Surviving the Holidays One Moment at a Time

By on December 6, 2014

By Ruth W. Crocker−

I learned how to appear to look strong and hold myself together following the death of a loved one from my mother. I observed her after the death of my youngest brother from a seizure disorder. He was seven when he died and I was fourteen. He had been an invalid almost from birth, but his death still seemed incomprehensible. My mother had cared for him at home in a bed in the middle of our family living room and she kept the notion of hope alive right up until the moment he died. After that, she was very quiet for several months. She didn’t seem hopeless, just quiet.

She reorganized the house and put away all the signs of his brief life; his clothes, toys, bed and bedding, everything except for photographs. After Danny’s death in February the first holiday without him was Easter. Mom took us shopping for “Easter clothes” as usual, and she prepared the traditional meal for lunch after church. But as we entered the church service together she said, “I need to sit in the back.”

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As the organ music began, I understood why. My mother, who never cried in public, was softly crying. She quietly left to sit in the car and wait for us. Nothing was said when we joined her an hour later, and we talked about Easter hats and laughed about the strange outfit that cousin Clara had worn to church.

What I learned about grief from my mother was that it was okay to be yourself and that you don’t need to explain your feelings and reactions. She thought she could handle the music, or perhaps she hadn’t anticipated what it would evoke, but she did what she needed to do.

Discovering what you need to do to survive one moment after another during a tragedy is the single most difficult step towards healing. Moving forward without the lost person feels terrible. Looking back at our history with them is excruciating. You can’t stop thinking about the loved one and asking “what if?” A feeling of pain and heaviness lodges in the heart.

Holidays and all the stimuli and emotional triggers from images and sounds can be an insurmountable challenge. Entering a mall and hearing “White Christmas” or “Silent Night” can bring on a rush of emotion. What I learned from my mother was to take time and stay in the moment, but leave if you have to. Engage in whatever activity seems right and let emotions come and go.



RUTH CROCKER AUTHORRuth W. Crocker’s essays and other writing have been recognized in Best American Essays and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the author of several magazine and journal articles and a memoir, Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War.

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Surviving the Holidays One Moment at a Time