Dealing with loss while others are celebrating

Woman hands in light teal knitted mittens are holding a beautiful glossy red heart in a snow background. Love and St. Valentine concept.

Dealing with loss while others are celebrating. I am standing in the middle of Books A Million four days before Christmas in 2013 at the Maine Mall in South Portland, Maine. Christmas music is blaring from the loudspeakers, the store is packed with last-minute shoppers looking to find the perfect last-minute gifts and stocking stuffers.  

The lights, the noise, and the Christmas cheer are overwhelming my senses, but I am doing ok so far. Until I see the Santa t-shirts that break through the brain fog of loss. They knock the breath out of me as panic takes hold. The tears start to flow freely as I realise that I have forgotten the longest held of all of my Christmas traditions with my daughters. 

From the first Christmas as a mom, my daughters always opened a single gift on Christmas eve and that gift was always pajamas that they would wear to bed, so they were absolutely adorable on Christmas morning for the pictures. Even in 2012, when my newly married daughter Lindsay was fighting her brief battle with leukemia, they had their traditional Christmas eve pajamas to unwrap. 

And then Lindsay died.

When she died, holidays became unbearable. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, our birthdays, the day that should have been her first wedding anniversary, her first birthday without her all became days of torture rather than celebrations. Thanksgiving brought the first anniversary of her diagnosis. We pretended that all of those did not exist and then came Christmas. I had been avoiding all things Christmas until my friend coaxed me into visiting the bookstore with her. 

That’s when I realised that I had not bought the pajamas. I clung to my friend in the middle of the bookstore, and it took several minutes for her to understand my dilemma. I could not buy pajamas because Lindsay was not here, but what about my younger daughter Meg? I could not imagine NOT buying her pajamas. This turned out to be one of the first lessons about dealing with loss while others are celebrating!

Keep One Tradition, But Mix It Up

My brilliant friend taught me that it was okay to keep this one tradition in a year where we did not otherwise celebrate, but it was important to do it in a way that mixed things up. Instead of just buying pajamas for Meg, I bought adult onesie pajamas for her, my husband, and myself. We all opened our pajamas on Christmas eve and took a picture in them to send to my friend. While it was certainly bittersweet, it was lovely to honor the tradition in a new way and there was laughter mixed with the tears.

Your Only Obligation is to Breathe

I once saw a TikTok video posted by a mom, whose child had told her that traditions are just peer pressure from dead ancestors. I loved this perspective, especially when I struggled so much with all of the holidays and the obligations that we all have. It is important to remember as you are struggling with holidays and traditions that your only obligation is to breathe.  

You do NOT have to do anything that is beyond your capacity to participate in.

Find What Brings You Peace

There are so many memories that come up during holiday seasons and it is impossible to block them all out. However, there are things that you can do to bring you peace. I signed up for Spotify so that I could put together playlists of music that I found soothed my soul so that I could avoid the holiday music. I binge-watched series on Netflix and Hulu that I had watched before, because that way I knew what was coming and I knew that there was nothing in the shows that would trigger anything. I used a food-shopping service so that I did not have to spend time in the grocery store where I could not control the environment. 

Honour the Loss

It is impossible to get through holidays without thinking about the person that you lost. Lindsay had always loved the holidays, the decorating, the celebrations, getting together with people, but mostly – she loved the food. Lindsay, Meg, and I loved cooking together and were always trying new recipes.  To honour her presence that will always be with us, even if she is not physically here anymore, Meg and I cooked her favourite meal and set out a plate for her. By honoring the place that she held in our hearts, we continued our connection to her.

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Maya Manseau
Maya Manseau is a grief guide and the founder of She Creates Peace, a platform which aims to help others learn to live intentionally again after loss. Becoming an expert in grief was not a path Maya would have chosen. In 2013, her 23-year-old daughter died from leukemia just three months after learning she was ill. The grief completely overwhelmed Maya, but the experience inspired her to help others make the most of their lives and find their true purpose. To achieve this, Maya also works as a small business mentor and is the founder of The Small Business Path where she helps her clients create businesses which bring them success and joy. Her aim is to help people tap into their inner dreamer, find their passions and put them into action. Maya is also an author and has written books on both business and grief.