Holidays are wonderful opportunities for celebration – unless the loved one associated with that holiday has died. While bittersweet, these special days and seasons give us a chance to find new and meaningful ways to celebrate a loved one’s life, even while dealing with the inherent grief of loss.
That’s a lesson I learned in 2007 after my mother died following a long battle with both chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and Alzheimer’s disease. A month after she died, I participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in her honor and that event has remained on my fall schedule ever since. Still, I’ve found that many purportedly happy holidays can be the cruelest because they lead to the realization that an important seat at the dining room table is – and forever will be — empty.
That brings me to a recent conversation that I had with a friend who lost her mother five months ago. She hadn’t really considered the potential implications of Mother’s Day in the wake of losing her mother. What will she feel like when she sees all the advertisements for Mother’s Day gifts or is bombarded by Facebook posts of smiling mothers and children? Those things can pack a real wallop to already fragile heart strings.
That conversation led to a Facebook query to find out how people mark these types of holidays (whether it’s Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day or another special day) after a loved one has died. Here are some ideas from friends:
- My daughter-in-law and her family get together and release balloons. They are in honor of her father.
- I plan to create a nature memorial in an area where I feel my mother’s spirit.
- Make a shadow box. I had one made for a very dear friend of mine. It has a current picture, the flyer from her mother’s service, a flower from the service and a few other items that were special to both her and her mother. It is displayed in the living room. Her mother died the day after Mother’s Day’s 11 years ago.
- When my stepfather was dying, the hospice nurse brought beautiful ginger flowers from her garden. I asked if she could possibly share any roots – and she did. Now, every year when that ginger blooms, I think of Jerry. I just lost an aunt and bought a new variety of gardenia to plant in her honor.
- Honor other mothers but look for those who may not have their children around, those who have miscarried or lost a child or children, are estranged from their children, single mommies of little ones etc. (basically, anyone who won’t feel honored or may be forgotten). You could send cards, have lunch with them, take little bouquets of flowers, do their yard work and/or spend quality time with them. You could be overt or covert. Focusing outward instead of inward helps push through hard anniversary dates.
- I have a friend, much younger, who started a tradition of coloring a strand of hair blue for Duke, the son they lost when he was only 1 month old. All her friends and family join in and everyone has a blue strand in their hair until it finally washes out. They do it every year.I have a friend, much younger, who started a tradition of coloring a strand of hair blue for Duke, the son they lost when he was only 1 month old. All her friends and family join in and everyone has a blue strand in their hair until it finally washes out. They do it every year.
- After my mother died, I started setting up a shrine in her honor in November, the month she died and also the same month we celebrate All Souls Day (Día de Los Muertos) in the Catholic faith. I now make small triptych shrines or memory box shrines for loved ones.
Personally I plan to create a flower bed in Mom’s memory. I haven’t done any landscaping in my backyard (and the weeds were ridiculously tall and thick this spring). Therefore, I thought it was appropriate to create a place of beauty out of an ignored area so that I can regularly go there to think of Mom. I’m just starting to map the area out, but will post pictures as it progresses on I Start Wondering’s Facebook page.
So what ways do you celebrate the memory of a love one’s life during these types of holidays?