Surviving The Holidays After A Trauma

Surviving the Holidays After a Trauma

Chicago IL, Therapist

My older brother and sister-in-law were killed unexpectedly and tragically earlier this year. As one can imagine, the family has been devastated. They were always an integral part of our family holidays – my sister-in-law, Lina, baking a cherry pie (just for me) and my brother, Larry, saying the family prayer at mealtimes. Those things won’t be happening this year.

The family is still fragile and grieving, and yet we must go on. How do we have our holidays with this loss? How can we move forward and still honor their presence in our lives? Is just getting ‘through it” enough?

Some have talked of cancelling the holidays this year. Doing something completely different - completely out of the box. Would this help with healing the loss? Would it provide a space to move forward without having to face the pain head on?

Others have talked about keeping the traditions, but changing them up. Changing the time we get together, eat, play “Reindeer Games”, and where we gather. Does this help in easing the ache? Does having it, but changing it up, make it better?

Some want to keep everything exactly the same. To them, changing the traditions somehow feels disloyal or a betrayal to our deceased loved ones. What is the answer?

The answer is there is no RIGHT way to get through this. Simply put, getting through the holidays will be hard, regardless of the ‘how’. The first ‘everythings’ after a loss is difficult. In the world of hospice care, that is why they follow a family for 13 months after a death, to support and help the family navigate through each first without their loved one. The holiday season will bring up the grief and loss we all feel. It’s going to be filled with moments of pain, laughter, tears, nostalgia and new experiences.

My advice to anyone in this situation would be to be gentle and hold each other close in a space that allows the sadness to comingle with joy. To acknowledge and honor the feelings in the room. To understand that the loss each of us experience is unique, based on the type of relationship we shared. In my family, Larry and Lina were son, daughter, brother, sister, mom, dad, uncle, aunt, papa and grandmommie. To communicate lovingly with one another about what you are experiencing and what support looks like to you. To know laughter and fun is not betrayal, or in any way forgetting what happened.

Ultimately, we have decided to keep it similar to the traditional celebration we shared before the tragedy. About 20 of us will be meeting at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving weekend. Our goal is to get through it, honor our loss, celebrate the holiday and, hopefully, experience some healing as a family.

My nephew and his wife recently had a son. Having the baby around will remind us of the joy new life in the midst of grieving and give us a space to know we are sharing old tradition while creating new ones.

I know at one moment this week, I’ll be eating my cherry pie, probably with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face as I remember Lina. I’ll be watching the Cowboys football game in honor of Larry. I’ll be holding my family close, holding my new great-nephew, and know that getting through this holiday season will be possible, and for me, having family around will make it a bit easier.

Jimmy G. Owen, LCPC, CDWF

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