Celebrating Our Loved Ones

2019 was my year of loss. Not only did three close friends pass away, far too early in their life but so too did my Mom unexpectedly just before Christmas.

We have all heard people say that the 1st celebrations after losing a loved one are tough. That is true. The Festive Season, birthdays and other celebrations once shared can feel like something you have to survive, rather than something you can enjoy. I lost my Mom 4 days before Christmas in 2019. My wedding anniversary, birthday and then my Mom’s birthday is all within that week. I felt numb, and was emotionally and physically exhausted from trying to be so damn positive and outwardly calm for everyone else. I was considerate yes, but not true to my feelings. It is this experience which compels me to write this article.

The global deaths associated with the Covid-19 virus as at writing this article stands at an estimated 1.257 million. The sheer quantum of that takes my breath away. How many millions of people will try to celebrate this Festive Season whilst also dealing with their grieve for their loved ones who will not be with them, who will not start 2021 with them?

Let’s start by looking at Grief and grieving. A Ted Talk interview with Elizabeth Gilbert and her description of Grief resonated so strongly with me, and she said “Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you whenever it wants to.

Elizabeth Kibbler-Ross defined the five stages of grieving, i.e. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. As expressed by Gilbert, the reality of grieving is that it is not a linear process; there is no one map to grieving. There is not a one size fits all through the journey of Grief.

In dealing with my Grief, I came across David Kessler’s book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. The insights gleaned from his writings helped me.

Loss is gut-wrenchingly hard, realising the gift of the relationships I had with my Mom was when meaning could begin to creep in. When we appreciate the meaning of our time with them and the part of them that continues to live in us, we can take that forward with us. Their energy can’t be destroyed. A part of them remains in us.

Appreciating that gift, was when I was able to move from tears to a smile. Of course the tears and the lump in the throat come back. So too does the smile that comes from the gift of their lives.

We are often so hard on ourselves & judge ourselves or others, for grieving. I love what Kessler has to say about this judgement, “judgment demands punishment, either you punish someone else or yourself,” when you judge. This because we are told, and we believe that you must get over your Grief. You do not get over it.

People who say this could not have grieved a loved one. You learn to live with it. Of course, you will be whole again, but grieving leaves us broken and we will not be the same after that. This is often referred to as the butterfly effect. Learning to accept our Grief by not judging it and celebrating the meaning of their lives is part of what makes who you are, beautiful and strong.
So, how do we celebrate the meaning of our lost loved one’s lives at this time? Outlined below are a few ideas that grief counsellors have shared on how to celebrate a deceased loved one’s life. And also how to take care of yourself over this time too.

Choose what resonates with you, remember that just as there is no one route through Grief, it is essential that you choose a way to celebrate the life of your loved one that is authentic for you & your family.
To start with, I strongly suggest discussing some ideas with your family. Collectively decide what will best honour her/him who is not with you and that the family feel is supportive and comfortable.

  1. Include your lost loved one in the celebrations
    Instead of trying to avoid talking about your deceased loved one, make a point to share memories and stories about them before your celebration meal or before the gifts are handed out, go around and let everyone share a memory of her/him.
  2. Communicate how you are feeling and what you need
    Communicate your plans if you choose to skip any activities or gatherings. Let those closest to you know how you feel and let them connect with you in a manner that feels right for you.
  3. Light
    They were a special light in your life. Light a special candle or small electric lamp to signify your loved one’s presence in your heart and mind during the holidays.
  4. Remembrance in your meal
    When you host a Christmas holiday meal, prepare one of your loved one’s favourite dishes and make this fact known to your guests as you serve it.
  5. Ask for help when you need it
    If you are battling and need a hug or a chat, say so. People who care for you want to help, let them. You need not do this on your own.
  6. Plant a tree
    If the weather & season permits, plant a tree in honour and memory of your loved one to serve as a living reminder of the love you carry in your heart during the holidays, and all year long, despite your loss.
  7. Journaling
    Journaling is such a healthy thing to do. Write your memories, thoughts and feelings down in your journal. A nice idea is to write the words you would have written in their Christmas card, down in your journal.
  8. Gifting
    Christmas is a time for giving. Consider donating the gift you would have bought for your loved to a relevant charity or making a financial donation to a charity your loved one was passionate about.
  9. Send a wish up into the Universe
    Over the Festive Season, birthday or other special shared celebration, we want to be able to send them a wish. A lovely idea is to write the wish out and attach it to a helium balloon in their favourite colour and let it go off into the Universe.

Please do remember to take care of yourself over this time. Your loved ones would want you to be happy and strong and so remember to be kind to yourself. The holidays are full of stressful obligations, like social gatherings, gift-giving, cooking and volunteering. Permit yourself to cut back on your commitments to have space to heal. It is easy to overindulge in this time, too to it is essential to stick to healthy habits.

It is easy to “drown your sorrows“, but it is not healthy psychologically or physiologically. When it all gets too much, go for a brisk walk, breathe deeply and take deep in breaths of your precious memories and exhale your sadness, until your breathing returns to normal.

I have learnt that so often we live our lives in the past and play “if only” games in our minds. We cannot change the past, and living in the past bring regrets to the fore.

We can, and should, live in the present. Show those in your life that they matter to you, tell them how much they mean to you, spend time with them, call them, do it now! Celebrate the meaning they bring to your life now. We take so much for granted. Do not take those dear to you for granted.

If there is one thing we have learned this year, life is for living and there are no tomorrow’s guarantees. Celebrate the lives of lost ones no longer with you, remember to let those who matter to you know just how much they mean to you.

Wishing you as much peace as possible – May you love and be loved.

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