Festivities, gatherings, and holidays together with friends and family are wonderful times. With COVID-19 upon us, many of us will be experiencing a new way of spending the holiday season. Gatherings will be smaller, and very limited. Everything will be different.
Different is also what happens after loss. It is said that the first year after any loss or death is the most difficult. Yes, life changes. Celebrations, gatherings, and even the hardships we go through are different when we are missing a loved one. It is difficult and weird to not pick up the phone and hear their voice and have their company. In losing someone, we lose their human contact, their humour, their laughs, their insights, their wisdom; we not only miss the person but we lose the significance and value they brought into our lives. Death is the loss which terminates a tangible, reciprocal relationship. It is an ending to what once was.
While the first year is difficult, does the passing of time make the void any easier? I don’t feel this. I think we just become accustomed to the loss, we learn to live with the heartache of them not being with us; we become accustomed over time to carry the burden of grief. I believe we learn to live without them. We learn to cope and move forward while missing our loved ones who have died.
Everyone who is living has survived all aspects of life, the proof is our presence. We are living and doing our best to move forward, despite our hurt. After the death of a beloved family member or friend, we can feel so affected by our emotions that we feel like we cannot live without them. Sometimes we don’t recognize the value and significance of someone until they die. Very few people do not understand or have not experienced death or some type of loss. We all understand the loss and ramifications of not having them in our lives.
I remember back to the holiday season of 2003, my holiday tradition was baking Christmas cookies with my grandparents, only that year, Ota was not there. My grandmother and I continued the tradition after Ota passed. I missed Ota, and Oma missed her husband. Though it was difficult, we had each other to remember the man who meant so much to each of us. We shared memories, we laughed, we cried, we honoured Ota, and we survived.
In 2011, when I lost Oma, I had no one left to bake with. The tradition of baking with my grandparents could not continue without grandparents! So to cope with the situation I could choose to end the tradition (my nieces, nephews, family, and friends who enjoyed my cookies would not have been impressed). Or I could change how I maintained the tradition. I invited my uncle, his girlfriend, and a family friend (more like an honorary uncle) to come and bake cookies. I created a new tradition, I still missed Oma and Ota. I still cried but I found a way to bake for the holidays without them. I moved forward and adapted and had the cookies to show that I survived the first year of holiday baking without my grandparents.
This year, COVID-19 has everyone around the world adapting and adjusting how they spend the holiday season. In Ontario, people who live alone are allowed to celebrate the holidays with one other household; families are encouraged to stay with the people in their household unit only. We are to live in a bubble and change traditions. For those who have lost someone dear to them, adapting and coping during the year, makes this holiday season even more difficult.
I encourage you to check up and check in with those who live alone or have suffered a loss this year. Please don’t assume another family member or friend is staying in contact with someone who lives alone and or someone who has experienced a loss. Please make the effort to call, facetime, video call, and chat, or even write; let people know that they are not alone! Let’s make an effort to show one another that we care and that every person matters.
Though the season may primarily be a Judaeo-Christian holiday, it is a holiday time for all. It is a time for compassion, caring, and kindness. Maybe leave a plate of cookies at someone’s door, ring the bell, and from two meters away, wave and smile… drop off a care package, or drop off presents, become a special earth angel to another person and brighten their day.
Invite a person living alone to your home for a meal if you have less than 10 people in your household. Let us be inclusive, let us make sure we embrace everyone in our community, if not in a physical hug, because we can’t do this with COVID, then in our actions. If you live alone, I encourage you to reach out and if you are not comfortable to invite yourself to someone’s family group, perhaps you invite them! It does not have to be a “Christmas/Hanukah” theme, it can just be a get together to play a game, watch a movie, just reach out and make a connection to not be alone. Reaching out is not a weakness, it is a sign of strength, to open yourself up, to start new traditions, to cope, to adapt, to move forward.
I joined Home Hospice Association because I was a caregiver; I understood first hand, the challenges of a caregiver. I wish to encourage compassion and assistance to caregivers, and the dying. Death is a part of life, loss is a consequence of living and loving, but it can make people uncomfortable; it can be difficult to talk about and acknowledge.
As a caregiver, I often felt misunderstood, and alone. Home Hospice Association engages the community, encouraging compassion, care, and a human connection for anyone, of any age, of any culture at any time. With the holiday season and COVID-19 restrictions upon us, this can be difficult and different times for us.
We all have a choice to be inclusive. I ask you to collaborate, to create a greater sense of good tidings in our community this holiday season by reaching out to others. Reach out to people who live alone, have suffered a loss, who may be missing family or friends this time of year; let us make sure to let people know they matter.
We are all part of a group; we are all human beings. We may not live under one roof, but we do live together on this earth, let us strive to be humane, living peacefully and lovingly to one another.
Wishing everyone all the best this Holiday Season!
If you are feeling alone and depressed, and don’t know who to reach out to, and or if you or someone you know is thinking of suicide – call 911, go to your nearest hospital, contact your doctor or call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000
From the Caregiver’s Journal