Column: Find ways to make new journeys bearable

by Pam Pommer

Guest Columnist


It’s the most wonderful time of the year; There’ll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing; When love ones are near; It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Songs and movies idealize the holidays. We are expected to be joyful and celebrate the season with friends and family. But what happens when loved ones die and leave us with empty chairs and empty tables?

Mom died on July 31, 2015, at the age of 94. Her mind and body had become a shell of the woman who’d raised Lori and me. As Thanksgiving approached, a sense of panic engulfed us.

While attending various grief groups, I heard everyone facing the same painful reality: How do we survive the holidays? As I listened to others trying to hold onto the same traditions without their loved one, I began to formulate my own plan to try to cope with our first holiday without both mom and dad.

But everyone must find their own path. For some, it is doing what you’ve done for years and facing it with an empty chair at the table. For others, it might be creating new traditions.

Some groups I attended clumped everyone together: People who had lost children with those who had lost elderly parents. No loss is trivial and each deserves to be mourned. But I felt guilty with my grief when sitting next to people who had lost young children.

The Edina Coalition for Grief Support, however, separated people into groups by whom they had lost. Those who had lost children were separate from those who lost spouses and those who had lost friends and parents.

When attending such groups, one must keep in mind that no group or church or individual can give you a “get out of jail free card.” Grief is a valley you must walk through. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with others, but feeling alone.

One of the benefits I found of attending these groups was realizing many others had more problems to deal with than I did. I dearly missed my parents, but I had a strong network of friends and my sister and wasn’t suffering numerous other issues at the same time. Mostly, hearing the stories of others helped me find perspective.

I also met people stubbornly refusing to cut themselves some slack this year. Give yourself permission to only attend holiday parties if you think it will help you, not out of obligation. And it’s OK not send out Christmas cards. I sent out Valentine’s Day cards one year when I wasn’t able to do them in time for Christmas.

Some people might need to be more socially engaged and reach out to more people for support. For others, it might mean spending more time alone, with a few loved ones, attending more church services, helping at a homeless center or delivering turkeys at Thanksgiving.

For us, the first step was changing how we celebrated Thanksgiving. Lori and I had a visceral fear of going through the motions of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Then suddenly, it dawned on me. Let’s go to Lowell Inn in Stillwater for their Thanksgiving buffet. The location provided an opportunity to go “over the river and through the woods,” and the inn also had a special connection for our family. Our parents spent their honeymoon there in 1953 and throughout the years, we had celebrated many other special events, such as graduation, special birthdays and retirement. We booked our reservations and promised ourselves that if we really missed all those leftovers we could cook a turkey in January.

We continued our new Lowell Inn tradition again this year. We learned we did not miss spending all weekend in the kitchen preparing the feast and cleaning up afterward. We enjoyed the meal and the rest of the weekend.

One never truly heals from the loss of a loved one. But we can often find ways to make our new journeys a bit more bearable. Find your own way, a way that fits your needs and your lifestyle. You might just find a wonderful new tradition awaits you and helps you remember your loved one in a new way.

Pam Pommer, a graduate of Lincoln Senior High School, works and lives in Bloomington, where she enjoys gardening and spending time with her shelties. She can be contacted at [email protected]