This year, when little Susie visits her grandparents for Thanksgiving, things will be a lot different. You see, Susieís grandmother passed away this year. So, she wonít be there to bake the Thanksgiving turkey or read The Night Before Christmas and tuck her into bed on Christmas Eve. Susie will also miss Grandma baking cookies with her and leaving them out for Santa on his special cookie plate. She wonders who will pass out presents on Christmas morning, who will cook the ham.
On the other side of town, Jimmyís parents divorced in June, and now his Dad lives far away. He wants to go visit but doesnít want to leave his Mom, either.
During the holidays, it is very hard for families dealing with major life experiences such as death or divorce to even think about enjoying themselves.
I still remember how empty I felt the Christmas after losing my younger brother, Randy. The sadness in my soul was unbearable. That was more than 28 years ago, and it still hurts. In my mindís eye, I can see us sitting on my motherís sofa, snuggled up next to the gas heater to keep warm, singing Christmas carols and making Santaís out of red construction paper, cotton balls and Elmerís glue.
In times like these, adults need to be educated on how to support their children and themselves through family crises and transitions.
The suggestions below may help you understand the process.
The grieving process after death or divorce takes time, and everyone heals at a different pace. Experts say it is much healthier for adults and children to talk about their feelings versus holding them in. As hard as it is, we need to let children and adults feel the pain and loss. This allows us to identify what we are feeling, heal and somehow grow. This process may require other family members to be more patent, loving and kind.
- Donít be afraid to ask for help
Family is the best support system there is. The loss and separation we feel after a family crisis can be very devastating emotionally. To protect their children, most parents often pretend that they are fine. But inside, they feel like they are bungee jumping without a safety net. Adults need to realize that it is okay to ask for help. Help with dinner or just bringing the kids to voice lessons gives a grieving parent some much-needed personal time - time to heal.
Unfortunately, death and divorce often leave a family strapped financially.
There may not be enough money for the basic necessities, let alone extras, such as babysitters, gifts and Christmas dinner.
If your family is not close by, and you need emotional support, there are many community organizations that can help. Some churches and synagogues offer private or group counseling on death and divorce, and many hospitals have support groups for those who have experienced a death in the family and/or a miscarriage.
Your childrenís school should keep you informed on how the little ones are coping at school. Guidance counselors provide a safe haven for children to talk about their feelings. Once they are allowed to talk, children seem more able to concentrate on their schoolwork.
If money allows, there is also private counseling. Trained counselors listen and provide a safe place for sharing emotions so that feelings can be identified and eventually resolved.
Some counselors will work on a sliding scale according to your income. Be sure you know how much the sessions will cost before you commit. Added financial strain will only make matters worse.
- Reality versus traditions
Holidays are filled with family traditions. The reality of death and divorce often makes it impossible for us to carry out some of our old traditions.
Children need to know that the holidays may be different without Grandma or Dad. They may need to hear from you that it is okay for them to have fun and that they should not feel guilty if they are having a good time. Let children help you decide which traditions to keep, and make new ones that can be enjoyed without the missing loved one.
Change brought about by death and/or divorce is never easy, especially during the holiday season. If you know someone who has experienced the death of a loved one or who is spending his or her first Christmas alone because of divorce, reach out. Invite him or her to Christmas dinner, or volunteer to watch the kids so Mom or Dad can go shopping. If you know that money is tight, bring the kids something special. Your simple acts of kindness will go a long way this time of year. Who knows? Next year, you may be the one in need.
I want to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a very merry and bright holiday season and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
Until next month, happy parenting, and remember: Donít drink and drive!