Don’t get me wrong – I’m super excited for the holidays. I always have been, and I’m pretty sure I always will be. My mom instilled this in my sister and me from birth. At the end of September we all start talking about decorations and meal plans and in October, shamelessly, we start watching holiday movies. My mom’s decorations, while far less gaudy, rival those of Clark Griswold’s in quantity.
This year, though, things are different. Mom just lost her husband of 19 years in mid-October. My stepfather was the love of her life, her high school sweetheart, and a guy we’d heard her praise highly over the years. When they reconnected in their early 50s my sister and I thought it was nice she had a partner with whom she could share her golden years.
Classic cars and travel connected them. He was a pilot and they spent the first decade of their marriage flying around the world. As recently as June they took their last trip together, a cruise through China.
I call my mom daily as she lives 2000 miles away. I hear her grief. She’s not eating much. Sometimes she’s angry at doctors. Why would this happen to a good person? I find all of this reasonable.
As if becoming a widow weren’t enough, here come the holidays. Maybe you know someone going through a hard time and don’t know what to say or do. I’m no expert on this stuff, so I’ve been asking around, seeking advice on how to help. Here’s guidance I’ve received that might help you, too.
• Just do something. My mom’s neighbor mowed her lawn. He didn’t ask if she wanted him to do it. He just did it. And because my mom likes to thank people with baked goods, it gave her a reason to bake something for her neighbor. She said it felt good to be in her kitchen. Whether it’s mowing a lawn, extending an invitation for lunch or coffee, or sending someone a card saying they’re in your thoughts, doing something small that doesn’t invade their space shows you care.
• Feeling bad is okay. When Mom apologizes to me for venting I tell her it’s fine. I’ve been advised not to encourage her to try to be strong or be more positive. She gets to feel however she wants about this and giving her advice on how to grieve won’t help. I’m told it helps to listen to whatever she wants to say, however she wants to say it.
• Patience. Somedays Mom shares stories of their high school dates, how he taught her how to drive a stick shift in high school… the same stories she told me a couple days before, and a couple days before then, too. And I smile and ask questions and these are times she laughs because she’s reliving happy memories. I will listen to those stories every day if it helps her smile.
• Traditions may change. Or not. This year, Mom’s going to put up her tree and some decorations because she always does and because she wants to. But she’s not hosting a big dinner, unlike the last 40 years of her life, because she doesn’t want to. She’ll be down the road with my sister’s family this year. I imagine other traditions will change. Accepting, rather than questioning why, is what I’m told is most supportive.
I don’t know how long the grieving will last because I’ve never gone through it. I just know my mom can’t be the only one going through this in 2015, and the best gift I can give her this time of year is whatever she needs, however she needs it.
If you have suggestions on how to support loved ones going through hard times during the holidays, please, do share them with us.
My name is Alicia Diefenbach and I’m a Community Relations Specialist at Verity Credit Union. I absolutely love my role at Verity! I have the opportunity to explore the communities in which we’re located, reach out to organizations and individuals making these places dynamic, inviting places to live, and get involved with activities that support their well-being.
In my spare time I dote on my vegetable garden. It still never ceases to amaze me that I can create my dinner out of dirt, some seeds, and cooperative weather. I love my dog, Frank. Also, I go to rock shows. A whole lotta rock shows.