Carolyn Hax: Advice

Dealing with loss at the holidays

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: Both of my parents died in the past year. I had spent every single Christmas with them at my childhood home. Needless to say, I am dreading the holidays. I have small children of my own now. If one more person tells me to start my own tradition I’ll scream. If we had more money I would go away to someplace warm, but that’s not in the cards. Is there anything I can do that won’t make it suck?

Orphan at Christmas

You could just embrace the suck. It sounds as if that’s what you want to do, actually; you’re ruling out the only logical answers as too daunting or expensive. Any time you find yourself asking people for suggestions and then rejecting them all, consider that you already know what you want and just crave others’ permission to want it.

I am very sorry about your parents. Losing both in one year makes for a much more abrupt transition.

So don’t try to hide from or change any of it: You don’t have what you want, you’re grieving, you have little kids who need you, and you just want to crawl into a hole, and everyone has a pat answer for something you think is anything but.

What approach accommodates all of these? Can you hand off the planning to your spouse? Do you have sibs to commiserate with? Can you think of the minimum you need to do for your kids (small kids require minimal holiday fuss), and set aside a block of time each for honoring your parents, and for just giving yourself what you need?

If even that’s too much, you really can wing it. Holidays are just days, whenever you need them to be. Some of the freight can come off.

Re: Orphan: My father died the week before Christmas. I got sick of people telling us to make our own tradition – I liked our old one just fine. We went with the flow and did what felt right each year. The first year was a movie and Chinese.

Ten years later we have traditions back. It took time to heal – don’t deny that process!

Healed

Re: Orphan: You don’t have to start a tradition as some huge, fully thought-out event that you are locked into for the rest of your life. When our kids were really young I started a Christmas Eve thing where I would buy every single frozen appetizer that looked good. I would just keep throwing sheets in the oven and we would all sit around the fireplace with Christmas music and eat whatever we wanted. The kids loved it so much I still do it – and they are 28 and 30. Just be with people you care about. That is the only tradition that matters.

Anonymous

Brilliant idea. Stealing it.

Re: Orphan: I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my mom in February last year, and I was dreading the holidays. And I was paralyzed, like you. So I punted to my husband, and he rose to the occasion and made us a plan. So that’s my answer: Your husband probably isn’t mourning as you are, so please ask for his help.

Punted

Beautiful, thank you.

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