By Suzanne Badger
The easiest way to learn about something is to experience it. This is why there are language immersion classes combined with travel adventures. It is why the majority of people aged 30 and under are more likely to purchase tickets to events rather than buy a gift to open and collect dust on the mantel.
And it is why most of the population does not want to talk about hospice or think about their advanced care directives or wills. And when it comes to grief, there is no preparation.
In February, I was honored to interview for this role at Hospice Brazos Valley as the Community and Media Liaison. Only a few days later, my mother, suffering from early dementia, fell in her bathroom. They took her to the hospital to find the problem was a jaw infection that created abscesses in her brain. Suddenly, the job that I was interviewing for became a real experience for me. Those hard decisions that I didn’t want to talk about, the things that I “put off” because of the pain it causes, became my reality. I was putting mom in hospice.
Now that Thanksgiving and Christmas are approaching, I find myself in a strange reality. One minute, I’m walking down the aisle at Michaels or Hobby Lobby searching for an item, and the next minute I’m tearing up in front of a group of Christmas ornaments that look like something my mom would have bought. There in the middle of the store, shoppers around me, the grief becomes so heavy it feels like an extra imaginary 200 pounds was dropped on my shoulders.
“Am I having a panic attack?” I ask myself. “No, I can’t do this here,” I tell myself. I move to another part of the store where I can take deep breaths and calm down. The Christmas music follows me. The weight of the sensory experience in the store overwhelmed me for a few more moments. I was able to make my purchases without losing my emotions and left. Later, I was able to cry in private.
I love Thanksgiving and Christmas. I decorate and make a dozen baked goods. But this time, there’s something mixed in this season. It comes and goes and it’s unpredictable. It feels like a tightness in my chest and then stings in the form of tears in my eyes.
Last year, Christmas was at my house and I put up all of the decorations and Mom loved everything. Do I honor her again and put them up? Or do I decide to not put anything out?
If I were able to put up all the decorations at my house and then make them disappear for a time when I get overwhelmed, that would be great! Sadly, this is not the case.
Dr. William Axley has an emotional health wish list which he published in “Tis The Season to Be Jolly?” One of those items on that list is the wish that everything about the “season would disappear like a magician’s coin trick and reappear only when I am ready for it.” This is exactly how I feel.
Here are some things I am learning in order to prepare my grieving heart for the holiday season.
Don’t be afraid to make changes. I must remember that tradition is meant to inspire and spark joy in my life. I can do what is convenient for me and I don’t have to do it next year.
Don’t try to be strong for others. On mom’s birthday, I decided to stay away from social media because it would hurt to see others reminisce. My daughter texted me and said, “Don’t talk to me about her because I am grieving.” This is her grandma, but it is MY mom. I think it is highly unrealistic for me to believe that I can navigate this time without sorrow. I also think it is important for me to let my children grieve their way and me to grieve my way.
Let your plans and needs be known. Talk with your family and loved ones about any needs and intended changes that will involve them. Communication and clarity are kind and set the tone for the time together.
Be gentle with yourself. Be careful not to overcommit yourself. Pace yourself. Give yourself rest. Schedule time to be off.
Select the social events you want to attend and decline the others. Remember that the word NO is a complete sentence. You should not have to explain yourself. If you don’t want to attend the cookie swap but you want to go to the ugly Christmas sweater party, do it. Strive for a balance. Don’t allow well-meaning friends and family to pressure you into merrymaking if you aren’t up for it.
Don’t isolate yourself. It’s okay to carve out alone time, but do not cut yourself off from supportive family and friends.
Be open to accepting support. People are often too busy to offer support or help. We have lost the instinctive nature of knowing what a neighbor needs. Ask for support. Share your concerns, feelings, and apprehensions with a safe person and let them help you. The very best gift you can receive is someone who is ready to listen to what you have to say.
It is important to prepare yourself for the coming season. Contact our grief support at the Hospice Brazos Valley office 979.821.2266 for a free booklet called, Holidays Without You. Have an escape plan if you happen to be overwhelmed. Get a buddy, either in person or on the phone, who can talk you through the weight of your grief.
Above all, be cognizant of your grief journey and kind to yourself.