I remember a certain sense of dread as my trauma-fogged mind tried to wrap itself around the approaching Christmas season. In my case, it was four months post-tragedy. But for those of you who are still so fresh from the fires, it’s coming even more quickly.
Gifts?… Decorations?… Holiday Cheer?! Even in a normal Christmas season, the expectations we have of ourselves can be overwhelming. But trying to create a “Merry Christmas” for our families when we’re still in those first tender stages of recovery can feel like trying to decorate the perfect cake for a six-year-old when all you have to work with is black frosting.
There is no guidebook for how to care for our children when we’re all navigating a crisis at the same time. So I’d like to offer a few suggestions (most learned the hard way!) for how to move through your first holiday season post-fire. I hope these thoughts make it just a bit easier for you…
**Slow Down and Simplify
You can’t expect your mind to operate as efficiently or effectively as it used to. That’s just the way “trauma brain” works for most of us. (The good news is, you will eventually be reunited with your now-absent mind!) But for the meantime, slashing your “to do” lists down to what’s absolutely necessary is helpful. Ask yourself what core traditions you and your family value most that are possible in your current situation and focus on those.
As for everything else, let it go. Friends and extended family really will understand if they don’t receive cards or gifts from you this year, or if you don’t bring your famous apple pies to the family gathering (assuming you go).
And since processing trauma and high stress is so absolutely exhausting, give yourself the gift of the ultimate “slow down” when you can. If you attend family celebrations, enlist the help of back-up ahead of time to watch your kids so you can take breaks. Be gentle with yourself and slip away from the festivities when conversations or chasing the kids become too much. Even thirty minutes in a quiet setting can recharge your batteries enough to allow you to be more present with your family when you return.
**Snuggle and Savor
While your every fiber may yearn to somehow protect your children from grief over what is gone and disappointment with what is, that’s a kind of magic even the best of parents cannot muster. But while we can’t step into some kind of time machine and undo the night that took so much from young and old souls alike, we can be our children’s safe harbor, their “landing place” for now.
You may be feeling so inadequate to meet their complex needs when you’re distracted and distraught yourself. But you are not only adequate–you were made for them. Your arms are the perfect shape, and you are the only ones on this earth that can provide the comfort of familiar scent, voice, warmth, and love. In a word, you are “home” to them.
So snuggle in whenever and wherever you can: at the end of a long day, first thing in the morning, when you’re laughing, when you’re crying (or both at the same time!). And as they drink in the comfort of your presence, let yourselves savor them–in their stillness, their curiosity, their anxieties, and their fearlessness. They are so amazing. You are so amazing.
** Soak it In
You can’t begin to know how many prayers for healing and hope are rising up for all of you from those of us who don’t know you, yet care deeply all the same.
I am convinced that, in my case, it was the unwavering care and support of family, friends and even strangers that made moving through the sludge of trauma and loss during the holidays possible. For me, those acts of love were spirit-sustaining gifts from the very heart of God, delivered in wonderful and unexpected ways through his people. They held me up as I did my best throughout that first holiday season of single parenting and for the long months of recovery to follow.
So go ahead and ask for what you need, then sit back and let people love you and your family. You will have plenty of years to be a “giver,” but maybe this is your year to soak in the beauty of receiving.