Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas Without Them

Many of you know that I started writing after the death of my first wife. I used segments from the journaling I did to craft a book with chapters dealing with the situations I faced in the months afterward. I pulled no punches, detailing my failures as well as the victories I eventually won. That book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, is still in print and continues to help thousands of grieving people each year.

Because I know how difficult the holidays can be after the death of a loved one, and because our family is still reeling from such a tragic loss just a few months ago, I decided to post this article which I wrote for a small local paper several years ago. I hope it helps those of you who are facing this situation. If you know of others who need it, please forward it to them.


              THE FIRST CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THEM

    After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year.

    After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.

    Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season.

    The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.

    For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local Food Bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Take a name from an Angel Tree at one of the malls and shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.

    When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and WalMart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even when you celebrate it alone, this is the true meaning of Christmas.

Important Note: My first novel in the Prescription For Trouble series, Code Blue, is supposed to be available from Amazon as a free Kindle download through this weekend. For a while there was a glitch at Amazon, but the link is now fixed. Go here to get the free download. Thanks for your patience.

12 comments:

Catherine West said...

Thanks, Richard. You're so right. It's important to remember and talk about our loved ones who are no longer with us. I can't really remember the first Christmas without my mom, but my kids were small and I suppose I was racing after them, keeping busy as usual. I don't think the missing them feeling ever goes away though, even now, eleven years later. But I try to remember the good times and focus on those instead of just being sad that she's not here.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks for your comment, Cath. This is a tough time of year for anyone who's suffered a loss, and especially if it's the first Christmas without them.
I still cry when I read the chapter in The Tender Scar about getting through the holidays, and it's been eleven years now.

Loren said...

Dr Mabry,


Thank you for sharing this with us. I lost my Daddy last December and even though it was a few days prior to Christmas it feels as though this is the first Christmas without him. I can't stop crying or reliving his final days. My brother and I flew to Florida last year, the first week of December to see him and found out shortly after arriving that the cancer had spread and there wasn't anything left to do. He died on the 18th. It has been so difficult but I know the Lord is with me and carrying me! I will look at your book for my Stepmom. It is so wonderful that we are willing to help others out of our own pain! So thank you for doing that!

Bless you!

Richard Mabry said...

Loren, I appreciate your comment. I hurt for you and your family. I hope that your mother finds comfort in The Tender Scar, as many others have. Blessings.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Richard,

I really needed this. Thank you! Crying a little even as I write this. I leave next Sat. to spend the holiday with my mom--the first Christmas since my dad's been gone.

I appreciate your words here. Again, thanks.
~ Wendy

Richard Mabry said...

Wendy, this will be a tough time for you and your mom, but you'll get through it. Don't hesitate to cry. Don't be afraid to talk about him. If you remember the good times, laugh and don't feel guilty.
I made lots of mistakes my first Christmas--I detail them in that chapter of The Tender Scar--but I learned from them. You will, too.
Blessings.

Carol J. Garvin said...

Thanks for sharing this, Richard. The first anything afterwards is difficult, but Christmas is a time so focused on family... on ours and on the holy one... that when families are torn by grief and loss, the nostalgia muddles the emotions. My grandparents died in mid-December in two consecutive years, and later our daughter died on the 19th, so for a long time it was hard to experience the traditional festivities without reliving the loss and then feeling guilty. One thing it has done is make me more aware of others in our church and community for whom Christmas is a difficult time. Drawing them into our circle and offering them a bit of cheerfulness helps both them and me.

Richard Mabry said...

Carol, As always, I appreciate your comments. Your own experience has made you more tender toward others, not just at this time of year but year-round, and I commend you for it.

Donna Easton said...

I hate to admit that I found this page completely by accident while searching for something similar...I believe it was fate that brought me to it.
I lost my wonderful husband of 23 years after a two year battle with a malignant brain tumor in July of this year. Our children are all grown with families of their own so I am muddling through as best I can. I have tried to decorate our tree but can't even open the box of decorations...it just doesn't seem "right".
I am going to try to find and purchase a copy of your book as it sounds like what I need right now.
Thankyou for the information, I will use it wisely.
Donna

Richard Mabry said...

Donna, sometimes accidents and coincidences are simply situations in which God chooses to remain anonymous. Glad you found the site and the post, and I hope The Tender Scar helps you get through this very trying time.

Richard Mabry said...

Donna, sometimes accidents and coincidences are simply situations in which God chooses to remain anonymous. Glad you found the site and the post, and I hope The Tender Scar helps you get through this very trying time.

Richard Mabry said...

Carol, As always, I appreciate your comments. Your own experience has made you more tender toward others, not just at this time of year but year-round, and I commend you for it.