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Carol's Columns

Holidays: Memories and Meaning

After the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a most painful time. They come despite our best efforts to avoid them, but they don't have to be avoided. It is up to us to make them meaningful.

You survived Thanksgiving, and now Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's Eve are just around the corner. Even for those not grieving, the pressure of holiday preparation can produce edginess and irritability. We often overextend and over-commit making the holidays a mixture of fantasy and frustration, of pleasure and pressure.

If you have never done it before, now is a good time to look at the activities of the holidays and consider which ones are truly meaningful. Listen to your own internal messages and those of your loved ones and avoid the messages of commercialism you are flooded with this time of year.

Being open, honest and gentle hold a family conference and discuss the needs of the family. For example, to make the holiday less painful you may decide to escape to a totally different place, or stay here and make changes.

My daughter Kristen died shortly before Thanksgiving and I found little to be thankful for. That first Thanksgiving was a blur of a dinner at a friend's with duck instead of our usual traditional turkey. Nonetheless, everyone remained sad and uncomfortable, still dazed and reeling from the suddenness of her tragic death. I didn't care about myself. I just wanted to get through it and have it be as okay as possible for my young nine-year-old son Michel.

Christmas was a different story. Always my favorite holiday with the children, I now dreaded it. However, since Michel had just lost his sister, he didn't need to lose his favorite holiday as well. We would have Christmas.

We flew to my parents' home where, since childhood, Christmas had always been magical. That year I noticed that beside the big family tree, there was a little tree set apart on a table top decorated with tiny lights and ornaments. An angel was on the top and a vigil light burned below. My mother called this our Krissie tree. I was struck by the symbolism of how she was apart from us now but still with us. That little tree provided such comfort.

Since that first Christmas we have not had a separate little tree, but we have always hung Kristen's Christmas stocking. It remains a comfort for us to have her stocking with her name and a candy cane hanging with the rest.

I encourage you to find a way to symbolically remember your child. Whether it is a candle, a tree, a stocking, prayer or memorial gift, let this symbolism comfort you.