After my husband Jim lost his courageous battle to cancer three years ago, I have been asked many times how our three children, now ages 10, 14, and 17, and I have handled the holidays. Quite simply, the same way we’ve tackled every other aspect of our journey: by doing what is best for our family and doing so with every family member’s input.
Though Father’s Day is one that gets harder for me every year, other holidays have become more joyful. It’s not that we think of Jim any less, but rather we have more smiles and fewer tears as we recall precious memories. Admittedly, as I reflect upon those early holidays, I am grateful to have moved beyond those intense, raw emotions that come flooding in and stay too long. There will always be moments of tears. Always. However, making adjustments has balanced our grief with our joy.
The kids and I have things we do to remember their dad on special occasions. We light a candle to remind us that he is with us on special days. We’ve made ornaments in his memory and have gone out to eat at his favorite restaurant on his birthday. On Father’s Day we’ve continued with our picnics and a hike in the park like we used to do. What we’ve learned however, is sometimes it’s not just the big things that throw you for a loop. Traditions you thought weren’t a big deal turn out to mean much more than you ever realized.
Traditions: old and new
My husband and I tag-teamed making English Toffee each December ever since the kids were toddlers. Because it was time consuming and best done without distraction, it became a late night tradition we did together after the kids went down for bed. We’d turn on the music, maybe pour a glass of holiday cheer, talk about the upcoming holidays, and just enjoy having a project we were doing together, every single year.
After he passed, I was paralyzed by the mere thought of making the toffee without him. It seemed like such a silly thing to derail me, but it did. It’s usually the little things that make the big difference in life. I realized this was one of them.
Last Christmas I enlisted a new helper: my daughter. She was excited to step into Dad’s place and be a part of this tradition. We laughed and shared memories and finally, more smiles and fewer tears. It just took a little time.
New Year’s Eve, however, was a tradition that we have decided to alter permanently. Every single year we spent the evening together grazing on a plethora of holiday goodies and playing games for hours. We’d conclude by ringing in the New Year together. Not one of us voted to keep that tradition. Truly, that one was just going to be too hard without Dad here with us.
We’ve since started a new New Year’s tradition of celebrating away from home in the company of many close friends for an evening filled with lots of love and laughter.
We’ve learned that most things do get better as time goes by. To continue moving forward, we must be willing to alter some traditions, forego others completely and remain open to making new traditions. If you follow your heart and do what is best for your family, you will eventually find more smiles and fewer tears with each passing holiday.
Karen Zickes, the mother of three amazingly brave children,
is a freelance writer who resides in Holland, OH.
Resources to assist those grieving the loss of a loved one
Special presentation: Facing the holidays after the loss of a loved one 2-4 pm, Sunday, Dec. 4, at Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Toledo Center, 800 South Detroit Ave. hospicenwo.org RSVP 419-661-4001 Free and open to anyone and all ages
Families grieving loss of a child: compassionatefriends.org