by Anne Berenberg, PhD and Vicki Scalzitti
My children and I are about to face the holiday season without their dad, who died from suicide earlier this year. Any thoughts that will help us get through?
It’s possible to get through the holidays, but it’s not possible to make them be the way they always were. All of your lives have changed.
So the first key to managing the holidays is to let go of the idea that you can recreate the holidays you once knew as a family. Hoping things will be the same just sets all of you up to be disappointed.
Gauge your energy level. Almost certainly it’s much lower this year than last year. If you have some feel about how much you can do before you (or your children) fall apart, you’ll have some idea about how much you can plan.
Then prioritize what’s most important to you and your children. You can have an honest discussion with them about which activities are the most meaningful to them and which are just things you’ve always done or things that are “icing on the cake” rather than essential. As you’re making your list, consider the ratio of satisfaction to effort for each activity. This will vary family to family. Some parents find baking with their children to be a relaxing, fulfilling activity. For others, it’s a low-priority hassle. Same with Christmas trees and decorations. The most important thing is choosing to do only those things that 1) really matter to your family and 2) can be done without exhausting you.
It’s often helpful to have one list item be a remembrance of the person who died. Perhaps you and the children could each hang an ornament on the tree for him. Or wrap a package that contains items you each make in his honor: a written remembrance of something you loved about your husband, a picture drawn by one of the children, a clay figure fashioned by another, a poem…You want to acknowledge his life in a loving way, but not center the celebration on his loss.