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Dealing with loss during the Christmas season


December 4, 2017

I will never forget the first Christmas after my mother passed away. She died in late August of 1998 and it was our first Christmas without her. We had so much to be thankful for: our oldest daughter, Beth was returning to live and work in Havre; I was starting a new job at Northern Montana Health Care in January; the other girls were adjusting well and doing well in school; and farming was going well.

After the Christmas story in Luke 2 was read and gifts were opened, I melted. In all my years, it was my first without Mom. I cried and sobbed. I missed her.

As the holiday seasons are approaching, I am once again reminded that they are often among the most emotionally difficult of times for people who have experienced the death of a loved one. Holidays are intended to be a time of great joy, family togetherness, gift giving and thankfulness. Yet, if someone has recently died, holidays can induce extreme sadness, loneliness and emptiness.

Holidays may be difficult no matter what you try to do or where you go. A new approach might open doors to the celebration of the memory of your loved ones. And so I offer these suggestions:

• Set Limits For Yourself – Look to simplify rather than overwhelm yourself. Do only as much as you can manage emotionally and physically.

• Express Your Feelings – Sharing your emotions with others who are grieving loss brings strength to all.

• Avoid the Holidays – Choosing not to celebrate is certainly an option. However, you may find it feels better to at least acknowledge your loss and your loved one in some special and meaningful way.

• Resist Seclusion– The love and the enjoyment of being with those who love you can nourish and aid in healing.

• Ask for What You Need – Unless you tell them, other people cannot know what you need or are feeling. Ask for help with shopping, entertaining, cooking and cleaning.

• Break from Tradition – Traditions which emphasize the absence of your loved one may not be appropriate this year. If you do keep with a certain tradition, allow for minor changes, such as where you spend the holiday or with whom.

• Create New Traditions – Creating new rituals many be more healing for you and the rest of the family than rekindling past activities. Involving friends and family may help heal their grief as well.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and your Christmas is blessed. Don’t forget: Jesus is the Reason for the Season!


Ila McClenahan is the pastoral care and activity director for Northern Montana Health Care.


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