Making holidays better after death

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Jena, Nov 30, 2004.

  1. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

    Aug 13, 2003
    My dad died in October. I had already planned to go to CA to be with my family before his illness and death. We (me and my 5 kids) have not been home for xmas since 1996, so it will be a good thing.

    My mom has sent me an email telling me she is lost. She can't get it together to plan for our arrival, plan on how to feed us, get a tree, etc. I told her that she need not do any of that, or just do what she wants/can. We can take care of it when we get there. We usually just sack out of the floor, eat out a lot, etc anyways. I told her that it was going to be hard this year....and there wasn't much that could change that. I told her just do the best she can and the important thing was to be together.

    So what else can I do? Are there any ideas from those who have lost a spouse on what helped...and what didn't? I don't want to over-do us doing stuff (it's good to have things to do, right?), but then I don't want to overwhelm my mom either.

  2. amelia

    amelia Well-Known Member

    May 2, 2003
    Washington State
    Hi, Jena, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. Losing a parent is difficult in so many ways.

    Christmas is an especially hard one because all of the traditions that have been repeated for so many years in the same way seem to highlight what is now missing. For that reason, it sometimes helps to do something completely different. How about having the family together at one of the kids' places this year, or going somewhere entirely different?

    Another idea would be to take on a project that occupies your minds and spirits for the holidays. There are a whole ton of community projects that focus on getting gifts to needy children, Christmas dinner to the elderly, etc. The nursing homes are full of people who will be entirely alone this Christmas. Many would be so grateful for someone to talk to, play the piano, or even paint their fingernails. Just an idea.

    Take care, you'll all get through this. ~Amelia

  3. Jan Doling

    Jan Doling Well-Known Member

    May 21, 2004
    Zone 9b
    I read of a family that still hung the loved one's stocking, but filled it with tasks to do that year in his name: plant a tree, volunteer time, buy a hymnal for the church and put his name in the flyleaf, etc. Also, it might help to have a ceremony of some type using candles to make him part of the celebration. I don't think he would want y'all to be sad or change family traditions this year.
  4. Grandmotherbear

    Grandmotherbear Well-Known Member Supporter

    May 14, 2002
    Fl Zones 11
    I AM SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS. (sorry was in cap-lock mode- )
    Thr op who said to do something new is echoing what many Hospice counselors say. Holding on to all the old traditions only emphasizes the loss. Don't throw out all the traditions, keep a couple that mean the most to you and your family, but introduce new acrivities nowalso.

    Do not avoid all mention of him. He existed and it is appropriate to talk about him, look at old pictures, and it is ok to miss him and cry. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

    Of course your mom feels overwhelmed. It is appropriate for you to tell her what you intend to do to help. Maybe you will put up the decorations. (It would be a good time to opt for a smaller tree or less extensive decorations so packing everthing away won't be too burdensome) Maybe you will cook, or you'll all go to a restaurant. If the family tradition was to open gifts on Xmas Day, think about Xmas Eve. Etc.

    I never heard of the stocking with activities in your loved one's name but it sounds great to me! I would have dedicated my gardening and birdwatching efforts to my dad, if we had thought of doing this.

    One thing your mom should do is probably attend a grief counselling group. Hospices and churches will frequently run these. Maybe you could make phone calls for her while you are in town.

    Don't take over and get rid of Dads belongings while you are there - unless Mom asks you to. It broke my MILs heart that her daughter disposed of all Dads belongings within a week of his death. She wasn't ready for that. Some people are comforted by seeing Dads ratty old robe hanging in the closet still.

    Maybe, if your children are old enough they could write to Grandmother evert week or two. She would probably appreciate that.
    I wish you a happy holiday- under the circumstances, there will be sadness that your dad is gone, but there will still be some good times. A loving spouse would not want his widow broken down with grief...Your mom would probably feel relieved if she could talk to some other widows/widowers and find out that the overwhelmed feelings are normal and that they DO pass- good luck.
  5. Little Quacker in OR

    Little Quacker in OR Well-Known Member

    May 9, 2002
    I don't think the issue here is what JENA and her five kids should do re losing her dad and the holidays. The issue is What can Jena's MOM handle after just losing her husband?

    If someone I loved descended on me with five kids just after losing my hubby(which I did this spring) I would send them to a motel!.... and indeed the members of my family who came to support me when I needed them rented suites in a motel in town and they "rotated' so things wouldn't get overwhelming here. And there were no small children. The kids were left at home or with other family.

    Not the time for kids underfoot no matter how much you love them. Do re think this in terms of what mom needs and not how you think you need. You can go "home" for christmas some other time with the kids. ;)
  6. Terry - NW Ohio

    Terry - NW Ohio Well-Known Member

    Jul 5, 2002
    Yes, it does come down to what the person can handle. People are all so different and she might really need her daugher and her grandchildren more than anything else.

    My Mom didn't want anyone around after my Dad died but we would have loved having our family around after our son died recently. We have no family close by and that would have been comforting.
  7. Christiaan

    Christiaan Dutch Highlands Farm

    Mar 12, 2004
    Along the Stillaquamish, Washington
    Basicallly you just have to play it by ear and be able to respond to her needs as best as possible. That means you may need to go home early if she just can't cope with the visit. Grieving is a very personal and unique thing, everyone does it in their own way. Most importantly, she must have time to be alone with her thoughts when that is what she wants. We lost our son twelve years ago and holidays and birthdays are still very hard. Unfortunately our family was anything but understanding so we still see very little of them.
  8. timberweed

    timberweed Active Member

    Apr 14, 2004
    Northern NH
    Hi Jena,

    I think Christiaan's advice is excellent.

    We lost my Dad 6 years ago last October, and my Mom lives in another state also, but not as far as yours.

    I think that you kind of have to go with whatever your Mom is up to/wants. In our case, I took her for lots of rides, out to eat and other stuff like that. She often seemed like she didn't quite want to, but was always happy she did afterward. In our situation, my mother wanted us around as much as possible, but everyone is different.

    Did you get the impression that she isn't up to having you all - or do you think she is just overwhelmed by everything (which is completely normal)? It could be a comforting experience for her to have you all kind of dote on her over the holiday.

    The bad news in my case is that my Mom has never really progressed beyond the middle stages of grieving. I worked so hard to try to make it easier on her that my own grieving was put on the back burner until I realized I couldn't really change things.

    We do talk about my Dad all the time, and tell lots of "remember the time Dad..." kind of stories. (There are tons of them!)

    I'm glad your Mom has a daughter (you!) who is concerned about how she feels and what she wants. I think if you ask her to be honest about what she wants and use your good judgement, everything will turn out.

    I'll remember your Dad along with mine this Christmas.

  9. Tracy Rimmer

    Tracy Rimmer CF, Classroom & Books Mod Supporter

    May 9, 2002
    Manitoba, Canada
    We lost my mom October 28 2000, and we live 3000 kms from my family. That first Christmas was the first Christmas we were home in six years, and I can tell you, it's not easy. We spent a lot of time with my siblings, and talking, holding each other, and crying, and getting my dad through it. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life, but we had each other -- and we found that we all kind of got lost in the work of putting a Christmas together for all of the grandchildren.

    Tell your mom to relax -- it's not about a tree, it's not about presents, or fancy meals, or baking, or any of that -- that doesn't matter. It's about being together and healing.

    My prayers are with you.

  10. second_noah

    second_noah Local Yokel

    Nov 15, 2004
    Nawth Carolinuh
    I have never lost a spouse, but my brother died 6 years ago this April. That first Christmas after his death was hard, and it has never been the same since, but what helped us the most was not to put any expectations on what 'Christmas' would be. We just kinda went with the flow and chilled out. We didn't fix a big meal, but we did all eat together. It was just a really relaxed atmosphere, where if you needed to 'get out' and be alone or something for awhile, you didn't feel bad about it or obligated to stay and help.

    Just my two cents...I am sorry for your loss and I hope you and your family have a good Holiday season despite.

    God bless!

  11. Pony

    Pony Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jan 6, 2003
    First, Jena, I am very sorry for your loss. It seems that that when people pass around the holidays, it just makes it that much harder, doesn't it?

    Fourteen years ago, on December 8, my first husband died from a sudden, unexpected heart attack. I was so incredibly lost and overwhelmed! My friends didn't know what to do with/for me (we were so young -- early 30's -- none of us had lost a spouse), my family was/is as far removed from supportive as east is from west.

    I felt like I just couldn't handle the house or my two little kids (4 and 7) and just looking around all I could see was messy house and unmade beds and oh! It was just so bad!

    This was right before Christmas, and I didn't want to bother anyone (I've learned to be better about this since!), so I called a local Merry Maids. The lady there was so nice! She said that she was booked up, but asked a few of the women working for her if they'd make an extra stop by my house, and all I'd do is just pay them instead of the maid service.

    Three women descended on my house, and they gave it a more thorough cleaning than I know this service normally gives. I just sat and cried, kids on my lap, and I was so grateful just to have some organization in at least one area of my life. When they were done, they wanted to refuse the payment, but I insisted, and for the rest of that week, I felt somewhat more together.

    So, I guess what I'm suggesting is, if you can from where you are, find a way to help her by calling her friends or church or even Merry Maids and see if anyone can spare the time to go to her house and help her feel more organized. Even if it's just to help her fill out the thank-you cards or to make sure the house is straightened up a bit, it makes all the difference in the world. At least it did for me.

    It seems that you already know to keep expectations to a minimum, and not put pressure on yourself or anyone else to be merry this Christmas. Just let things happen, give yourselves the space and time to mourn. The thing that really ground my gears when I lost Gary is that people expected me to get over it in a few weeks, couple of months at the most. How cruel!

    Certain cultures have the custom of allowing a family an official mourning period. They don't expect the family to attend social events or anything, and they give as much support to the mourners as they can. Remember the old custom of wearing a black armband when in mourning? I still think that has some validity today, and I am sorry that our culture doesn't recognize the loss people feel when a loved one dies.

    God bless you and your family.
  12. Donovan K

    Donovan K Well-Known Member

    Feb 25, 2004
    I am sorry for your loss and I have been where you are.

    I lost the love of my life on Halloween night and my father on Thanksgiving.
    An older brother killed himself just before christmas a few years ago. I have a hard time with holidays lately.

    In the instance of my brothers suicide, the christmas that took place a week later was nothing like we were used to. We kept it very quiet. The decorations were already up, placed there by my brother before he died, but we made no attempt to make the day normal. There were only two small kids in the family at the time and they were not a part of the family gathering that year, as they went with their mothers to their maternal grandparents for the day. We didnt put my mother through the chore of a family dinner and instead cooked for her. We limited it to just the three surviving sons. Somehow we got through it. The following year was a little easier and now things are back to normal but with acknowledgement that one of us is missing.

    The loss of my father and of my one true love both on holidays have impacted me more. I no longer celebrate either Halloween or Thanksgiving in any way strictly because I lost those two people. I don't expect I ever will again. On those two days, my thoughts are only of those two people that were so important to me and I prefer to spend those days alone. When asked to join others for Thanksgiving dinner or Halloween parties, I refuse graciously but never tell the reason as I believe grief should be private.

    I wasnt going to respond to your question at all, hoping someone else would say something close enough to my own experience to make mine not necessary. If you find your mom doesn't show any interest in celebrating the holiday this year or next or even ever again, don't be surprised and please respect her wishes. I know from my experience that when you have a big empty space in your heart for someone you loved so much, celebrations are not important. You shouldnt need a holiday to show your love for your mother, you should do that every day you are lucky enough to have her with you.


  13. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jun 6, 2004
    Michigan's thumb
    I'm very sorry for your loss. My Dad died three years ago.

    Your Mom will be dancing on two planes, one of grief over loosing your Dad, and the other of joy at having you and her grandkids home for a visit.

    Could you send one of your older kids to CA early? I don't know their ages, but probably one is better suited than the others. This child can help Grandma around the house, buy groceries, decorate the tree. It may be easier on Granny to start out with one child who doesn't need supervision, then adding the rest. I agree that you might not want to go whole hog on Christmas, but for many people, it just isn't Christmas if they don't put up all their decorations.

    Your Mom will probably want to talk about your Dad. This is normal and just go along with the happy memories. "Yes, Dad would have liked that." etc. Be happy with her. Play it by ear, but getting out the family album and looking at photos of your childhood with your kids might help. Perhaps next Christmas your Mom can go to your house. That might be easier for her in another year, especially if you can't go there.
  14. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

    Aug 13, 2003
    Thanks for all the help. My mom is a very organized woman. She find comfort in her organization and I know she is feeling very unorganized since my dad died. He took a great deal of her time and dictated her schedule due to his health needs.

    I did check if she even wants us to come and she said she did. I did promise that we would clean up our mess before we go...take the tree down, clean the house, etc. I think that made her feel better as she was afraid that she would be stuck with all that. We will just schedule a clean-up day the day before we leave and leave it all better than we found it (I used to be a girl scout, hehehe).

    We have no problem talking about him and memories and aren't too shy to cry. We went through a lot of photo albums and stuff at the funeral and will probably do it again. She has some invitations to go see other folks for xmas and plans on going without us (not on xmas, but in the week before). That is good. If she wants us, or part of us, we will go. If not, we won't.

    I think it will all be ok. The kids are flying, I am driving. They will get there before me, but stay with another grandma. I think I will leave the day after they are gone, so that my mom and I can just have a quiet day together.

  15. Mudwoman

    Mudwoman Well-Known Member

    Dec 18, 2002
    Dh's mom passed away the end of Sept. this year. We are having his dad go to Dh's sister's place this year. Then he is coming here for a visit in Jan. This is not the year for him to stay home where he can only think of Mom.