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Coping with Loss During the Halloween Season

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal No Comments

As the seasons change, you may see Halloween décor pop up around your neighborhood. Spider webs and tombstones, skeletons and caution tape, and all manner of ghouls and goblins begin to grace the streets in anticipation of the holiday.

But if you have experienced a sudden, tragic, or violent loss, the Halloween season can feel like navigating a minefield, especially if children are involved. What may have once been a fun, candy-filled holiday may now seem distorted, insensitive, and disturbing. Grotesquely exaggerated images of death seem to be around every corner. Symbols of death, such as cemeteries, become scenes for entertainment—making a mockery of death.

You may even feel betrayed by those around you. Your friends or family may need help understanding how hurtful their enthusiastic celebration of Halloween can be.

But by making a plan for the holiday, communicating with your family, and taking time to mourn in your own way, you can make your Halloween experience better. Below are a few tips for managing your grief during the Halloween season:

Decide What Feels Right

Couple walking in the mountains during the fall

First and foremost, spend a few minutes deciding what you want Halloween to look like for you and your family this year. This is a time to do what’s best for yourself and your family – not yield to the expectations of others. You can avoid that spooky house on the way to work by taking an alternate route. You can skip the store aisles displaying seasonal items. Make a plan for how – and to what degree – you will celebrate this year…if you choose to celebrate at all. Most of the time, anxiety comes when no plan is in place. To avoid unpleasant emotions, decide what feels appropriate for you and your family ahead of time.

Choose Alternate Halloween Activities

Family with kids at a pumpkin patch

Rather than celebrate Halloween as you have in years past, you could choose other, more neutral fall activities, such as visiting a pumpkin patch or going on a hay ride. Or, choose lighthearted or funny costumes instead of scary ones. If you decide to trick or treat with kids, check with them to see if they are prepared to face some of the scary, gory costumes or yard decorations they may see. In addition, be sure you know what you are getting into when you go to a Halloween carnival or party. As a safer alternative, many churches offer family-friendly fall festivals or “trunk or treat” opportunities for children.

Mourn in Your Own Way

Mourning is a deeply personal journey; only you know how to mourn for yourself. You could light a candle in remembrance, decorate with fall leaves and gourds instead of skulls and cobwebs, or start a new tradition! Make caramel apples, watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, or make some s’mores over a fire–maybe even spend time remembering what you loved most about the person who died and honoring their life.

Communicate with Others

Father comforting his son outside in the fall

If you are having trouble with this holiday, be honest about how you feel with those around you. If your friends or family ask you to participate in something you are not quite ready for, let them know what you are going through. You can also share your feelings with a support group, online forum, or trusted counselor or friend. Sharing your feelings can help you process any emotions triggered by this season and help you move toward healing and reconciliation with the loss.

Try Not to Blame Others for Their Halloween Zeal

Although this time can be challenging, others haven’t experienced what you have. Most people see Halloween as a chance to dress up and be someone else for a while. Try to understand that most people are unaware of what you’re going through and that they aren’t trying to be insensitive. Stick to your boundaries, communicate them to others, and explain your reasons if you feel comfortable.

 

As you navigate through Halloween, give yourself and those around you grace. If your feelings about Halloween have changed, that’s okay – accept your emotions as valid and set up the boundaries that will help you grieve. Above all, give yourself time and space for healing, without rushing the process.

Soldiers dressed in Continental Army uniforms, holding rifles

Ladies of Liberty: Remembering Deborah Sampson

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

I became an actor in that important drama with an inflexible resolution to persevere through the last scene, when we might be permitted and acknowledged to enjoy what we had so nobly declared we would possess or lose with our lives – Freedom and Independence!” – Deborah Sampson

As we mark the Fourth of July and the independence brought about after the Revolutionary War, it’s impossible not to remember the historical men and women who played key roles in the creation of our nation. Men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson are easily remembered, but what about the women – the ladies of liberty – who also deserve our remembrance and respect? Today, let’s talk about Deborah Sampson, a woman whose story you may never have heard.

Revolutionary Era American flag with just 13 stars on it

Biography

Early life

The first of seven children, Deborah was born on December 17, 1760, near Plympton, Massachusetts. Her parents struggled financially, and while she was still a child, her father Jonathan Sampson Jr. died at sea. Her mother could not support all seven children, so they were each sent to live in different homes. Eventually, young Deborah became an indentured servant in the home of Benjamin Thomas, a farmer with a large family. She lived with them until her indenture was complete at age 18.

After her time with the Thomas family was complete, Deborah worked as a teacher in the summer and a weaver in the winter. But then, in 1782, Deborah did something completely unexpected – she disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment in the Continental Army. Her alias was Robert Shurtleff, and it was more than 18 months before she was discovered.

Military service

While incognito, Deborah was assigned to Captain George Webb’s famous Light Infantry. Some of her missions included scouting neutral territory to assess British build-up, leading 30 infantrymen in an expedition that ended in a skirmish, and raiding a Tory home where 15 men were taken prisoner.

At one point, she took a bullet to the shoulder, but in order to stay undiscovered, she removed the bullet herself rather than seek medical attention. However, in the summer of 1783 (mere weeks before the Treaty of Paris was signed), she fell unconscious with a high fever and her gender was discovered by the attending physician. Interestingly, she was not reprimanded, but was instead given an honorable discharge on October 25, 1783.

Soldiers dressed in Continental Army uniforms, holding rifles

Following the war

After the war ended, Deborah returned to Massachusetts where she married a farmer named Benjamin Gannett in 1784. They had three children together and adopted a fourth. In 1792, she petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature to receive back pay for her service, and she won.

Then, in 1802, she went on a lecture tour in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island, where she talked about her experiences in the Continental Army. She was the first American woman to complete a lecture tour, and it was quite the success. Afterward, she petitioned Congress that she be allowed to receive a disability pension due to a shoulder injury she sustained. Though it took time, and she was denied once, Deborah ultimately won the pension. She became the only woman to receive a military pension associated with service in the Revolutionary War.

Not much is known about her later years, but in April 1827, Deborah died in Sharon, Massachusetts. Her headstone in Sharon honors her service and calls her, “The Female Soldier.”

Key Contributions

Much of Deborah’s story is unknown, but without a doubt, she was committed to the cause for independence and made history. While she is the most famous, she is not the only woman to have served in the Revolutionary War. Other women include Anna Maria Lane, Elizabeth Gilmore, Anne Bailey, and Margaret Corbin, to name a few. We also honor and remember them for being ladies of liberty.

However, unlike her counterparts, Deborah’s dedication and commitment were recognized and honored by state and federal governments – long before women were allowed to vote or have a voice in political matters. In this, she is unique and showcases the strength and fortitude of Revolutionary Era women.

shows encampment tents common to the Revolutionary War

Interesting Facts

  • The only woman to receive a full military pension for participation in the Continental Army
  • A descendent of two prominent Mayflower families: Myles Standish and William Bradford
  • Joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment disguised as a man named Robert Shurtleff
  • A member of George Webb’s Light Infantry, which was the most active troop in the Hudson Valley during her time of service
  • Shot during a skirmish, it’s said she left the bullet in her shoulder, so she could continue to serve undetected
  • Her life story was recorded in The Female Review, or Memoirs of an American Young Lady (by Herman Mann); it is thought that some stories were likely embellished
  • The first American woman to go on a lecture tour
  • The only woman to receive a full military pension for service during the Revolutionary War
  • After her death, her husband was granted pay for being the spouse of a soldier, and the committee stated that the Revolution had “furnished no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity, and courage.”
  • Outside the public library in Sharon, Massachusetts, a statue stands in memory of her Revolutionary War service

The Importance of Legacy and Remembrance

As you can see, Deborah Sampson lived an exciting and unconventional life in many ways. She was a survivor. An overcomer. A soldier and a patriot. A wife and mother. A public speaker. A woman of resilience and strength. She left a clear legacy, both to her children and to the fledgling nation she helped found.

As we remember Deborah Sampson and the events that made her life both ordinary and extraordinary, take a moment to think about your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about?

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. What we do matters. While most of us will never be famous or well-known, that’s not the point of a legacy. Instead, think of legacy as your opportunity to take your family and the next generation to a level you can only imagine. Just like Deborah did!

Waman in white dress sitting at table with candles, paper, and quill pen

Ladies of Liberty: Remembering Abigail Adams

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

“To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of man comprised in a few words.” – Abigail Adams

As we mark the Fourth of July and the independence brought about after the Revolutionary War, it’s impossible not to remember the historical men and women who played key roles in the creation of our nation. Men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson are easily remembered, but what about the women – the ladies of liberty – who also deserve our remembrance and respect? Today, let’s talk about Abigail Adams and the indelible mark she left upon our nation.

Portrait of Abigail Adams Portrait of John Adams
(Portraits of Abigail and John Adams later in life)

Biography

Early years

Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, on November 11, 1744, Abigail was the second child of Reverend William and Elizabeth Quincy Smith. Like many women of her time, Abigail was educated at home, and she showed a great voracity for learning and reading. Even beyond lessons from her tutor, she took it upon herself to read the books in her father’s library and became one of the most well-read women in the 18th century.

Through a mutual friend, Abigail met John Adams in 1759, and soon, they began a courtship. Even with a nine-year age difference, the two were a match in both heart and mind. They married in 1764 and had their first child within a year. Throughout the early years of their marriage, the Adamses focused on John’s career as a lawyer, caring for the family farm, and raising four children.

Rise to prominence

In 1770, John’s name rose to greater prominence when he elected to defend the nine British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre. With greater and greater responsibilities before him, John was away from home more and more. This led to a series of famous letters between he and Abigail. In fact, over the course of their marriage, the two exchanged more than 1,100 letters! And in each one, John sought his wife’s guidance, wisdom, and opinions, which she freely gave.

When you compare John’s political stance with the opinions expressed by his wife in their extensive letters, it’s clear to see that he greatly valued her mind and her thoughts. In many ways, it was their partnership that helped form a new nation.

John Adams would go on to serve as a Continental Congress representative, a U.S. Minister, Vice President, and President of the United States. Through each season of life, Abigail stood staunchly by his side. When she stayed at their home in Massachusetts, she educated the children and kept the farm prosperous. Additionally, when possible, she shared information about military confrontations around Boston. She and her son, John Quincy, witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill from a hill near their farm.

Sepia-toned map of the Braintree and Weymouth area where the Adamses lived

Becoming First Lady

After the conclusion of the war, Abigail joined her husband in France and Great Britain where he served as a U.S. Minister. Upon their return to the United States, John was elected Vice President under George Washington (1789-1797) and then President (1797-1801). After one term, John lost the presidency to Thomas Jefferson. He and Abigail retired to their home in Massachusetts. After 54 years and four children together, Abigail died of typhoid fever on October 28, 1818. At her death, her husband stated, “I wish I could lay down beside her and die, too.”

With her quick wit, strong opinions, and fierce love of freedom and independence, Abigail Adams is considered the strongest female voice in the American Revolution. We will never know what would have happened had she not expressed her opinions and partnered – shoulder to shoulder – with her husband, and we don’t want to know.

Key Contributions

Through her extensive letters with husband John Adams, we have a clear view of what life looked like for Revolutionary Era women. Abigail is most known for her strong and firm opinions on the:

  • Abolition of slavery
  • Rights of women, especially education
  • Importance of independence and representation

Additionally, she was also a pivotal presence in her son John Quincy Adams’ political career. Though she did not live to see him elected the 6th president of the United States, her influence and wisdom played a large role in his success.

Though she herself refused to publish her personal correspondence, her grandson Charles Francis Adams arranged for their release. By doing so, he forever preserved her unique experience and perspective on American life and democracy.

Waman in white dress sitting at table with candles, paper, and quill pen

Interesting Facts

  • Abigail was both the wife (John Adams – 2nd) and the mother (John Quincy Adams – 6th) of U.S. Presidents. The only other woman to hold this distinction is Barbara Bush.
  • Often unappreciated by her critics, scathingly called “Mrs. President” due to the amount of influence she had with her husband
  • The first Second Lady of the United States (wife of the first Vice President)
  • The first First Lady to live in what would become the White House
  • Had a total of six children, but two daughters died in infancy
  • President Harry S. Truman had a high opinion of her, and stated, “She would have been a better President than her husband.”
  • Became close friends with Martha Washington, George Washington’s wife
  • Missed her husband’s inauguration to care for his dying mother

The Importance of Legacy and Remembrance

As you can see, Abigail Adams led a noteworthy life, though she may not have said so herself. She was a wise and loving wife. A devoted mother. A staunch feminist. A bold abolitionist. A tireless letter writer and communicator. A woman with deep thoughts and strong ideals. She left a clear legacy, both to her children and to the fledgling nation she helped found.

As we remember Abigail Adams and the events that made her life both ordinary and extraordinary, take a moment to think about your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about?

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. What we do matters. While most of us will never be famous or well-known, that’s not the point of a legacy. Instead, think of legacy as your opportunity to take your family and the next generation to a level you can only imagine. Just like Abigail did!

Mourning as a Community in the Face of Tragedy

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

Senseless. Horrifying. Heartbreaking. No words can capture the disbelief and heartbreak we feel at learning about the mass shooting in Allen, Texas, at Allen Premium Outlets. At this time eight victims are confirmed dead, and several others are receiving treatment at a local hospital. After an event like this, less than a year after the tragic events in Uvalde at Robb Elementary School, we’re all left stunned and grappling with questions.

Tragedies like the events unfolding in Allen encompass not only the grief and mourning of individual families but of entire communities. As we seek to mourn the victims and process the events, we should consider how to mourn together, as people, as communities.

People of different backgrounds and ethnicities holding hands in solidarity

Communally, how do we mourn such traumatic events?

Respected grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, has worked with families dealing with grief over the unexpected, traumatic death of a loved one. He says, “After someone you care about dies a sudden, violent death, you are forced to struggle with both the traumatic nature of the death and your grief over the loss. Naturally, traumatized mourners often find themselves replaying and reconsidering over and over the circumstances of the death. This is both normal and necessary. Such replay helps you begin to acknowledge the reality of the death and integrate it into your life. It’s as if your mind needs to devote time and energy to comprehending the circumstances of the death before it can move on to grieving the fact that this person will no longer be part of your life.”

As individuals, as communities, we struggle to comprehend these events. How and why would anyone do this? The survivors and the victims’ families will likely replay the day in their minds over and over. They may even wonder if they could have done something different. They couldn’t have. No one could have known what had been planned. So, now we ask, how do we move forward? We band together, support each other, and mourn as one.

What does it mean to mourn?

Grief is an internal feeling. It is the part of us that feels anguish over these events. Mourning is an outward expression of our internal grief, and it pushes us to externalize our grief, to take action to express that grief. Without externally expressing our grief, emotions can become internalized and remain inside us, unaddressed.

When an event touches an entire community, an entire nation, it is important to externalize our grief and mourn TOGETHER.

Woman attending a community vigil, holding a candle of remembrance

Community mourning – how do we do that?

Prayer Vigils

First, our churches and houses of worship can open their doors for prayer vigils. After the events at the Boston Marathon, places of worship all over the city opened their doors to the community. It was an act of communal mourning and a way to come together, grieve together, and heal together.

Candlelight Vigils

Similarly, individuals, businesses, churches, or schools can coordinate candlelight vigils and invite their communities to participate. In 2007, the Virginia Tech shooting horrified the nation. Then, and even now, ten years later, the community, the students, and the families came together to mourn and to remember those who lost their lives. The candle indicates the unity of those participating, their prayers and thoughts for the victims, and their desire to remember those who have been lost.

Many red carnations left a memorial for those who died

Memorials

Finally, communities mourn together through creating memorials. To mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, people near and far came together, wrote prayer notes, paid their respects at memorials throughout town, mourning the tragic events together. These memorials help us feel connected to the victims. As a result, they give us a way to show that we care about them, that we mourn their loss.

Communal mourning events are important. We are all affected by this event in some measure, and we need to support each other, giving special support to the survivors and the families of the victims. A significant way that we, as friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans, can show our support is to come together to acknowledge and mourn this significant loss.

Person in white sweater leaving a flower memorial of pink flowers

How can we take action?

  1. Donate blood to your local blood bank.
  2. Give funds toward the victims’ funerals and assist the families financially.
  3. Participate in moments of silence, prayer or candlelight vigils, or visit memorials to offer a token of our mourning.
  4. Create an emergency plan for our families, in preparation for unexpected events.

It is imperative that we mourn as communities; that we support and pray for those most closely affected by this senseless act; and that we come together and deepen the ties of our communities. May God be with the families and friends of the victims of these tragedies.

Shows family and grandmother at a Halloween family gathering

7 Tips for Supporting a Grieving Friend at Halloween

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

It’s Halloween. Costumes are coming out, parties are being planned, and thousands of pounds of candy is flying off the shelves across the nation. But even as people revel in the changing of the seasons and the fun of dressing up, we can’t forget that many of our neighbors, friends, and family members are hurting deeply. Grief is not relegated to certain parts of the year. But how can we be sensitive to the emotional needs of those around us who are hurting during this festive time?

While there’s no need to put your own Halloween plans on hold, let’s discuss 7 tips that will help you be sensitive to and interact with grieving friends and loved ones this Halloween.

1. Recognize and accept that others may be hurting, and they are going to experience grief during the Halloween season.

While you may want your grieving friend or loved one to “enjoy” the season, don’t push too hard. What you consider enjoyment and what your grieving friend considers enjoyment may look completely different right now. They are experiencing a myriad of emotions, and much of the time, they don’t have control over when those emotions show up. Let your friend experience their feelings and concentrate on being a safe person they can talk to.

2. Encourage your grieving loved one to set healthy boundaries and be prepared to support and abide by those boundaries.

The person who is grieving may have limited energy (grief is hard work), so it’s important that they figure out what will work for them this Halloween. If you are close to someone who is grieving, encourage them to set boundaries, and then, be prepared to support those boundaries, abide by them, and if necessary, help your grieving loved one fight for them.

Shows family and grandmother at a Halloween family gathering

3. Give your grieving loved one plenty of notice about any Halloween events or gatherings.

More often than not, someone who is grieving needs time to work up the energy to go out to an event or gathering. Make sure you give them plenty of notice so they can mentally and emotionally prepare. Also remember! You are encouraging them to put down healthy boundaries. Don’t be offended or hurt if they decide not to come to your party.

4. Be mindful of your Halloween decorations.

By nature, Halloween decorations include skulls, gravestones, blood, depictions of death, and other macabre things. These types of images may act as unpleasant reminders of a recent loss for those who are grieving. While you don’t have to completely re-decorate, consider whether any specific decorations could act as a grief trigger, and if appropriate, remove these items when the grieving person comes over for a visit.

Shows young woman serving at a soup kitchen

5. Invite your grieving friend to take part in a service project.

When we grieve, we can sometimes become so focused on the strong emotions we are feeling that we forget to come up for air. It’s a good practice to focus on others so that we can let our minds rest from the grief for a while. To make Halloween a more pleasant experience, invite your grieving loved one to give out candy at the community trunk or treat or the church fall festival. Alternatively, you could participate in a Halloween 5K for a cause or in another opportunity available through the church or community.

6. Look for ways to honor the memory of a lost loved one.

There are so many special things you can do to honor a lost loved one at Halloween. Buy or make a special gift. Dress up as a lost loved one’s favorite character. Sit down with your grieving friend and share memories or stories. Join your grieving friend for a special trip to the gravesite. Watch that annual scary movie in honor of the person no longer present. Your friend may be perfectly fine with Halloween. Even if they are, most people appreciate it when efforts are made to honor a lost loved one’s memory.

Man making a phone call to check on a friend

7. Follow up after Halloween to see how they are doing.

As human beings, we aren’t always the best at following through on things, but in this case, try to put extra effort in. It’s important for a grieving person to know that your love and concern aren’t just temporary. By following up after the holiday (especially if you know it was difficult for them), you cement your sincerity and care.

And of course, make sure to reach out and offer your support all through the year. Grief isn’t a walk in the park; it’s a journey. Your grieving friend or loved one is going to continue to need love and support long after the loss.

Understanding Your Grief: Hope for the Holidays

By COVID-19, Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Exclude from Top Posts, Grief/Loss, Seasonal, Uncategorized

This Christmas season, with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting lives, Dr. Wolfelt shares a poignant message of hope and healing despite the unique challenges this year has forced upon us. With compassion and kindness, Dr. Wolfelt shares grieving tips and suggestions that will help you make it through. Click below to hear his message and may you find hope and healing this holiday season.

Making Christmas Meaningful with Family Interviews

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

Christmas is a time to come together with loved ones and share in the joy of the season. There’s lots of food, fellowship, and conversations. While this Christmas may look a little different, why not use the conversations you do have to preserve the essence of your loved ones – the stories of their lives, the tone of their voices, and their beloved quirks of habit? Too often, we take our time on earth for granted, and before we are ready, a loved one is gone. With family interviews, you can learn things you never knew before, share a few laughs, and record your family’s one-of-a-kind stories for future generations.

If the idea appeals to you, sit down with or video call your living loved ones this Christmas for an oral history interview. But what is an oral history interview, you may ask? It’s pretty simple, really. Schedule time with someone, ask questions, and record their answers. That’s it!

Why Should I Do This?

First and foremost, it’s a tangible way to show someone you love them. By spending one-on-one time with them, asking questions and sharing conversation, you add value to your and your loved one’s lives. You make them feel loved, appreciated, and important to you. Also, think about what you could learn from your loved one’s successes, or even more importantly, from their mistakes? Did you know that your loved one used to go swing dancing every Saturday night as a young person? Did you know how they felt when their first child or grandchild was born?

People are simple and yet complex. So much of our lives take place internally. By asking questions, you can begin to know your loved ones even more intimately and learn things about them that you may never have known.

Secondly, it’s a practical way to preserve family history for future generations, to discover the stories that bind our families together. In today’s world, so many people are interested in where they came from, what their ancestors were like, and what kind of life they lived. New websites pop up every day related to genealogy and family history. Do you want future generations to know who your loved one was and what their life was like? Take the time necessary to preserve your family’s story.

Thirdly, when the day comes that your loved one is gone, hopefully after a long and fulfilling life, you can take the information you’ve gathered and create a meaningful funeral service. Additionally, if you video your interviews, you will have priceless footage to use in the creation of a special tribute video that will be meaningful for the funeral service but also for future generations of family.

Who Should I Interview?

Whoever you want (but make sure to ask for permission first). You can interview your mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a next door neighbor, or anyone else. There are no rules that say you can only interview family members, so go all out. Your interest in each person’s life might just make their day.

How Do I Do This?

1. Determine what questions you will ask.

The first step is to decide what questions you want to ask. Thankfully, resources exist online that share in-depth, open-ended questions that you can ask your loved one. There are tips on interview etiquette, how to set goals for your interviews, and how to help everyone be at ease and enjoy the time together.

2. Select a documentation medium.

The second step is to decide what medium you want to use to record your interviews. Some options are:

  • Handwrite everything in a special journal
  • Type everything on a computer
  • Use an audio recording app or other equipment
  • Film the interviews using a phone or other equipment
  • A mixture of these options or something else that’s easy for you

3. Spend quality time with your loved one.

Lastly, go spend time with your loved one. Start this Christmas Day! If you need more time (and you probably will), talk to them and decide what day and time is best for a chat, whether in person, over the phone, or on a video call. Let the conversation flow naturally. Don’t get hung up on trying to get all your questions answered at once. Just be there and absorb. Remember, you won’t get everything recorded in one sitting. Take your time and have fun!

Yes, Christmas is a time when families come together, enjoy each other’s company, and share laughter and memories. This year, what better way to spread a little cheer to your loved ones than to show an interest and intentionally get to know more about their lives?

Reducing Your Christmas Stress During Times of Grief

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

Grief can be exhausting – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And Christmas, even though it’s often a joyful and festive season, has its share of stresses, especially during times of grief when it’s a battle to do the normal everyday tasks. So, what can you do this season to reduce your Christmas stress while you process your grief?

Before we move into a few tips, remember that whatever you’re feeling is normal. You’ve lost someone you love, and it’s hard. You may feel a wide range of emotions, including sadness, shock, denial, guilt, anger, or even relief. No matter what you’re feeling, these emotional responses are normal and natural. All you need to focus on is taking care of yourself through the holiday season so that you have the energy you need to process what you feel and begin the journey toward healing.

Tips for Reducing Your Christmas Stress

Your feelings may tell you to skip Christmas altogether this year, but before you make any big decisions, take some time to evaluate what changes you can make to keep things simple while also taking your loved ones’ needs into account.

For example, you may decide not to attend your work party, but instead, you go out to lunch with your closest office friends. Or, instead of getting individual gifts for everyone, you get gift cards instead. There are little changes you can make that will make your life easier while also ensuring that your family and friends still get to enjoy your presence during the holidays.

Here are a few tips for reducing your holiday stress:

Keep Things Simple

You may normally go all out for Christmas, but this year, give yourself permission to take it easy. With a few adjustments, you can take a task or event from stressful to simple.

  • If the stores are too crowded and holiday shopping is stressing you out, do your shopping online or cut back on the number of gifts this year. Or, after talking to your family, consider skipping gifts altogether this year and picking up next year.
  • If signing and sending holiday cards is too much, skip it this year. People will understand.
  • While putting up all the Christmas decorations usually brings a sense of joy, the thought may be stressful this year. Consider minimizing (or even skipping) the decorations if it seems like too much.

Don’t Overcommit

The Christmas season is often filled to the brim with events, parties, get-togethers, recitals, concerts, family gatherings, and more. You may not have the energy to go to everything, and that’s okay. Choose the most important events and pass on the rest.

As you prioritize events, make sure to talk to your family about your plans so they know when to expect you and when not to. This way, they can let you know what’s important for them – maybe a child’s recital – and you can plan ahead for the events you will attend. Plus, communicating your plans to family and taking their requests into account will help soothe any ruffled feathers and keep things relaxed.

Accept Help

If you’re like many of us, you learned early that it’s good to be independent and self-reliant. And while these two things are not inherently bad, we can sometimes take them a little too far, refusing help when we actually need it. So, this Christmas, don’t be afraid to accept a little help. Let people support you through this time of grief. Accept casseroles, offers to run errands, and assistance with household chores. It will only make things less stressful and easier for you.

Practice Self-Care

Grief takes a toll on us, and it’s important to find ways to take care of ourselves. That means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, pampering yourself every so often, and not overdoing it. At Christmas, self-care may be splurging on a gift for yourself, going to the golf range or the day spa, or simply spending quiet time alone to journal, meditate, listen to music, or take long walks. No matter what it is that helps you relax and feel cared for, take time to do that this holiday season.

Express Your Feelings

You may be tempted to push down your feelings and power through the holidays but try to resist the temptation. Instead, build opportunities for reflection into your holiday season. Make time to express yourself. This could mean journaling, painting, talking with friends or family, or attending a grief support group. There will be times when your grief shows up unexpectedly, and that’s okay. People will understand if you’re teary. But by intentionally taking time to address your emotions, you can better confront and reflect on what you feel on your own time and on your own terms.

Honor Your Loved One’s Memory

This year, you’re missing someone special. Rather than ignoring their absence, consider finding a special way to honor their memory. Avoiding the elephant in the room – your grief and loss – may lead to feelings of stress. By openly honoring a loved one, you will have the freedom to include your loved one’s memory in the festivities without reservation.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Save a seat for them at the table
  • Create a remembrance item
  • Serve their favorite dish
  • Play their favorite Christmas tunes
  • Pull out the family photos and reminisce
  • Visit the graveside and leave a wreath, poinsettia, or memento
  • Continue one of their favorite traditions or incorporate a new one in their honor

While remembering your loved one may bring moments of sadness, there will be joy in finding ways to make them a special part of the season.

Let this Year be Different

If you’re someone who wants everything just-so, one big way to reduce your holiday stress is to let things be different this year. Let go of the need for a perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and the perfectly prepared meal. Give yourself a little grace and some room to breathe. Christmas is different this year; it’s harder. Do what you can to keep things simple.

Now, it’s important to acknowledge that no two people are alike. Some of these suggestions will resonate with you and some won’t. That’s just fine. If having the perfectly trimmed Christmas tree helps you relax, then go all out. If shopping provides a release of tension, do it. You know yourself best, so implement the ideas that work best for who you are.

Just remember – it’s okay to let yourself feel however you feel this Christmas. You don’t have to force yourself to be cheerful, and you don’t have to stop yourself from feeling happy if you enjoy the season. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love or miss the person who is gone; it means that you are human. We are complex beings, and our lives are filled with moments of joy mixed with moments of grief, sometimes both at once! Take time this Christmas season to step back, take care of yourself, and enjoy time with the people you love the most. If you do, you will create sweet memories to cherish in the years to come.

Kid-Friendly Holiday Remembrance Ideas

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

After losing a loved one, the holidays can be very difficult for both kids and adults. You and your family may not feel up to all of the Christmas cheer and seasonal festivities, and that’s okay. You need to figure out what’s right for you this year and do that. But no matter what you decide to do, if you have kids who are grieving, consider how you can help them remember the person they love this season through remembrance activities and express what they may be feeling.

Just like you, kids need to be able to express what they feel, and oftentimes, they need a little help. Because they are still developing, they may not always be able to name their feelings as precisely as an adult. That’s why it’s so helpful to provide them with activities and exercises that will help them express what’s on the inside. And who knows? Something you begin this year may become a beloved holiday tradition for years to come.

Here are a few kid-friendly holiday remembrance ideas to get you started:

Put out a Memory Stocking

With a memory stocking or box, the whole family can write down memories or thoughts, share words of love and remembrance, or draw pictures of a favorite memory and then place them in the stocking/box. Then, at some point during the holidays, you can all sit down together and read the notes and spend time honoring your loved one’s memory. Whether you hang an extra stocking, place a memory box in a special place, or dedicate a miniature Christmas tree to notes and photos, the kids can get involved and express what they are thinking, feeling, and missing about the person who has died.

Light a Candle

Candles have long been used to as a symbol for remembrance. Keeping the light burning signifies that the memory of a loved one still shines bright. This Christmas season, consider lighting a candle in honor of the person you’ve lost. You can place the candle in a special place and take turns lighting the candle through the season. This way, everyone has a chance to actively remember the person who has died.

Visit the Graveside

Permanent memorials – like grave markers and plaques – give mourners a place to go to feel close to a loved one who has died. Consider whether a trip to the grave might be appropriate for your family. You can bring a wreath, a poinsettia, notes, drawings, or another meaningful item to leave behind as a token of your love.

If your loved one selected cremation and they were not buried, visit the place where their ashes were released or a place that is particularly meaningful to you. It doesn’t really matter where you go, so long as it’s a place where you feel a sense of closeness and kinship to the person who has died.

Release a Balloon

For this simple idea, all you need are biodegradable balloons and a sharpie. Blow up the balloons, have each person write a special message on their balloon, and then, release them to the sky. This practice is actually more meaningful than you might think, and it’s an easy way to get everyone involved. But remember – get biodegradable balloons that are friendly to the environment.

Enjoy Your Loved One’s Holiday Favorites

Whether it’s watching their favorite Christmas movie, making their signature dish, listening to their Christmas tunes, or driving around to see the best Christmas lights, take time to enjoy some of your loved one’s favorite traditions. Depending on where you are in the grief journey, this may be difficult, so consider what’s best for your family right now.

Just remember – not everyone grieves the same way. While watching that favorite movie might be painful for you, it could be just what your child needs to feel close to the person you’ve lost. Sit down with your kids and decide together which holiday favorites to keep and which to pass on this year.

Create a Holiday Memorial Keepsake

Another option is to sit down with your kids and create a holiday memorial keepsake together. This could be an ornament that they can pull out each year. Or a holiday throw pillow made from your loved one’s clothing. Or a scrapbook filled with holiday memories from years past. No matter what makes sense for your family, you can create a keepsake to bring out every year as a remembrance token. Over time, it will become a sweet piece of your holiday tradition and remind you of the person you love.

Look at Photos Together

Human beings are often very visual beings, and we associate memories with images and items. Sometime this Christmas season, take time to sit down with your little ones and go through family photos. Tell them the stories behind the photos.

Through this activity, you express your own feelings and memories while also helping your children build a more complete picture of the person who has died. Because a child may not have had time to develop a long-term, deep relationship with the person who has died, they will rely on your memories (to a degree) to help them process their own feelings.

Make a Memory Chain

For this activity, cut long, narrow strips of paper in your favorite holiday colors. Then, sit down with your kids to write on the paper. You could write so many things:

  • Favorite holiday memories
  • What you feel right now
  • Things you miss about your lost loved one
  • How you felt about your loved one

Then, you can create an interlinking chain to put on the tree, in a doorway, or across the fireplace mantel.

You can do all or none of these remembrance ideas. These are simply suggestions to get you started. No matter what you decide is right for you and your family this year, look for ways to strike the balance between the joy of the season and your feelings of grief. This year isn’t going to look like all the others – that’s for certain – but it can still be sweet and memorable. Don’t pretend that nothing has changed. It has. Instead, find ways to acknowledge that life is different while still allowing your family to find a little joy in the Christmas season.

Leaving a Legacy: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

As we mark Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, we cannot help but reflect on her life and the legacy she leaves behind. Her life was characterized by drive, passion, perseverance, and tenacity. As only the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg lived a life of service and commitment to the United States of America.

Biography

Born on March 15, 1933, Ginsburg was the second daughter of working-class parents in Brooklyn, New York. Though her parents did not attend college, they encouraged Ginsberg in her studies. She eventually graduated from Cornell University with her bachelor’s degree and Columbia Law School with her law degree.

She married Martin Ginsburg in 1954, and after supporting him through a cancer diagnosis in 1956, Ginsburg completed law school and moved into employment, where she encountered gender discrimination. It was this early experience that led her to champion women’s rights and work to achieve gender equality.

After teaching at Rutgers University Law School and Columbia Law School, she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Carter. Then, in 1993, President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court, where she served for 27 years. In 2010, her husband of 56 years, “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain,” died of cancer. Despite her grief, she finished out the 2010 term at the Supreme Court.

She continued to serve as a Supreme Court Justice until her death from pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020.

Major Career Accomplishments

  • First female tenured professor at Columbia Law School
  • Co-founded the first law journal devoted to gender inequality
  • Director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Appointed to U.S. Court of Appeals as a judge
  • Appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Presented as a lawyer and/or ruled as a Supreme Court Justice on a number of landmark cases

The Importance of a Legacy

As we look back at Ginsburg’s life, none of us can deny that she leaves a legacy. But a legacy is not only for prominent people. Every single one of us leaves a legacy of some kind. It’s up to us whether that legacy is good, bad, or somewhere in between.

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” — Shannon L. Alder

Look at your own life and determine what kind of legacy you want to leave. And then, ask yourself, “Does my life reflect the legacy I want it to?” If it doesn’t, start thinking about big and small things you can change in your life to build the legacy you want.

Reflect on those who left a legacy for you

Every person is affected by the generations that came before, whether they want to be or not. It’s apparent in Ginsburg’s life that her parents, especially her mother, left a lasting legacy. So, think about your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, schoolteachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, and even people throughout history or in public service who have had an impact on the way you view yourself and the world. Each of these people left a legacy with you – some good, some bad. Now, think about the legacy you’ve built so far with those around you. Are you happy with it? Or are there some things you’d like to change?

Realize that leaving a legacy is not a choice

Whether you want to or not, you will leave a legacy because the people around you will remember you a certain way, depending on how you handled yourself and treated others. It’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. While Ginsburg may or may not have initially set out to create a legacy, she did nonetheless. There’s nothing you can do to prevent people from forming an opinion of you, but you can contribute to whether that opinion – your legacy with that person – teaches them how to live well and love others or not.

 Remember that quality time spent with others is the most important

When you involve yourself in the lives of others, you have an impact on their lives. Just as Ginsburg had a profound impact on her children and countless others, so can you. As the saying goes, when we near the end of our lives, we don’t wish we had worked more, we wish we had lived more. That includes spending time with the most important people. As you seek to leave a legacy:

  • Looks for opportunities to know others and be known by them
  • Model and teach what’s most important
  • Compliment, encourage, and build up our family, children, and grandchildren
  • Share the wisdom that you have gained in your life and pass along the knowledge

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. What we do and say affects the lives of others and has the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. Most of us are not prominent people whose names are known by thousands, but that doesn’t ultimately matter. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s be intentional about the impact we have on others and create legacies worth remembering.

To learn more about how to build a legacy, make sure to read Building a Legacy.

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