A Grueling Triathlon



Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's

Regardless of our spiritual beliefs and practices, Christmas is all around us, coming at us from every direction. Harold Ivan Smith, author of A Decembered Grief calls the holiday season "a grueling triathlon." (page 13) This test of endurance begins with Thanksgiving and continues unabated through Christmas and New Year's Eve until the last of the football bowl games in early January.

In previous years, we went about our holiday activities and when we heard Merry Christmas or Happy New Year we probably responded in kind. Not this year. This year we want to fast forward to the middle of January. The familiar holiday greetings will cause us to wince. Grief has imposed itself upon us for the grueling triathlon like an uninvited house guest.

Christmas is a frenzied season full of expectations, obligations and stress. The commitment to Christmas is huge. We must: trim the trees; decorate; bake and cook; ready the house for an onslaught of guests; drive through heavy traffic for all our goods and services; endure shopping cart gridlock at crowded megastores; attend parties and Christmas pageants; look our best; buy, wrap, and mail presents; send cards; visit relatives; and sometimes travel in perilous weather by way of unforgiving and impersonal airlines.

When it’s over, there are bills to pay, thank you notes to write, gifts to return in the chaos of after Christmas sales and decorations
to store until next December. We are expected to ring in the New Year with smiles and good cheer. For all the joy it promises, the Christmas season puts intense pressure on people, and if we are grieving, we are heavy laden with impossible burdens.

Grieving women, especially, feel overwhelmed during the holiday season because they are expected to be Christmas magicians, responsible every year for transforming their family's wash-and-wear lives into something festive. No matter how busy or sad they are, they bear the brunt of creating a memorable celebration every December 25.

The Christmas season is not an easy time to do the work of remembering, crying and feeling sad. But we need to grieve our losses anyway and not worry about what anybody else thinks. There is no right and wrong way to celebrate the holidays, or not, after a loved one has died.

A word about Christmas decorations:

Taking down the decorations after Christmas may be easy because we want to rid ourselves of the holiday reminders of our loss. Or, we may want to leave the decorations up a while because they represent our precious memories of the Christmases we shared with our loved one.

I have many beautiful holiday decorations because my mother gave them to me over the years. Mom was in a chemically induced coma throughout much of Christmas week. I spent Christmas Day at her hospital bedside, watching her and talking to her, hoping that she was able to hear me on some inner level.

I made the 100-mile return trip to my home that night. On December 26, I put away all my decorations at a furious pace. I couldn’t bear the sight of any of them. Mom died in January.

During the first Christmas season following her death, I decorated with only a few chosen items. Two years later, I was able to unwrap all the decorations she gave me, place them around with care and cherish the memories of a loving mother. But it took time.

Follow your own feelings and trust that you will know what is best for your grieving heart. 

Go to next page: Wondering Through the Wintry World of Loss


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How complicated and individual mending is,
the time required for healing
cannot be measured against any fixed calendar
Mary Jane Moffat
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