As I tried to figure out how to put new life together after my parents’ death, I was tasked with figuring out what to do with their voluminous collection of cookbooks and recipes.
It was Christmastime when I got to them. I’d held onto their home eight years, and I was still sorting not only through their possessions but through my grief.
I sat down and opened cookbook after cookbook, scanning for my father’s penciled notes beside recipes. He’d dated them and had jotted down the family’s reaction. A kind of a Siskel and Ebert thumbs up or down.
My mother, however, drew through ingredients and added others. What a treasure I had. My heart, however, focused not on this blessing but on the pain. We’d never share a meal again.
And then it occurred to me. Trying to find a “new normal” after a loved one’s death – whether during the holidays or any time of year – is a like following a recipe.
No, I’m not talking about the five stages of grief or about following precise steps that lead to a certain ending. That’s not how grief really works.
I’m talking about the ingredients of our journey – healthy and healing components we can adopt to ease the process of getting from loss to living.
While our journeys look as unique as a snowflake, there common ingredients that help us find a new normal and survive Christmas grief. Here are a few key ones:
Ingredient #1 – Set aside your expectations
We aren’t going to get over the love – and we wouldn’t want to – so we aren’t going to get over missing our loved one. The intensity of grief, however, will subside over time.
Giving ourselves permission to grieve, whatever form that takes, eases the stress of trying to be someone we are not.
Ingredient #2 – Set aside others’ expectations
Let family and friends know how you feel. That you are still grieving. And that you may not know whether you’ll want to participate in traditions or activities until the moment arrives.
Admittedly, some family and friends are better at accepting holiday grief and visible signs of mourning than others. If they cannot be accepting, know you’ve done your part.
Ingredient #3 – Memorialize your loved one
It’s important to have a plan to honor our feelings and memorialize our deceased loved ones. In this way, we give grief a specified room and minimize triggers.
I used to go every Christmas Eve and play carols on my parents’ turntable. And yes, I cried. Having sold the house a few months earlier, I adopted a new tradition last Christmas. After evening church services, I lighted a candle at their grave. And then I felt myself relax into the Christmas present, having given attention to Christmas past.
Ingredient #4 – Spend time with the blessings
Loss feels like a cold pit of loneliness, a place where we have nothing but darkness, and yet if we search with genuine honesty, we realize we also are blessed. Each day offers something to be thankful for. Food. Shelter. A stranger’s kindness. A friend’s hug. The beauty of the stars.
By acknowledging and soaking in the thoughts of these blessings, we find the strength to live on despite the absence of our most beloved person.
As a child, I stared each Christmas at the “fantastic fudge” page of my parents’ “Cookies and Candies” Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Each piece of photographed fudge was wrapped in a red Christmas bow. Looked delicious.
I didn’t make fudge, however, until I was a grown woman. It’s amazing what combining granulated sugar, cocoa, salt and butter will do. I don’t want to eat any of those ingredients alone. Together, they make wonderful fudge.
When we mix the longing of Christmas past with the blessings of Christmas present, we find healing in Christmas future. We don’t ignore grief. Nor do we ignore the joys offered to us now. We mix them.
In this way, we create a new kind of Christmas. A kind of Christmas that we survive and then, some years, a season to thrive.
What memories of Christmas past and blessings of Christmas present will you combine to create a new normal?
Copyright © 2019 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. www.tonilepeska.com