Surviving the Holidays

by Christi Vliet
The title of the seminar: Surviving the Holidays, is very fitting. Last year I was facing the holidays as a widow, and “survival” help was what I desperately needed. My loving husband, Ted died early in 2016, and my heart was broken. I grieved his loss with an ocean of tears.

While attending weekly Griefshare meetings, I heard about the Surviving the Holidays seminar and it seemed the next right step. The upcoming holidays were the great unknown—the first without my husband, and I wasn’t sure what our sons, Matt, David and Daniel as well as extended family expected of me.

So I invited my two adults sons and my youngest, still a teenager, to go with me to the seminar. My reasons were actually twofold. The first was for me to have their support, and the second, so they would hear the same information and I wouldn't need to explain it to them. Thankfully, all three agreed to attend, and so did my Mom.

At the seminar, we sat at tables with a table leader. Although my sons and Mom were pretty quiet, I felt supported by their presence. The flow of the seminar included table discussion, short video teachings, more discussion opportunities, lighting of candles in remembrance of our loved ones, and some refreshments. The video presentations included helpful tips on planning ahead and helping answer questions like:

Are we going to stay with our same traditions, or add new ones? 
How will we handle invitations? 
How should we respond in difficult and awkward situations?

One of the most important suggestions from the seminar was to consider focusing our thoughts on the true meaning of the holiday—that Christ came to save the world from sin and suffering. It was actually said to “run to Christmas,” the sufferers’ holiday. In the midst of grief, this certainly was memorable for me...”to run to Christmas,” to focus on Christ. 

I also appreciated the honesty of the video teachings, stating so matter-of-factly how difficult the holidays can be—the memories, the tears, and the lack of energy. One widow said, “I just want to go to sleep the day before Thanksgiving and not wake up until after the New Year.” Before experiencing my own personal loss, I couldn't have appreciated her thoughts and feelings. Now I could. 

Here are two quotations from the Griefshare Handbook, regarding the holiday seminar:

“Only Surviving the Holidays could have prepared me for the emotions that ambushed me.”

“It gives me permission to take care of myself above perceived social obligations.”

That second statement really captured my attention because so often I can neglect my own needs. It really helped to be able to give myself permission to consider how I was feeling and adjust as I needed during this heartbreaking time of deep grief. 

After talking with my sons and hearing their hearts, we decided  to carry on with our usual, simple traditions. For Thanksgiving we had our family gathering at our house where everyone brought part of the meal. I set a place in remembrance of Ted, along with a lit candle—an idea from the seminar. As a new tradition, I typed up “Thankful” scripture verses that we all took turns reading. 

In preparation for Christmas, our two adult sons came over to help their younger brother put up the outdoor lights. The lights were very festive and added some much-needed cheer. David and his wife Ashley hosted a Christmas party—a new and fun event. We attended Christmas Eve service and had our usual Christmas gathering at our home. There was a huge void without Ted being with us, but we “survived” our first holiday season, as a family.

I attended Griefshare’s 13-week sessions in both the spring and fall of 2016, and now I'm attending again—this time to support our facilitators and to share in the sorrow and healing of others new to the grief journey.

Griefshare was a lifeline to me when I so needed the support of people who understood from their own personal experience, how incredibly painful loss really is. Thankfully, the tissues are still close at hand, but with God’s help, I am continuing on my own healing journey and creating new memories with my family.

For resources, tips, and information on Surviving the Holidays-Griefshare, please visit griefshare.org/holidays

Seacoast also provides resources for Surviving the Holidays-Divorcecare, please visit divorcecare.org/holidays.

For additional information, contact Cherie, at cherieberotti@seacoast.org.

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