Monday, November 28, 2011

My Approach to Surviving and Thriving Through the Holidays: Part One

The holidays are pretty much in full swing. It can potentially be a really rough time for my set of the population. This is our second set of holidays since Thomas’ death. We actually had several months between his death and the holidays and I appreciate that. I know several people who in addition to dealing with going through the holidays without their spouse, have the memory of losing their spouse close to a family holiday. Thomas died 17 days after our wedding anniversary and the first one afterwards was very difficult for me. My approach to the holidays last year had different themes. For Thanksgiving we abandoned tradition and our house. For Christmas, I decided to mix old ones with new ones, but to dive in head first.

For Part One, I'll go back to 2010.

Last year, we spent Thanksgiving at Disney World. I wanted to take the children there in 2011, but after Thomas died, I decided not to wait. Ariana’s fall break, which shifts according to an annual teacher’s conference fell on the week of Thanksgiving so instead of having 3 days of the week off from school, she had the entire week. I booked and planned 6 days at Disney World over a span of three months. I kept the trip a surprise for Ariana just in case we didn’t make it, but we did and we had a wonderful time. Every year of our life together we hosted several people for Thanksgiving in our home. Thomas did the bulk of the cooking because that is what he loved to do. I contributed a side or two and did the cleaning before and after. We never traveled because he had to be right back at work the next day. I found traveling to be a good alternative.

As was our tradition during Thomas’ life, we spent Christmas at home. I tossed our old Christmas tree and most of the decorations (an artificial one we bought in 2005). One evening after work/school, I bundled up the children and we went to Wal-Mart for a brand new tree and all new decorations. I found us a pre-lit Colorado fir tree. It was 7 feet tall with over 800 tips. It was full bodied and beautiful in the picture (and was outside the box as well). Elijah sat in the cart looking around while Ariana and I went up and down the aisles picking up individual decorations ranging from $1 to $3 in price…stars, spirals, a key, a reindeer, a church and some other things. I picked up the small traditional ball shaped ornaments in packs of 5 in gold, silver, red and green, then a larger box as well. Ariana picked out an angel for the top. I put together and decorated it while Ariana did her homework. It was gorgeous.

On a different day, after church, we traveled to visit Thomas' family and his grave site. He is buried in his home town. I left a picture of the children and spent some time with my in-laws. On yet another day, we wrapped up and went out in search of groceries. I set myself to make a dinner worthy of being called a Christmas dinner even though one of the three of us was barely into table food. In Thomas’ honor we had Cornish game hens (a favorite of his). We had fresh cabbage, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce and two desserts.

As to presents, I generally have a photo session done with the children and give the portraits to family members. I buy very few toys during the year, so when Christmas approached I had a really good idea of what I wanted for the children and picked things up when I could. I generally spent $200 on Thomas each Christmas. Last year I donated that money to Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital and also took every opportunity to teach Ariana about charity. Even though this horrible thing had happened to us, I didn't feel it was time to shield her from other harsh realities of the world. She's a giving child. It wasn't hard to get the message across. After breakfast on Christmas morning, we read the Christmas story. Then, with a restful smile I watched Ariana and Elijah open and enjoy their toys and tried to rest. Like Ariana at her first Christmas, Elijah was a bit overwhelmed when his toy supply literally tripled, but he got the hang of it.

I did not regret how I chose to deal with either ocassion. When the last seconds of 2010 ticked away on December 31st, I was at church. I expressed my gratitude to God for having made it as far as we had, and thanked Him for His mercy and patience with me. Then I let out a deep breath and tightened my grip on my children. Last year I was determined to show Ariana that God would see us through as our faith had been shaken at its base. I was also in high gear of my "Yes we are still a family" campaign and in the end it was successful.

Part Two: What about this year?

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