There's a chill in the air, the leaves display a magnitude of colors and you wonder why you can't join the autumn merriment. The changing from one season to another is always hard in grief. Autumn brings unique emotions because it turns our attention to the upcoming holidays. Anticipating holidays without loved ones fill us with dread and increased sorrow. How will I cope? How can I get through the holidays without my loved one?
Bereavement counselor, author, and bereaved mother, Mary Jane Cronin, says that giving yourself permission to feel however you want to feel during holiday time is appropriate in grief. "If you are angry, find a safe way to vent your feelings. If you feel sad and want to cry, then do it," she writes.
As you experience emotions during the holidays, why not give yourself permission to write through them? Although it seems that in our society today we neglect the art of letter writing, I've found writing letters to my son therapeutic. By writing, I feel connected to him during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and at New Year's. In my letters, I tell him what other family members are doing, how much we miss him, a few things I have learned about grief, and end each letter with love, a big hug, and a kiss.
Sometimes my letters ask for forgiveness. Some paragraphs stress how much I appreciated him for going through cancer treatments and being brave at the young ages of three and four. I like to add a few lines about a memory of him during a holiday, like the time he kept taking the Santa figurine off the neighbor's Christmas tree and putting it in his pocket. He had a joke book he carried around, so often I'll recall one of those jokes and put that in my letter. As I write, I usually cry, but they are healing tears. Sometimes I laugh and cry at the same time.
By writing to your loved one, you incorporate him or her into your holidays. Instead of feeling like the person is removed, you feel the person is included in your festivities. She is not forgotten.
Holidays might be difficult to handle for other reasons, too. Friends and relatives don't always understand why your spirit is sad. Writing letters to those you are frustrated with also serves a purpose. Unleashing your pent-up emotions and words onto paper frees your mind and heart from the burden of aggravation. I would suggest not sending these angry letters, but instead, folding them and tucking them out of sight, or even burning them.
You cannot control the fact that your loved one is gone. You can't keep nasty people from raining on your parade when they say or do things that bother you. But your reactions to the situations you are in, and what you do with your reactions is up to you. Learn to use letter writing to help you cope, especially during the holidays. You might even be able to find a renewed beauty in the season again.
~ Alice J. Wisler
[First printed in Women on Writing (WOW) newsletter 10/30/12.]