Can I have your tips about entering into the holiday season right after my dad's death?
November 10, 2009 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Death, mourning, family, and holidays: How to prepare for the holidays in a post-Dad world?

Can I have your tips about entering into the holiday season right after my dad's death?

My Dad died a few weeks ago, somewhat unexpectedly. He was 71 and he had some heart problems for some time, but I didn't expect him to go now, since he had been so sick but then recovered many times in the past.

For the holidays, it was always my mom, my dad and I as a core unit (I'm an only child). For example, in recent years' thanksgivings we might have had one or two of my friends come out to dinner with us, but otherwise it was really just the 3 of us. The Christmas tradition was just the three of us meeting up in a random US city to spend time together, exchange gifts, eat dinner out and see a new city over the course of a few days.

I'm going through a lot/feeling really weird and out of sorts right now. I expect it to be worse over the holidays. Are there any tips on how to prepare ?

One Thanksgiving option is an invite from a family friend to join them, but I feel like this might make me more depressed seeing a happy "whole/complete" family altogether. If that makes sense? But then I wonder if it will feel even more lonely with just my mom and I. Additionally, it would be a good time around Thanksgiving to go to my parents' house and work on sorting out my dad's paperwork, etc, but my mom is torn between getting that done and getting away from the house to clear her hear.

Thanks in advance for any advice here.
posted by NikitaNikita to Human Relations (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can you take your mom on some sort of trip out of town?

Both my dad and my wife's dad died during December and it makes the first few holiday seasons just terrible.

It is a bit late, but maybe you can arrange some trip that is easily doable for her, and will keep you both busy.

I'm really sorry for your loss.
posted by Danf at 1:43 PM on November 10, 2009

I'm sorry for your loss. My partner lost his Mom in September, so we'll be going through something similar. I like Danf's idea of taking your mom on vacation somewhere fun.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:47 PM on November 10, 2009

My mother died just before my sisters 17th birthday, which is near Easter. We had a birthday party for my sister and celebrated Easter in the usual fashion (lots of eggs, bunnies, baskets, and candy). People were surprised that we did this, but this was really for the best. It is what my mother would have wanted. I suggest you and your mother go out for a wonderful meal together, take a nice long walk, and bask in you love for each other and your father. I know if it were me I would spend the day baking pies and bread with my sister, then give them away to neighbors and friends.
posted by fifilaru at 1:47 PM on November 10, 2009

My dad died about a week before Christmas a couple years ago. I'm also an only child, and on Christmas we generally either didn't go anywhere, or visited my dad's side of the family. My dad's death wasn't unexpected, if it matters, but it sounds like his situation was really similar to your father's so I don't know what to make of that; my dad had heart problems for years and had been in terrible shape and recovered multiple times, but to me that just meant that he was getting progressively more likely to die. He died when he was about 60, but I had pretty much gotten my mourning out of the way every time he was very sick, well before he actually died.

Everyone is different, but it felt a lot more depressing for me when there wasn't anyone but me and my mom around. I can't relate at all to the idea that it would be more depressing to have the two of you alone, clearly missing something, than seeing other people's "complete" families but having a lot going on around you. If you really feel that way then go ahead and stay home, but I think his absence would feel a lot bigger if you and your mom are there alone.

Also, it never even occurred to me to look at other families and feel like they have something I don't. I'm not sure if this means I'm a bad source of advice for you, or if you're overthinking things and you won't actually feel that way in practice. Do you already feel that way when you see families in other settings? If not, I wouldn't worry about it too much. If you do, then maybe it actually would be worse for you. It's hard for anyone to make that call for you.
posted by Nattie at 1:54 PM on November 10, 2009

My sister died last summer, and (so far) for holidays, I've found it really helpful to be with large groups of people -- in particular, I've found it easier when I'm with my extended family. I do think that it feels quite lonely when it's just our immediate family together.

It's going to be tough no matter what you do, but I think that breaking tradition a bit and surrounding yourself by people who understand what you're going through is a good thing.
posted by cider at 1:56 PM on November 10, 2009

I just sent you a MeMail, but also:

I wouldn't pressure your mom to get things done during the holidays. There are way too many emotions wrapped up in both doing things like sorting the paperwork of the deceased and the holidays themselves for any grieving person to really be able to handle both. Instead, I'd focus on trying to create a new tradition or two for you and your mom, something low-pressure and low-key; replicating the past tradition of travel to a new city might be too hard, as you'll feel his absence really acutely already without it being highlighted like that. And I agree with Nattie that the two of you shouldn't be alone, if possible, for the whole holiday.

This might seem morbid, but something my mother did a few years ago for my sister and I after my grandfather (who was like a father to me) died was to take a small bit of the money she inherited from him and buy us a gift "from Pop-pop" on our birthdays. You might consider that, if possible--giving your mother a little something that reminds you of him and her relationship with him, and her doing likewise. It also gives you a bit of an opportunity to talk about missing him and how you're feeling. Overall, don't feel obligated to be overly cheerful or upbeat, or to not talk about it--and certainly, if you spend Thanksgiving with friends, know that they'll understand if and why you can't be.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:57 PM on November 10, 2009

In my experience after my dad's death, the funeral and few weeks right after his death were filled with grief, denial, sorting out his stuff, etc. It wasn't until several months later that getting together with family was about remembering the good times and sharing stories together about family vacations, events, traditions. Give this opportunity to remember together as a gift to your mother this Christmas. Maybe make an album, scrapbook, etc. of memories, go through it together and talk about your recollections. It will be sad but healing for both of you. And it will mean a lot to your mom. Who else can she reminisce with about these things but you?
posted by eleslie at 1:57 PM on November 10, 2009

My dad died just after New Year's, 2004.

Paperwork isn't the best idea. You and your mom need to be out, with people, doing something different than what you would have been doing with your dad. The first couple holiday seasons after they're gone can be really rough, so try to look after yourselves first and foremost. Creating a new tradition for just you two would be perfect. Later, doing exactly what you would have done including your dad could be perfect, instead.

It's not just holidays, either. All major occasions where they should have been there will feel like that. For me personally, these included my little brother's graduation from college and having our baby boy meet (just/only) my Mom for the first time.

Take care.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:03 PM on November 10, 2009

In similar situations, I found it easier to do something completely different than we'd traditionally done. Instead of staying in and cooking the traditional meal, perhaps a road trip, anything on a whim, heck, write down six crazy ideas each and pull from a hat.
posted by korej at 3:25 PM on November 10, 2009

The first Thanksgiving after my dad died, I insisted that we NOT spend it with her relatives pretending like everything was normal. Instead, we went into SF, had dinner at a restaurant, bummed around the pier, and stayed in a fancy hotel and had room service. It was a blast and a real pick-me-up for The First Holiday After sort of thing. I totally recommend trying to do something different than your usual, at least for the first year.

Okay, so what I got to do as one special treat is what you did every single year, but maybe you could go somewhere drastically different, more vacation-y, or something. The idea is to do something to shake things up in a fun way. I wouldn't recommend spending it with someone else's family because it is weird and you do feel left out.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:01 AM on November 11, 2009

I'm sorry for your loss.

My daughter died a two years ago a few weeks before Halloween. My wife and I felt like the holidays were a gauntlet of sadness, each progressively worse, culminating in what should have been her birthday a few weeks after Christmas.

I honestly don't remember much of the first couple of months, and I imagine that both you and your Mom will have a similar fog surrounding that time. I have absolutely no recollection of what we did for Thanksgiving. By the time that Christmas rolled around we were a little less hazy and realized that spending time with family was the opposite of what we needed. We called up some old friends and convinced them to go to Vegas with us (it was the least Christmasy destination that we could think of on really short notice). I don't know that Vegas was the best choice, but I do know doing something totally out of character in a place that was unfamiliar was really liberating. We were able to talk with one another in ways we never would have surrounded by well meaning family, and since we were with friends we had a reasonably good time while out on the town.

I echo others above in that doing something different helped acknowledge that things had changed, pretending everything was normal, or worse re-hashing everything yet again, would have felt awful to both of us. I'd encourage you to ask your Mom what she'd like to do that's different from the norm, think about what you'd like to do, and then just do it. Make some crazy plan to do something new, with or without others. Planning will help take your mind off of the grief, and once you're there it'll give you two the space to remember your dad without the burden of the usual holiday claptrap.
posted by togdon at 9:50 AM on November 11, 2009

I'd accept that invitation from a family friend, or, at least, do something radically different from what you would have done.

Our first Thanksgiving without Dad, all of us gathered around the same table we always used when Dad was there, in the same room we always ate in with Dad, eating the same foods we always ate with Dad, but with Dad not there, was pretty awful. That was 7 damned years ago and I'm tearing up now remembering it.

Since then, we've started new traditions, for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that helps a lot. Still sucks not to have him with us, though.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2009

I am so sorry to haer about your loss.

I think my experience was quite different than yours will be: my father died suddenly in January 2007, and so Thanksgiving was almost a year later. I think our situations are different, so this is just a data point. But let me tell you, I DREADED Thanksgiving, dreaded dreaded dreaded it. And then, it just wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Dinner with a family friend might be nice, especially if both you and your mother have explicit permission to go to a bedroom and be alone for a little while, undisturbed, if you think you might need it.

I still miss him, and especially on the holidays.
posted by teragram at 1:08 PM on November 12, 2009

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