A holiday reflection

Nov 27, 2018 | Patient Stories

By Alie Plouff, TargetCancer Foundation Advocacy Council Member

Like many things in life, grief isn’t black and white. In fact, it is mostly one large gray area. Grief and how it manifests itself is different for everyone. For me, grief comes in waves. I lost my mom, Kathy, in April 2017 to cholangiocarcinoma,  a rare and aggressive cancer of the bile duct. Most days, I am able to navigate my grief by reflecting on the abundance of fond memories I shared with my mom. Sometimes, though, the waters are rough. The feeling of loss is overwhelming, and I wish so badly that I had more time to spend with her.

Initially, I thought I made it through the hardest part of grieving during the initial weeks that followed my mom’s passing, however, as the holidays approached, I found myself beginning to once again feel overwhelmed by my grief. How would I be able to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas without my mom?

I reflected on our traditions of the past- hosting our large family for Thanksgiving (with so many place settings that the table extended into the living room), laughing about the time we all wore our pajamas to Thanksgiving dinner, and setting up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. My mom embodied everything that was joy and giving during holiday season. She even made it a point to adopt a family each year to ensure all kids were able to experience the magic of Christmas. It turned out, that even though these memories made me miss my mom even more, they inspired me to get through the holiday season.

It was not easy. Enjoying the holidays and getting accustomed to new traditions was difficult, but I was able to find some strategies that helped me get through the season and cope with my grief. I quickly realized that avoiding the emotions that coexist with grieving was not good for me. Grief is a part of healing and no one expects someone to be strong all the time. Instead of detaching myself from a season I loved so much, which was my first inclination, I decided to face it head on and find healthy ways to manage my feelings.

Maybe being surrounded by the swell of holiday cheer the first holiday season without your loved one is too challenging- take a step back. It is okay to not sing along to all the holiday songs, go out into the sea of families doing last minute shopping, or attend all the holiday parties. My advice, though, is not let grief consume your holiday season. Find a way to honor your loved ones by upholding traditions in their honor, or creating new ones in their memory. It is okay to do things differently- embrace the change rather than avoiding it.

The year my mom passed, my sister hosted Thanksgiving in her new home—a new tradition, and something my mom would be proud of. I set up the Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving, as always, and we made sure to follow in my mom’s compassionate footsteps and adopted a local family in need for Christmas.  Finding ways to embrace the new phase of my life has been a learning process. My advice to anyone dealing with grief for the first time this holiday season is to not let it affect your entire holiday season. Try to incorporate new traditions into old ones, embracing the memories from past holidays.

The holiday season is often about connecting with loved ones. I don’t think I will ever not long for my mom’s company- but I have learned to accept my new normal. Allowing yourself to feel happiness when surrounded with your friends and family is imperative. Don’t underestimate the power of positivity. Even if it feels impossible, search for joy this holiday season.

Related links: