There’s no place like home for the holidays—except when your mother isn’t there anymore. Things that used to bring Christmastime joy can lead to devastating episodes of grief, moments that feel like someone took scissors to your heart and cut a big piece right out of it. For my friends who have lost their mothers, I grieve with you this holiday season, and pray that God will slowly restore your ability to enjoy Christmas again. But without a doubt, it’s hard.
Because let’s face it. No one loves you like your mom. A mother’s love is the only real cure for the most debilitating of life experiences, and is perhaps the most meaningful validation of our blessings. How I wish I could bring back the Christmases when, after hours of shuttling the kids around to my mother’s lovingly-planned holiday activities, I could sit across the living room from her, curled up in a comfy, oversized chair with a warm blanket, drinking the hot chocolate that she made a special trip to Starbucks to buy for me, telling her everything good and bad about my life. On these special nights, she’d help me put the kids to bed in Christmas pj’s that she had custom-ordered, and even as she struggled to divide her attention between some sappy Hallmark holiday movie and my constant talking, her listening ears were the only ones who heard me in the way that I really needed someone to hear me. Now that she’s gone, I yearn for the feeling I felt when I could tell my mother about something. There’s an awful hopelessness in realizing that I won’t ever be able to do this again. Grief is a perpetual criminal, constantly stealing the joy from life as it goes on after we lose someone we love so dearly. Especially during the holidays.
Can we ever really find the happiness in Christmas after such a devastating loss? I know my mother would want me to try, especially for the sake of my kids. So even though I don’t really have the answer, I can share some simple things that might help:
- Talk about your mom—through words and tears. Part of the reason grief is so painful is that so many things you wish you could share are still bottled up inside. Let them out. Talk about your mother, even when it’s uncomfortable and hard. Say her name often. Tell the stories that once made Christmas with her so special. Laugh with your kids about the good times. Share the memories. And cry when you need to. We can talk with our tears. They’re not a sign of weakness, they’re a cathartic step in the right direction on your grief journey. And they’re just another way to say “I miss you.”
- Carry on her holiday traditions. Did your mother love to do certain things during the holidays? Cook special treats? Watch favorite movies? Eat at certain restaurants while holiday shopping? Attend Christmas Eve family service? Carry on these traditions. I have a dear friend whose mother loved the movie, “A Christmas Story.” This year—the first holiday season after her mother passed away—my friend and her family attended the play at a local theatre as a tribute to her mom. Traditions are a special thing to share and continue as you honor your mother’s legacy each holiday season, and something that can be passed down for generations to come. If your mother had a favorite holiday tradition, carry it on.
- Give your mother a gift in Heaven each year. This year, the kids and I are going to begin an entirely new tradition to remember my mother (who died of breast cancer in 2015). The first gift that we open on Christmas morning will be a gift to her in Heaven. My mother had the kindest of hearts—she was a physician who dedicated her life to helping others. And her grandchildren were her greatest source of joy. They don’t yet know what it is, but my children will open a present tomorrow that will symbolize my mother’s love, kindness, work ethic, and passion for service to others. She’ll be with us each year on Christmas morning as we unwrap a gift that’s designed especially for her.
I pray for my friends who are struggling without their mothers this holiday season. I hope you will find some comfort in this post, and even though it doesn’t feel “Merry” at times, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday and that the new year is filled with loving memories of your precious moms.
Four years ago, I became the person that no one wants to be. I was the “divorced” friend—the humiliated, suddenly-single mother of three confused children, ages ten and under. I’ll spare you the gut-wrenching details of my time in this emotional blender, because what you really need to know are ways that you can help someone in a similar situation—and ways to avoid causing even more pain. There’s a reason that people get divorced, and many times, it’s bad. You don’t want to make it worse. So I’ll begin with the “don’ts.”
When it comes to dealing with a divorced friend, here are three things you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t “pick the scab.” As tempted as you may be, you should not Facebook-stalk your friend’s ex and tell her all about the shocking pictures you found. Do not remind her that you recently saw her ex behaving badly and spill the juicy details. And for goodness sake, do not insinuate that she could have done something better to preserve the marriage (e.g., being nicer, younger, thinner, etc.). I can promise you that she has re-lived the wounds a million times in her mind, and before she can truly move forward with her life, they must begin to scab over and heal. Bringing up the bad stuff is like picking the scab. Don’t do it.
- Don’t judge. This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised. I once had a woman stop talking to me on a plane when she realized that I was divorced. Yes, that’s right. She literally stopped mid-sentence, and did not say another word to me for the duration of the three-hour flight. Ouch. If she could have only walked a mile in my shoes, she would have discovered what it’s like to choose between running into a burning building and jumping from a 1,000-foot bridge. Please, don’t judge. You have no idea what really happened in your friend’s situation. You didn’t live it.
- Don’t offer unsolicited advice. When a friend goes through divorce, you can’t magically fix the situation, no matter how hard you try. And the more you talk, the more likely you are to say something incredibly insensitive or inadvertently hurtful. Your friend needs a listening, supportive ear, not a results-oriented analysis of how everything should work out. Don’t offer unsolicited advice to try and fix a problem you can’t solve.
On the other hand, there are many ways to help—here are three things you should do:
- Do include. Divorce is not an infectious disease. Really, it’s not contagious. Invite your friend to the “married people” events. Include her just as you did before. After all, she’s still the same wonderful person and friend that she was before her marriage ended. Don’t treat her like she doesn’t belong anymore. I am eternally grateful for my married friends who invited me anyway once I became single.
- Do reach out and encourage. Getting a divorce can feel like being shoved in a box and put away in the attic—people often don’t know what to say or do, so they don’t do anything—leaving the divorced friend feeling as if she’ll never escape the world of solitary confinement. Reach up there and take your friend out of her isolation. Send a note. Make a call. Stop by for a visit. Offer to help with her everyday responsibilities or kids. Plan a girls’ weekend. Anything to encourage your friend to keep going. One of the sweetest things that a friend did for me after my divorce was to leave a beautifully-framed picture of my children on my front door step, along with an encouraging note. I still look at that picture sometimes. It catapulted me forward at a time when I was so deflated that I didn’t think I could go on. Encouragement—even in small doses—is nourishment for the divorced soul.
- Do connect. Many women who divorce have been unbelievably isolated from the world for a long period of time. They have felt too ashamed and scared to ask for help. If you can, connect your friend to potential employers, other friends who have gone through similar circumstances, and those who can foster growth and help counteract the painful sting of such a humiliating life event. After my divorce, I landed a fantastic job through a church friend who took valuable time to connect me with one of her professional colleagues. This made a lasting impact on the landscape of my life. Divorce is so disconnecting. Do everything possible to help your friend stay connected to the right people.
I’m happy to say that I can write this post because of those who included, reached out and encouraged, and connected me during the darkest days of divorce. They didn’t pick the scab, or judge, or offer unsolicited advice to me along the way. And now, I’m very happily remarried—and very, very thankful.