About a month ago, I wrote about coping with grief during the holidays. It was around Thanksgiving, and I was more or less in the mind of preparing for coping with grief at Christmas. Christmas was going to be the doozy for me, I knew. Christmas was going to be when dealing with the loss of my dad was going to hit me square in the chest and knock me to the floor. I wanted to be ready. I readied myself to be ready.
I wasn't ready.
The sadness has been coming up on me for a while. It's always there, of course, but bigger and bigger waves of it have been cresting closer and closer as the holidays have drawn near. I've been doing everything that I can to brace myself. I've been following the advice that I cited in my Thanksgiving post: don't try to ignore it, don't try to pretend that it's business as usual, acknowledge the loss, the empty seat, keep the person you've lost a part of your traditions, rewrite the holiday to include that person, to accomodate that loss. But it hasn't been enough. It wasn't enough to prepare me for the heartpunch that I experienced while Christmas shopping today, when I found the perfect gift for my dad and almost bought it for him. I got as far as the cashier before I realized: he's gone. At which point I had to abandon my purchases and seek refuge in the restroom, where I could heave and gasp and cry in private.
I tweeted shortly thereafter (because I believe very firmly in the power of reaching out to one's virtual community when one has been punched in the heart), and received this message in reply:
@herbadmother We never forget and that is good, if painful. Perhaps donating the "perfect gift" in your dad's honour would soothe some pain.
It was from OttMomGo. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
I decided to follow her advice. Or, rather, I decided to adapt her advice. I didn't feel up to going back into the store from which I'd fled. Instead, I sat on a bench in the mall and thought about what Dad would love most. And after a few minutes of thinking and breathing, I knew what to do.
I adopted a Great Horned Owl at the Toronto Zoo in his memory. He loved animals - apart from his family, I think that he loved animals more than people - and dreamed of being able to create his own animal rescue reserve one day. And the owl was an animal to which he felt a special affinity - he identified with its solitary nature, and its calm (when he died I got a small tattoo of an owl on my ankle, in memory of him.) Donating to the Zoo in his name, towards the care of that owl, is something that he would have loved. And it's something that we can do every year, in his name, to remember him. And when we go to the zoo, we can visit the owl, and Emilia and Jasper can think of him as Grandpa's owl, and that will be good. It will be very good.
I gave my father a gift this Christmas, and this has gone some great distance to calming my heart. Thank you, OttMomGo, for the timely, heart-saving suggestion.
In response to that same tweet, about my heart aching from the sudden reminder of my dad's death, another blogger - Red Pen Mama - emailed me to say that she'd been thinking of me when she wrote this post about coping with grief over the holidays. She has some great advice for parents dealing with the loss of children - among which, to make use of the Glow In The Woods community for parents coping with such loss, which is excellent advice indeed - and words of wisdom that are, I think, useful to anyone struggling with grief this season. She also has advice for anyone who loves someone who lost a loved one, advice that's worth repeating here:
If you know someone recently bereaved, reach out. I know you don’t know what to say. Say, “I’m thinking of you.” Say, “I’m thinking of him/her too.” Say, “I miss him/her too.” Send a card, send an angel ornament. The grateful feeling that person will have, knowing he or she is not alone with their memories, their loss, it will be a gift.
It is a gift. It is such a gift. The advice and love and comfort that these women - OttMomGo and Red Pen Mama and everyone else who has reached out to me or to others this season - is a gift.
I am so grateful.
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