No one told me how hard it would be to be away from my children the first Christmas they went to their dad’s house after my divorce. I kept saying, “I’ll be fine! Dec. 25 is just a day! I’ll celebrate Christmas with my children when they come home. It’s no big deal.”

I was wrong!

Fast forward five years … my boyfriend died after a three-year cancer battle. I was soldiering through my first Christmas without him and his boys. “I was fine.” I threw myself into cooking the best Christmas dinner I could. I really was fine … until an old friend called to check on me. The tears flowed!

As we move in to this holiday season, many in Galveston County are still impacted by losses from Hurricane Harvey. Last week, my boss realized she didn’t have a Christmas tree, and all of her traditional decorations don’t have their normal display spots. The family heirloom table and piano are gone … furniture is on back order. Other families will have their first Christmas without their loved ones following the Santa Fe High School shooting. Others are recovering from injuries and struggling with pain.

When all of the holiday traditions meant to bring joy were serving as painful reminders of my loss, remembering some things helped me cope:

1. Grief is part of healing and it will get easier over time.

2. It’s OK to say no to painful situations. My cousin agreed to host Christmas lunch every other year. I gradually began attending family gatherings without my children.

3. Focusing on things I could control helped; I spent time with other friends during my “childless” time.

4. Planning how I’d get through celebrations and an escape plan for when my feelings became too intense was essential. Driving myself to holiday functions was a solution for me.

5. Allowing myself to feel a range of emotions, especially happiness and joy. I wasn’t taking away from the memory of my boyfriend by laughing and enjoying myself.

6. Finding ways to honor the memory of my boyfriend: eating at his favorite restaurant on his birthday and lighting a lavender candle, his favorite, to honor his memory.

7. Creating new traditions. Ours became having a traditional Chinese dinner on Christmas Eve.

8. Performing acts of kindness really helped my grieving spirit: paying for the order of the person behind me or baking sweets for elderly neighbors.

9. Asking for help was one of the most important (and hardest) things I did. Counseling taught me strategies to get through the holidays. I also let the people around me know I was struggling.

I challenge each of you to be kind to everyone you come across this holiday season. The best gift we can give ourselves and those around us this holiday season is kindness and our peace of mind. Family Service Center of Galveston County can support you or someone you know this holiday season.

For more information, call 409-762-8636 or visit www.fscgal.org.

Karen McWhorter is the development director of the Family Service Center of Galveston County.

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