Today my daughter Heidi and I recorded a webinar with Mitch Carmody and Alan Pedersen, the executive director of The Compassionate Friends. Our topic was "Finding Hope in the Holidays." All of us had lost children, siblings or parents. As chance would have it I received an email from a colleague who asked if we could help her client who had lost a child. Her client, Wendy, sent the following email:
Dear Dr. Horsley,
On March 28 my son drowned at a birthday party when I stepped away to go to the bathroom. I was a single mother (I had him later in life) with a single child. I have no idea how I am going to make it through the next five months of firsts: Christmas, New Year's, his birthday and then the anniversary? I'm having such a hard time finding a reason to get up every day and finding a purpose to life.
Dear Wendy and others who are struggling this holiday,
As well as sending the link to our webinar on "Finding Hope in the Holidays," I will tell you about my experience with holidays and provide tips on how I was able to cope. The first holiday I had to fake it until I could make it. I was well aware that I was missing my son, Scott, but like a snowman I was frozen in grief and running on automatic pilot. I had to work at being gentle with myself and others including my family as I found that not everyone was good at providing grief support. The second holiday was sneaky as my frozen state was beginning to thaw. In some ways the second holiday was harder than the first as friends and family become less supportive and I came to the realization that this was going to be my life even though it was not the life I had planned. The third year I was totally thawed out and realized this was the way it was going to be and I had to learn to deal with it. This was the year that I set the intention that I would not only survive but I would again find purpose and happiness and I began to make changes keeping the traditions I enjoyed and letting go of others.
Below are 40 things that helped me through those first holidays. I hope they will help you. Pick the ones that you like and let me know how it goes.
- Set an intention to be hopeful.
- Believe that there will be happiness in your future.
- While brushing your teeth look in the mirror and say, "You will be happy again."
- Express gratitude -- find three things you are grateful for; I started with simply opening my eyes and wiggling my toes.
- Find humor -- smile or laugh even if you have to fake it. I watched "The Office" and old Jerry Seinfeld shows.
- Put a funny animal on your cell phone. I have a dog with a hat on mine.
- Receive and acknowledge random acts of kindness. Someone paid my car toll wishing me a happy holiday. I did it for the next car.
- Practice self-care. I walk around the block everyday and stretch.
- Light therapy. I sit or walk in the sun once a day
- Reflect on positive memories. I pick ones that make me smile.
- Look for signs of hope. I find dimes.
- Receive and give service. I let someone else decorate the tree.
- Love on yourself. I look in the mirror daily and say, "I love and forgive you."
- Accentuate the positive. I do more of what makes me feel good during the holidays.
- Share or journal three happy holiday memories.
- Listen to uplifting music. "Here Comes The Sun" is my favorite
- Sing a Christmas Carol. "Jingle Bells" makes me smile.
- Wish three people a peaceful holiday.
- Buy yourself a present. I like lip gloss
- Go to your favorite spot and watch the sun set. I sit by a special tree in Carmel, California.
- Buy or bake a pie, cake or your favorite cookies. I like ginger snaps.
- Watch your favorite movie. "Gone With The Wind" is mine.
- Buy your favorite flowers. I like roses
- Put out a picture that makes you happy. I like the one with me as a child with my dad.
- Say their name. The pain will pass but love lives forever.
- Have a juicy hamburger and a milkshake. Chocolate shakes are yummy.
- Give yourself a day off. I like to go golfing.
- Take a break from the news. The world will go on and you won't miss much.
- Volunteer to walk a neighbor's dog. I have a grand dog named Mazy.
- Help at a soup kitchen.
- Take a restorative yoga class
- Re-read your favorite book -- Siddhartha by Herman Hess is mine. Heidi likes Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
- Take a friend to your favorite restaurant or coffee shop. Starbucks here I come.
- Share an uplifting quote. "Once you choose hope, anything's possible." -- Christopher Reeve
- Drink a glass of warm milk before bed.
- Have a massage. I like deep tissue massages.
- Take three deep breaths a day and drink 4 glasses of water.
- Ask for and get at least one hug a day. If nothing else hug yourself.
- Text a friend and say, "Thanks For Being in My Life." It is fun to see the response you will get.
- Celebrate life. It is the only one you have.
I also want to remind all of you to visit us at Opentohope.com where you can listen to radio shows, watch TV interviews, and read articles that support you on your journey. Also, if like Lisette you are a parent with no living children I would suggest that you contact Kay Brevington at Alive Alone alivealone.org.
For child, sibling, grandchild loss go to thecompassionatefriends.org. For spouse loss visit my friend Michelle Neff Hernandez at soaringspirits.org. These are some of my favorite sites, but there are other resources you can find on the Internet. Remember there are others who have been there and made it and I know you will too. As always if you have lost hope this holiday season please lean on our hope until you find your own.
Getting Through The Holidays