Holidays and Grief

“It’s just an object.”
“A material possession.”
“It’s not actually her.”
“These thoughts are silly and not serving you.”
“You knew this day was coming.”
“This should be a happy day. You are buying a brand new car.”

These are some of the thoughts I had when we traded in my 2013 Kia Sorento. You might be wondering, how could I be so attached to a car? The thing is, it was my mother-in-law’s car. My mother-in-law passed away in 2014 from colon cancer. I only had the honor of knowing her for a few short years after I married her son. She was a special human who loved traveling via cruises, Pepsi, and being with family. As someone who has had various mother figures in my life, she filled that void during a time when I needed it most.

Cardinals are said to be a loved one who has passed coming back to show their love.

You’re probably wondering about the back story…

My husband deployed to Afghanistan one month before our first child was to be born. Had it been three weeks from our due date, he could have stayed to see our son be born and then deploy. But of course, our due date was one week beyond the rule. Honestly, I was terrified. I had no family from Minnesota that could come to be with me in Louisiana. My friends had their own lives and their own children to care for. I thought to myself, “Am I really going to deliver this baby in another state, on a military base, all by myself?”

However, my mother-in-law wouldn’t have it. She said she would be there and nothing would stop her. At the time, we weren’t very close. I was so appreciative, but still nervous. The thing that makes this story so powerful is that my mother-in-law chose to delay her cancer treatments to be there for me. Her decision showed me how much she loved me and cared about me. She showed me that she would sacrifice her own life to be there for me. It’s not often that you get to experience someone’s unconditional selfless love. It is life-changing.

It’s an odd experience when you have a memory with a loved one where only you two were there and then they pass away. She was the only one there in that hospital room with me when my son was born. (My husband did get to be on Skype from Afghanistan and I am so thankful for that.) There is no reminiscing with her over the day my son was born or that week after when I fumbled through being a new mom. But I cherish those memories more than anything.

She helped me believe in myself as a mother. I was navigating a whole new identity and she helped guide me through it. She wasn’t pushy about her recommendations but offered love and guidance through my tears of trying to figure out how to be an amazing mom like her.

Back to the car…

I bought her car from my father-in-law after her passing. That car felt like a piece of her was still with me, like she was protecting me. It felt like I didn’t have to completely say goodbye. It may have also shielded me from feeling like I had to fully grieve because she was still with me in a way.

I never got into a major accident in that car, and I attributed that to her. My second child was brought home in that car. It was like she was there, even though I know she won’t ever meet her granddaughter.

I cried in that car and had no tissues, until I remembered my mother-in-law had tissue in a plastic bag in the center console. It was like she was comforting me one more time. My son had a cut on his foot while at the park and I didn’t have a band-aid, until I remembered that my mother-in-law had a first aid kit in the glove compartment. It felt like grandma was saving the day, like I knew she would if she was here.

The thing about grief is…

Grief has no timeline. It comes and goes without warning or invitation. Grief isn’t just for a year or two, it’s for a lifetime. It doesn’t leave, you just learn your triggers and your coping skills. Grief doesn’t always have to be sorrow and pain. It can be remembrance and honor.

So, here we are are with the holidays around the corner, and I am feeling my grief a bit more than I have in years past. If this holiday season is your first without a loved one, expect a mixture of emotions. If this holiday season is your second, third, fifth, or tenth, I see you. Know that you can also expect a mixture of emotions.

Here are some tips to navigate grieving during the holidays…

Find A Support Group

Sometimes it’s just nice to not be alone in your grief. Detroit Mom also has a support group for infertility and loss and groups that meet virtually or in-person. Community and connection is healing. There are even support groups for children.

Keep Holiday Traditions

This can be a nice way to honor your loved one. If your loved one loved a certain aspect of the holidays, do it for them now. My mother-in-law enjoyed going out for dinner on Christmas Eve, so we have carried on that tradition.

Change Holiday Traditions

Maybe it’s all too fresh still. We went on a family cruise the first Christmas after my mother-in-law passed away. I am so grateful for that experience because I don’t think any of us could have handled sitting around a Christmas tree without her there.

Add Holiday Traditions

You can choose to do something specific to honor your loved one. Maybe you get an ornament, or you light a paper lantern and release it. You might save a space for them at the table. Maybe you share your favorite funny or happy memory.

Be With Family

Being with family that miss your loved one may bring up emotions. There might be tears, but there can also be support from people who understand your grief like no one else can.

Take Care of Yourself

Check in with yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. What do your mind, soul, and body need? Grieving during the holidays may mean that you don’t go to every holiday function. Take time to rest. While you’re eating holiday treats, make sure you also eat meals as well. Plan an extra self-care treat if possible – maybe a massage, pedicure, or some time in nature.

If you know someone who is grieving this holiday season…

Don’t rush or invalidate their grief, and don’t judge how they are grieving. It is important to just be there, even if you just sit in silence. It’s incredible how healing human connection can be. My mother-in-law was a writer, so writing this story, our story, is an honor for me. I love you, Millie.

Happy Holidays everyone! May you see all of the cardinals as a symbol of your loved one’s love for you.

For more about grief, check out our post on Parenting After Loss.


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