On my first New Years’ without my husband. I was so exhausted from mak- ing it through Christmas without a meltdown that I didn’t think too much about New Years’. That was a big mistake, because my husband’s first massive stroke happened that night. (Both my son and I can replay
the night of his Dad’s first stroke like we’re watching a horror movie in slow motion).

Instead of doing my grief container work that morning, I made the mistake of getting up early and fussing with fancy food, so we could watch the Rose Bowl parade. Our son slept in, and I was already tired when he got up. Then we couldn’t find the right channel to stream the parade. (He was only watching it to please me.) One thing led to another, we argued, we spent time apart. Then evening came, and memories from the year before hit us both like an atom bomb, separately.

You might remember me saying that while my husband didn’t do housework, he wanted to clean the house and do the laundry the night of his first stroke. My son and I were swirling in memories from the year before and when I casually asked him if he needed to do his laundry, the roof caved in.

It was a grief-trigger that I should have seen coming. But I hadn’t thought about how to honor us that day; I didn’t have a plan. Before I knew it, we were both gut-punched by grief, and so emotionally raw we couldn’t understand or support each other. I felt stupid about the laundry thing; he was angry with me for triggering his grief. We fled to our separate rooms (after deciding not to kill each other!). In the heat of that moment, I thought I’d lost my son, too.

This story is another example of the explosive power that holidays can have.

In addition to helping you keep your cool in front of friends, relatives, and co-workers, pre-planning lets you celebrate the holidays in meaningful ways. A well-laid plan honors the intense emotions you may feel on that day while also letting you celebrate the day with a sense of safety.

If you want to celebrate Christmas or New Years with others, contact the people you want to be with and get a plan going. It’s a horrible feeling to be alone and waiting for an invitation to celebrate a holiday. Decide who you want to be with on those occasions, and call them to make arrangements. (Remember to make your gathering small this year because of COVID.) If you decide to host a holiday, take it easy on yourself. You get the place ready and let the others bring everything else. Everyone loves a potluck! You can provide the space, and others can bring food. It’s easy and often very comforting!

Here’s the most important thing: Make sure you begin and end each of these days in your own grief container time. Private grief time is how you will prevent grief bursts during the day. When you work with your emotions before the day gets going, you’re less likely to be ambushed by them. When you have a plan to honor your feelings later that night when everything is over, you can tell yourself, “I’m not going to react to that now. I’ll deal with it tonight.”

When you honor your emotions in private, it’s much easier to enjoy others and have self-control in public. Accepting yourself and your grief by making a plan is a healthy way to get through any special occasion or holiday!

Try It Out!

HOLIDAY STRATEGY TWO: take a piece of paper and write important holiday dates in a column on the left. Next to each date, write how you want to celebrate and anyone you’d like to celebrate with. This is the year for YOU to make a plan for each holiday that honors YOU. Plan something fun to look forward to. That could be watching a holiday movie or streaming The Nutcracker from the internet. It could be calling friends to wish them a happy New Year. (Or all of the above!)