by Lauren Fritz
about the author:
Lauren Fritz has two sons with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. She is a fulltime private practice therapist and also cares for her sons.
That Fragile and Tender Space
I awoke this morning, recalling a phone call from a dear friend in Louisville that took place years ago. We had worked together at Hospice – she, as a social worker… I, as a grief counselor.
I had moved home to Pennsylvania, and she called me with intense fear and dread over how to navigate upcoming holidays with her family, given that a precious loved one had died. We talked through some ways to approach the season, acknowledging the fragile and tender space of her family.
I am reminded of this now… aware that many people in my current life spaces are dealing with great loss. I want to share some things I offered in that conversation… things I offer to my grieving clients as well, in hopes that the knot of anxiety may loosen.
The Starting Point
So here is the starting point.
Your love and relationship with your (now deceased) loved one is front and center right now. It affects your life every moment. Let’s just give it some context, that holidays come and go, but your experience of intense love and loss is ever present right now.
You don’t need to fit that into society’s box of the holidays. It won’t feel right. Not much feels right… but connection with your loved one feels right. So let’s see how we can honor that.
It doesn’t matter if you celebrate the holidays at all. You don’t have to. You have full permission to do anything you feel like doing, or not doing. You can leave the rest.
Relief in the Different
You may opt to do something completely different.
If you had a traditional holiday celebration before, you may opt for Chinese take out and a movie. You may opt for a long, peaceful walk in a park. You might binge action movies. It’s totally up to you.
One year, following a significant loss, my family had spaghetti on Christmas. It was too painful to do the usual Christmas dinner. There was relief in the different.
Include Your Loved One
If you do choose to carry on with holiday traditions and gathering, bring your loved one with you.
Light a candle in their honor that remains lit through the day. Start the gathering with acknowledgement of your loved one’s importance, and as a group share favorite stories of this person.
Weave in their traditions and most beloved things – make them your own. Wear your loved one’s favorite shirt, or ring. Keep their favorite small toy with you, in your pocket. Use the money that you would have spent on their gifts to contribute to a cause they would find meaningful.
You are a person in grief, but you also hold the love that was created through this relationship, and this can be used as energy for good in connection with others.
Say Your Loved One’s Name
Say your loved one’s name – loudly, frequently… lovingly.
We are relational by nature, and our relationships live within us, and help create who we are. This is no different when our loved one is no longer living.
There is room for you in this space this holiday. Let it be what it needs to be. Next year will be different. The year after that will be different again, in a new way.
A Relationship of Memory
You are slowly, and exhaustively, learning a way of being – without your loved one’s physical form. You are learning a relationship of memory. It is a tender job.
May compassion and acceptance for who you need to be surround you generously.