I have been blessed to have so many people reach out and ask how to help us this holiday season. I also got a letter in the mail recently from our State Medical Examiner that I’m assuming they send out to families who have lost someone that year before the holidays. Since it’s been on my mind so much, I thought I’d jump in before we get to Thanksgiving and share some ideas.
Firstly, How I’m feeling about the holiday season this year. If you want to go straight to how to help others, skip the next few paragraphs. Holidays have been rough for several years now. Last year was really the first year without my mom. 2017 was the year she was very sick for Thanksgiving and died 15 days before Christmas. That was a blur and didn’t feel real. The year before we lost my maternal grandma who we were close to … I believe it was the 22nd or 23rd… a few days before Christmas. We used to do Thanksgiving at her home every year. So lots of changes and lots of losses. I’m not a big fan. This year will obviously be even worse. And if you’ve read much about my Denny, you know he was the KING of the holiday season. And of any holiday. And any other celebration in general besides his own birthday. He made everything so fun and went all out.
I have this inner turmoil because I want my kids to have fun and to know that they can be happy and celebrate despite their sadness. Just because their dad is gone doesn’t mean they can’t experience joy and fun. One doesn’t negate the other. But the advice I’ve heard over and over again (including from the medical examiner) is to ONLY DO EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND NOTHING MORE OR LESS. If you put pressure on yourself to do something, it can cause more stress, anxiety, depression, etc.
We have been invited to many homes for both holidays and have had many offers. But the only thing I want to do is be with my two sisters and my girls and eat take out and just play games together all day. That’s all I want. So that’s what I’m hoping to do. And I’m not going to pressure myself to live up to Denny’s magic that he brought to each holiday. I’m going to allow myself to have melt downs and sleep and cry or whatever I feel I need to do that day and the people I’m most comfortable doing that with are my sisters.
My advice to those grieving is to do the same. Whatever possible that you are most comfortable and content with doing. Don’t stop yourself from feeling or expressing because it will make it worse.
How to help others… Think of everyone you know who is grieving the loss of someone this past year. Those who may have lost a child, a sibling, a spouse, a parent, or even a grandparent. Just because someone is older and has lived a full life doesn’t mean that you can’t grieve them too. Most who have lost someone this year will have some point of distress or sadness during the holidays and I challenge you to be there for them in a small or big way. If someone has lost a young child, or is a widow or widower with children still at home, I especially ask you to do something because these are typically some of the most logistically life-changing and routine-altering. Everyone is affected by loss and I’m not minimizing other losses at all. But some are more affected by the day to day schedule and consistency when they have lost someone so essential to their daily life. So the recovery is that much more challenging.
If I had the number one way anyone could reach out, I would say to let them know you are thinking of them the day of. I received a few texts even on Halloween from people who said they were thinking of me and knew it would be a hard day. They sent their love for me and the girls. I didn’t even respond to any of them. But those meant so much to me. Text your grieving person and let them know you love them or tell them you said a prayer for them that day. A friend of mine said the other day, “You aren’t much of a phone person.” It’s true. I’m still overwhelmed by texts and phone calls and emails and messages. But I do read them. And they do mean the world to me. So don’t have expectations of receiving anything back when you text your person (especially on a hard day). If they are a phone person, give them a call or leave a voicemail. Send an email. Drop off a note or a treat. Anything little to let them know they are not forgotten is amazing. You are reminding them that they have support and love and that their grief is valid and okay.
I think everyone’s first instinct on the holidays is to give presents to a grieving family. Especially if there are children. This is so generous and a wonderful way to help. My mom made sure we did at least three or four Sub-for-Santa families every year growing up. It was so fun to help buy and wrap the gifts. My mom would embarrassingly make us dress up as elves whenever we got to actually drop off the gifts and while mortified, it was an incredible experience every time. When there is a great financial need, this might be exactly what the family needs. Ask what each child wants, what size of clothes they wear, and some of their interests if you want it to be a surprise. My request though… make sure this is what the family wants.
Some have kindly asked for us to make a list of some things we want. I have had a wish list on amazon for each of us every year (that’s how our families do Christmas and Birthdays). So that’s what I will share with them. There are definitely some toys Winnie wants and some that Piper would absolutely love. And I want them to get a few things they want for Christmas, of course. But we have a tiny apartment. We can’t fit a ton of stuff so an endless pile of toys would be difficult to handle. So what would be amazing for our family this year? And many other families with children at home… is experiences. Tickets to a show, a gift card for the zoo, an activity kit to do at home, a holiday-themed activity, a restaurant gift card so they can go out together… anything along these lines.
If someone was lost to illness, there may be great financial needs. When someone is widowed with children at home, either they are not typically able to work as much since they have to play the role of both parents, or they lost the provider of the family so financial support at this time of year is a great blessing in this case as well. Denny would anonymously give money annually to his Bishop, the leader of his congregation, so the Bishop could give it to the family struggling the most. Denny was so generous and didn’t want anyone to know. Way more generous than I ever was. He taught me a lot about serving silently and without it needing to be acknowledged. If you are in a church or some sort of group or club, this might be a great way to give some money. Even asking the teacher of your child’s class if there’s a child whose family is in need and having her give it to the parent. If you’re uncomfortable giving cash, a gift card to Walmart, Amazon, Target, or a local grocery store would be a great way to go. If you want to help in a very practical way, find out what size of diapers they need, grab an extra jug of laundry detergent at Costco and leave it outside their door, even a pack of toilet paper can make a big difference and show someone you care.
Lastly, if you don’t have a way to help financially and are uncomfortable expressing through words, doing an act of service for the family is a way to give during the Holiday season. Of course this is if you are close to the family. Ask if you can wrap gifts, help decorate, run an errand for them, watch their kids, do some laundry, vacuum, take out their trash… these simple things can make my day 1000000 times better.
Now I am very aware that many of you here may not even celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. These are purely examples. I don’t care if you or the grieving family celebrates Kwanza, Hanukkah, or nothing! Even people who are religious don’t celebrate and people who are not religious do celebrate. We should help our loved ones and neighbors all year round. My mom and Denny were two great examples of this and were always doing things to help others. But November and December is a time when people are really thinking about helping others. So if that’s you, I hope this helps.
Let me also say, I am not telling you these things because I’m great at it. I actually am always saying how I feel like I’m not good at being there for my friends and neighbors. I always feel so guilty when people help me because I feel like I never get to repay it. For example, two of my friends from high school along with my sisters are helping me this week every single night to get my kids to sleep through the night and to stay in their rooms. My friends each have kids of their own and their own things to deal with and the first night they even got me a hotel so I could actually sleep. I feel like I’ll never be able to fully repay them. I want to be a better friend but I don’t even have the strength to take care of myself right now so I fail at this. The reason I’m telling you all of these ideas is because I’ve been the recipient of so many incredible things. So many generous people have helped me and my girls through this. And I know we’ll continue to have support through the holidays this year no matter how hard they are. I wish I could express my gratitude for each one. Just trust me when I tell you, the world is full of good humans, no matter how horrible it seems sometimes.