The warmth and good cheer of the holidays can be overwhelming to someone who is coping with loss.
The memories and traditions that bond families together can rip you apart when you are grieving a loved one. Whether it is the first or the tenth holiday season you face after a loss it can still be challenging.
“The hardest part may sound simple and obvious, but it is having a celebration with those you love and care about,” said Mary Ann Kipp. “It makes the absence of the one who is not there seem bigger somehow.”
Mary Ann Kipp will celebrate Christmas 2018 without her husband of more than 50 years. Many say grief comes in waves but she says it feels more like a tsunami. “It is what I have come to call mini-tsunamis,” said Kipp. “Something deep down within me moves like tectonic plates and a tidal wave of grief comes. Tears well up and overflow. Weeping and grief will have its way with you. It is part of the healing even when it does not feel that way.”
Mike Kipp passed away in January 2017 after a short battle with cancer. Alive Hospice helped Mary Ann begin to navigate these painful waves.
“I think oftentimes we want to pull the covers over our head and have the calendar page turn and have it be January… and that’s okay,” said Alissa Drescher, Alive Hospice Grief Center Director. “I think it can be really good for us to get comfortable with our grief. I wouldn’t say we have to be best friends with it, but it can kind of be that presence that we start to integrate into our lives. We know that our love for someone isn’t going to end in their absence and so grief is something that we will end up living with as we go forward.”
“For me, the question was how to let the spirit of Mike show up,” said Kipp.
While grief counselors suggest finding a way to bring the lost loved one into the future – exactly how that is done varies dramatically.
“At special celebrations, Mike always had us join hands as we sat around the table. He had a wonderful singing voice. He would sing a phrase…’For health and strength and daily food, we praise thy name O Lord.’ My two sons and I joined hands with all and sung that phrase not with elegance but with love.”
It is important not to feel pressured, though, to do anything at all. At least not right away. Grieving is not tidy nor does it keep a schedule. Friends and family members need to remain flexible while things are still raw.
“Be brave enough to be verbal with what your needs are,” said Drescher. “And let your friends and family know how you’re feeling as those days approach. And if you can, make suggestions to them about how they might be able to help you.”
Kipp finds her husband’s memory in things like the stockings hung by the fire, a top hat (he loved hats) and a tablecloth used in the family home for years.
“Christmas will never be the same,” said Kipp. “I’ve sold the house, there has been a divorce in the family and many, many other changes. We cannot shape the clay of the present into the vision of the past that we loved. So we don’t.”
And it can be important for friends and relatives to remember, in the words of Drescher, “Grief isn’t a problem that needs to be remedied or taken away. It doesn’t require a cure.”
Alive Hospice offers affordable grief counseling available to everyone in the community. Click here or call 615-963-4732 for more information.