Coping with Holiday Blues

In my last post, I talked about the unspeakable grief of losing a child, and the sadness and alienation that can occur at Christmas in particular. I am certainly more aware of the challenges of the bereaved in getting through the holiday season. In this post, I share things that help me cope.

  • Remembering him. We talk about what Will loved about Christmas. We hang his stocking. We give gifts of scholarship money in his name. I write on his Facebook page. We honor him by remembering him. Most people who lose a child do not want to forget them. In fact, one of my biggest fears is that Will will be forgotten. So we remember him. And we talk about him with those friends and family members comfortable in doing so. He is still with us.
  • Change the routine. Our first Christmas without Will, we went to our ranch home in the country instead of waking up and going through what had been the routine in our home for many years. It would have been too painful to do that, and too much a reminder that we were missing someone. The second and third years, we went to Boston to spend Christmas with our son where he was in law school. Initially, I shuttered at the thought of waking up Christmas morning in a hotel. But, at the Fairmont Copley, it was actually quite nice and we have some special and fun memories of making Christmas dinner in my son’s apartment.
  • Avoid what you need to in order to survive and thrive. For instance, in the first three years without Will at Christmas, I didn’t open Christmas cards. The smiling family photo with all the family members that are supposed to be there, was just too painful. They were just a reminder of what we had lost. Christmas parties can be difficult to attend. Decline these if you want. If there is a work-related party that you feel you must attend, go early and leave early. Making an appearance may be all you can do. If there is another Christmas ritual that is just too painful, avoid it. Most people will understand. If they don’t, you do not owe them an explanation. Know that you are doing what helps you at this time.
  • Seek the sun. Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. Many people are affected by the shorter days and longer nights this time of year, and this is even more pronounced in the northern part of the country. I remember living in Connecticut and going to work in the dark, then coming home in the dark. If you are affected, talk to your physician. There are non-pharmaceutical treatments for this, such as light therapy. And, find some time to get outside in the middle of the day on sunny days.
  • Experience Oils of Joy. The best thing I’ve discovered this past year is the power of essential oils. These God-given natural wonders can do marvelous things for us without the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.   Our sense of smell goes through the olfactory nerve directly to the limbic system in our brain, the seat of our emotions and motivation. I discovered that oil blends of bergamot, ylang ylang, geranium, jasmine, citrus, and rose (JoyTM ) and a blend of black spruce, blue tansy, and frankincense (ValorTM) used every day were uplifting for me. These made a tremendous difference in how I felt and functioned. I had an epiphany when reading David Stewarts book on “Healing Oils of the Bible” as reading about Isaiah 61:1,3 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to give them Beauty for Ashes, the Oil of Joy for Mourning.” There was ancient wisdom that these natural products are a gift to give us into joy and gladness. (Hebrews 1:9).

At this time of year especially, I never know when a wave of grief will hit me. At work this week, I was headed to make hospital rounds with a team of people and a memory of Will hit me and I cried. I took out the Valor TM I carry in my purse, put a few drops in my palm, and inhaled several times. I was calmed and able to finish what I had to do.   If you have not discovered these oils yet, seek out a friend who has been talking about them, or check out my website to learn more.

  • Stay physically active. In Texas, this is actually a good time to be outdoors and walk, jog, or cycle. Wherever you live, exercise and get your heart rate up for 30 minutes or more. This helps generate endorphins, the body’s natural “feel good” compounds. Aerobic activity can help get your mind away from the grief and hurt. In the early days after our son’s death, jogging or other aerobic exercise was the only thing that could give my mind and heart a break from the crushing grief.

Give yourself permission to do what you need to do, and what you need not to do during this time.  Remember that there are others who find this time difficult and  reach out to them if you can.

Holiday Blues


I have loved Joni Mitchell’s hauntingly beautiful “River” since I first heard it in the ‘70’s. Even in my youth, I understood that Christmas was an unhappy time for many people, although I was fortunate to grow up in a loving family with happy and sacred memories of Christmas. I fell in love with a romantic and fun-loving man and one night we lay underneath the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree as he told me “I think Christmas is my favorite time of year.” As an adult and mother of young children, I experienced the happiest Christmases ever—filled with the joy and wonder that we can only see through children’s eyes. Our family worked on putting together an advent calendar for our church every year and sought daily devotionals written by our church members. Our son, Will, drew a picture for it entitled “Yay for Christmas!” when he was a young child. It showed family members around a Christmas tree and the sharing of smiles and gifts. We wrote a devotional that reflected Christmas as seen through his eyes. The highlights were seeing cousins and grandparents, decorating the tree, lights and decorations, sharing gifts, Christmas music, and celebrating Jesus’ birthday. Our children were fortunate to be led in Christmas music and spontaneous Christmas pageants by the exceptionally talented and loving “Ms. Phyllis” who treated every child as her own and shared God’s love with each of them.

We lost our beloved son Will to suicide in 2012 when he was 18 years old. This will be our fourth Christmas without his presence here on earth. Because we have such wonderful memories of Christmas with him, Christmas without him is bittersweet. We have joined other bereaved parents in the struggle to make it through the holiday season. I guess the first year was the toughest; some say the second year is worse because the permanence sinks in. It is hard to say. Each year we learn a little more. We are able to smile a little more when we remember him, instead of cry.

This year I am thinking about what helps me through the season. We are so fortunate to have our son Evan and his fiancée Ivy. We celebrate their lives and the joy they have and give to us. And we have other extended family. There are many Pattersons—my husband’s side of the family. And our new family member, Ivy, has a great family we are getting to know. A few of our extended family members will talk to us about Will during the holidays, however, most do not mention him. This is part of the heartache.

When one experiences the unspeakable grief of losing a child, the heart enlarges and is more capable of compassion and empathy with others. I am certainly more aware of the challenges of the bereaved in getting through the holiday season. In my next post, I will share some things that help me cope.