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Changing Holiday Traditions After a Death

Changing Holiday Traditions After a Death

Categories: Blog, grief and loss

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” except when it isn’t. I have always loved the holidays… the decorating, the celebrating, family time and religious traditions. But 2 weeks before Thanksgiving in 2008, my husband died suddenly in an auto accident, and the season suddenly took a somber expression for me and my two young children.

I honestly don’t remember much about that time. We were busy planning the funerals (two services in two parts of the country, to accommodate family who had to travel in), moving back to Kansas to be with my family, and starting my older son back in school. I was operating on instinct at the time, and honestly, a lot of guilt. I never realized how big a role guilt played in grief. But here we were, and I felt guilty. My children would go through the holidays without their father, and I felt guilty. I spent too much on their Christmas gifts that year, but that didn’t give them what they really wanted, and what I couldn’t provide.

We moved back home to my parents’ place right before Thanksgiving. A cousin brought Thanksgiving Dinner to us, for which I will always be thankful. I truly don’t remember much beyond that, either about Thanksgiving or Christmas. But I do remember two small, but significant things. We received an ornament in the mail from the organization that harvested my husband’s organs after he died, and I placed it on the tree (and have most years since), in memory of him. It became a new tradition to include him in our Christmas. And on Christmas morning, when we traditionally read the Christmas story from the Bible as a family before opening gifts, we went to the cemetery and read it by my husband’s grave site. It was the right thing to do that year.

As the years have progressed, holiday traditions have evolved. We went to the cemetery that first year only, but we continued to read the story from the Bible. The ornament continued to hang from the tree, and we resumed normal holiday dinners. The holidays continue to evolve. Since 2008, additional family members have died, and new ones have entered into our fold. With each change, the way we practice the holidays also changes. I have learned there is no right or wrong way to practice the holidays. Sometimes we have to leave certain traditions alone for a season following the death of someone. Sometimes that season of change becomes as permanent as the death it represents. And it is all ok. Someone significant is missing, and that will be reflected in your outward observance of the holiday as surely as it is present in your inner reality. However you choose to acknowledge that change, whether it be in suspending a tradition or initiating something new to honor your loved one, it will be the right thing to do in your situation.

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