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Coping with Loss During the Holidays

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There are many stages that one goes through after losing a loved one. Those stages are predictably unpredictable. They range from shock to sadness to disbelief. I lost my father in August, and still three months later find myself in total disbelief that he is gone. I sometimes sit down, anxious to call him to share the latest news about my kids, and find myself with the phone in my hand with no one to call. At other times, I get a knot in my stomach, and can’t believe that I can’t do anything about it. Typically, I am the one that tries to make everything better and fix everyone. Not this time. There is nothing I can do to bring him back. What I can do is find ways to get through the holidays, one day at a time.

I was pretty optimistic that my heart was healing as Thanksgiving approached. This year, I was going to do things a little differently than years past. First of all, I suggested that we go somewhere that we had never been with my father. Then, I figured I would cook an elaborate dinner from scratch (that was also unusual and a rare occasion for me). All of this, to distract me. I thought if I could be somewhere new, try challenging things in the kitchen like baking a pie and have the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, the pain would go away just a little. Well, almost. I had taken out my picture frame and painted a picture of my perfect holiday. The problem was that I was setting myself up to fail by needing perfection. I thought that if everything was perfect, I’d be happy.

My plan was going along quite nicely. I made my list and checked it twice (maybe more), braved the supermarket the day before Thanksgiving (and may have even been whistling while I shopped), started preparing dinner days before and had an agenda on Thanksgiving morning of how everything was going to transpire, along with tasks for my family to help make this happen. I hope you are getting the picture now. Yep, set myself up for failure.

After a small setback of third-degree burns of my four left fingers when I grabbed the oven tray without a glove, I was still on schedule. The table was set, the music was on Pandora’s Thanksgiving Dinner Classics, and the children were anxiously awaiting dinner. My holiday clothes were set out, ready to be put on, so I could prance out after slaving over a hot stove, to be the perfect glamorous mom you’d see in a 1950s movie. Then, as I proudly picked up my perfect apple pie that had hand cut hearts on top instead of the traditional fall leaves template the bake-a-pie kit came equipped with, my eight-year-old ran smack into me and there it went … plop! I didn’t know a grown woman could cry over spilled pie, but this one did. And with that, my perfect dinner started going terribly wrong … the side dishes started burning on the stove and my husband started shredding our turkey. I was too busy wiping the mascara from my eyes to even care about changing into my glamorous holiday wear. After settling down and catching my breath, I realized I wasn’t crying over the pie. All of the emotions that I was trying to bury had emerged. Had I let them in the first place, I’d would have been better off.

What I learned from this experience is that I was trying way too hard to make a situation that I knew was going to be emotionally difficult, materially perfect. Did I think that by having a picture-perfect meal that it would heal my heart? I would have been a lot better had I just accepted that this holiday was going to be painful. Instead of avoiding the fear of feeling this pain, I would have done better to face it head on, embrace myself in my father’s memories and not set myself up for failure.

I will take each day in this joyous season as it comes, with no special plans and give thanks for the people in my life that are here with me and look forward to the future.

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