do and realizing it’s all right to do something completely different this year
  • Contacting other people you may know who have suffered a similar loss and offer to sharethe holiday together
  • Sponsor a family in need in honor of your loved one
  • Organize a food drive for your local food pantry or homeless shelter
  • Visit the infirm or elderly at your local hospital or nursing home
  • Take a trip and go somewhere you’ve never visited to begin creating new memories
  • Do nothing at all - grief has no expiration date but time does help

Coming to terms with losing someone you love, particularly during the holidays, is different for everyone and takes longer for some than others. Knowing that it has been achieved by others may help youaccept that you will too, and that your love for your lost one not only continues but can become even stronger … as mine has for my husband.

Victoria D. Schmidt had a long and illustrious career including being a fashion editor at Woman’s Day magazine in New York City, and serving as the Director of Tourism for the State of New Jersey where she was credited with selecting, promoting and marketing their most successful New Jersey tourism campaign: New Jersey & You Perfect Together. She is also the author of Triumph in Exile and today lives in New Jersey with her gentle whippet, Dominque. For more information about Schmidt and her new book, Finding Solitary Contentment, click here.

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