This was my first Christmas without my mother and honestly, I was preparing for the worst. I thought I'd feel miserable and not want to do anything festive. I was anxious to come home since the last time I was there was when it all happened, but to my surprise I had a pretty good Christmas, all things considered! So, for today's post, I wanted to share my 3 tips for surviving your first Christmas without the loved one you've lost.
My First Christmas Without the Departed Survival Tips
Make new traditions & memories
Make time to grieve
Embrace your family & friends
Make new traditions & memories
The hardest part of this Christmas was thinking about all the things that wouldn't be the same now that my mom was gone. We are a movie family, so one of our traditions was watching all our favorite holiday movies and specials every year. We'd watch the old school cartoon/claymation movies: Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and The Little Drummer Boy; our favorites from childhood: The Santa Clause, The Grinch (I'd sneak in Elf), and all our favorite Black Christmas movies: The Best Man Holiday, Black Nativity, This Christmas. We would also play our favorite family board games for a cozy, holiday game night. But this year, just the thought of watching these movies without my mom or playing our usual games made me want to burst into tears. I look forward to the day when I can continue our movie marathon tradition, but this first Christmas wasn't that day.
Depending on the person, diving into old memories can either help you through your grief or just make you sad. In this case, I was the latter. So instead of doing my family's traditions this year, I decided to try something new! I've always wanted to make gingerbread houses, and since this wasn't an activity tied to my mother, it was something I could handle.
REMINDER: When you're grieving, do what you can handle. Honestly, you don't have to do anything for this first Christmas if you don't want to. You get to decide what you can and can't do.
I always try to do something with my LA friends before we all go home for the holidays, so having a gingerbread-decorating girl's night was the perfect way to be festive and not triggered. We even adapted a tradition from my friend Tessa's family. She and her three siblings would break into groups of two and have a friendly competition, so that's what we did! We drew numbers to fairly pick our teams then had a blast decorating gingerbread houses, eating candy, and catching up! Once we were all finished, we took our houses to the Instagram polls to declare a winner! Team One, Joyce and I, won by 1 vote!
Christmas Survival Tip: If doing your own family's traditions is too hard after losing your loved one, you don't have to do them. It's ok to sit this Christmas out or to try something new! Don't be afraid to make new memories and traditions.
I had so much fun! This night with my friends brought me so much joy, joy I thought I wouldn't have this first Christmas without my mom, but grief is weird. Sometimes it triggers other emotions, like guilt. For a second, I felt guilty for not being miserable. "Your mom just died; how dare you have fun!" What a lame negative thought to have. I shut that down quickly! The truth is a little part of grief, or that "miserable" feeling, is going to stick with me for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, it's a feeling I'll carry with me forever, so there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty for enjoying a moment with friends and taking a break from that feeling. Plus, my mom wouldn't want me to be miserable, and I'm sure neither would your loved one. I quickly dismissed that negative thought and was happy I had a reason to smile this holiday season.
Grief Trip: It's ok to not feel miserable! Trust me, moments of grief will sneak up on you the rest of your life, so enjoy the joyous moments while you can. Just because you're learning to live and be happy again, doesn't mean you love the person you lost any less. Your loved one wants you to be happy!
Make Time to Grieve
Everyone knows the holiday season can get pretty chaotic. Your job tries to cram in as many assignments as possible before the end of the year, traveling for the holidays is a nightmare, and family demands and expectations can become overwhelming. All these stressors feel even heavier when it's your first Christmas without your loved one. I found myself trying to manage the regular holiday stress with the new weight grief added. It was hard seeing Christmas cards/holiday posts of people with their mothers. It was hard knowing when I got home, she wouldn't be there. Plus, my anxiety was through the roof just waiting for something unexpected to trigger me. The thought of randomly breaking down was not ideal, but I knew if I didn't address my emotions, I would do just that.
So, I planned a good crying session in the midst of my chaotic holiday schedule. Yup, you heard right! It was the Friday night before my Saturday morning flight back to Texas, and I had just finished everything on my "get ready for your flight" checklist. Since I had been so busy that week, I didn't cry or acknowledge my grief at all. I ignored it to get everything else done, but I knew it was building up. So, instead of waiting for a trigger to unleash these pent-up emotions, I induced a crying session. I looked at old pictures of my mom, last year's holiday pictures where she was there laughing and winning a game of Trouble. I sobbed! I cried my eyes out, so much so my eyes were still puffy the next morning! I got it all out before my flight and honestly, I felt amazing after! It was a much-needed release, and I now felt ready for whatever "going home for the holidays" would bring.
I know around the holidays people want to appear like they have everything together when it's their turn to share "what's new" at Christmas dinner, or they don't want to "ruin the holiday cheer," but you have to be honest with yourself. It's a hard time, and it's ok to cry it out or do whatever method that helps you release some of that holiday-grief tension. Even with a busy schedule, you always have to make time to check-in with yourself and make time to grieve.
Christmas Survival Tip: Take the time you need to grieve. The holidays can get chaotic with balancing work, travel and family, but make sure you schedule in sometime for yourself to acknowledge your grief and let out those pent-up emotions.
Embrace your family & friends
I feel like this tip works in every grief situation. It sounds so simple, but sometimes grief tricks you into believing you're a burden. I often have to remind myself too, but I promise you, the people who love and support you will never view you as a burden. Leaning into my friends and family is what helped me the most through this first Christmas without my mother. I knew it would be a hard time for me, so I reached out to a couple of friends and asked them if they would be available/on standby for a phone call if it all got too much, and I needed someone to talk to. I made sure to visit all the Texas friends I could while I was in town, for grief support and just for catching up and having fun!
On Christmas day, my father, sister and I visited my aunt and cousin and had a delicious BBQ Christmas dinner! My dog Momiji also had a blast hanging with his cousin-pup Memphis! (This was truly a sight to behold since he's a Chiweenie, and she's a Great Dane!) I've spent the rest of my holiday break just hanging with my sister and dad. Though there were still reminders of how much we lost this year, together it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to handle. Little moments reminded us of my mother and rather than wanting to burst in tears, I was able to smile at the memory of her, like gifting my dad one of my crochet tulips, finding a cute keychain at the mall of my mom's favorite character from We Bare Bears (a show we used to watch together), and the beautiful Christmas ornament of my mom my sister's coworker made.
This Christmas was nothing like I imagined it would be. I thought I'd be depressed and miserable. I thought I'd feel alone and want to be alone, but it's hard to be depressed when there is so much love surrounding you. Sometimes you have to take a break from missing the loved one you lost to notice that there are still people here waiting to love and support you.
Christmas Survival Tip: Embrace your friends and family! It is much easier to go through holiday-grief together rather than alone. There is so much love still around you!
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday! Wishing you all blessings and love in the new year!