There are various days during the year that society calls a ‘holiday’ – like the upcoming season, mostly called Christmas even by those who do not recognize it as a religious day. For many, the planning for this Christmas season seems to start even before Hallowe’en. I go to a store and there it is – all the stars and bangles and the music, row after row, telling me that some special day is happening.

It seems that there is so much attention to that special day. For some it’s just 24 hours; for others it seems to be a week or more – taking us to a new year.

My first Christmas after Tim died, I was faced with many questions. How can this be? How will we make it through this first Christmas? With time and thought, I realized we would make it the same as we had made it through each other day. We would take it by the moment or in small chunks. It was going to happen, but what did we want it to look like?  I asked myself several questions. It didn’t take me long to realize that while our family had many traditions, each year we had also done some different things to celebrate. We had different people over for a meal, bought different gifts, ate mostly the same foods, did many of the same activities. What did I want to keep? What was most important?

Baking in progress: Rolling pin, cookies, and cookie cutters

I decided I couldn’t write out Christmas cards – so instead I typed a note on the computer that was easy to personalize or send as a thank you for support and a quick update. Then that year, I typed our names – it seemed easier than handwriting and being unable to include Tim’s name on the list of signatures. That has changed over the years, as have other things I found helpful that first year.

I always made fruit cake – you know, the traditional dark and also the light cake, with raisins, nuts, cherries, etc. We gave away much of it as gifts. I didn’t have any interest in making the cake that year. However, I knew that there would be many people missing it – those same people who had been so supportive during our darkest days. So I made it. I made it with love and gave most of it away and everyone was pleased.

Did you decorate the tree yet? Well, I have heard that question from so many of our Threads of Life family members. That first year, I just couldn’t, but I knew we needed a tree. I got the ornaments out, I invited guests over for dinner and then they all decorated the tree, while I was cleaning up. That happened for a few years. The first time I actually put on a decoration, was when our first granddaughter was a baby and I helped her put on an ornament.

During all the season of Christmas, just like every other holiday during the year, my grief didn’t take a vacation. My grief doesn’t understand what a holiday is. I had to learn how to live with my grief, as my love for my family member did not die with him.

The day after the 25th of December will bring new challenges, and you will be able to take a breath and realize how well you handled that holiday. It will equip you to handle the next holiday, the beginning of a new year. If you live with a life-altering injury or occupational illness, it is the same – you don’t suddenly become well for the day. Learning how to pace yourself, value what is important to you, honour yourself – these are the tools you need to handle your grief journey.

Shirley Hickman