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Question of the Month
Coping with the holidays: Thanksgiving is coming up, and my family expects us to attend the family Thanksgiving dinner. I just don't feel very thankful this year and I don't even want to think about Christmas after that. How can I let my family know I'd rather not attend without hurting their feelings? It's just too stressful.

Ann DouglasFrom Ann Douglas . . .

The holidays can be very difficult when you've been through a loss. After all, you had planned to be either very pregnant or holding a new baby in your arms by the time Thanksgiving rolled around.

You're wise to honor your feelings rather than attempting to go through the motions with regard to your family's holiday celebrations. While your family members may express some disappointment that you won't be celebrating Thanksgiving with them, once they've had the chance to think things over, they will likely come to accept your decision. In fact, they may even be motivated to be extra supportive throughout the entire holiday season.

Ann Douglas

Marilyn HeavilinMarilyn Heavilin

I believe the best approach is the direct approach. Now whether you can do that without hurting their feelings may be questionable. You have to weigh over the options . . . telling my family ahead of time that I prefer to opt out of the traditional Thanksgiving festivities or trying to attend and ending up with having to leave or being upset all day because you don't feel like joining everyone in being thankful. You can be quite certain your family would be offended if that happened.

Do your best to explain to the family that you're just not ready to participate in the normal traditions yet. If you feel you can handle it, offer to arrive in time for dessert or offer to stop by later in the evening.

If there are conditions under which you feel you could participate, be sure to state them. For example: if people won't get upset if I cry; or if the family is willing to acknowledge and talk about my loss, then I will try to come.

Much love, Marilyn Heavilin

Sherokee IlseSherokee Ilse

If you know you cannot follow last year's traditions or attend that holiday function, you are very wise and aware of what is going on inside you. Indeed, if you really feel you cannot, then communicating that is the key. There are numerous ways to let others know; one of the easiest is to do it in writing--you have time to think it out and you are not faced with their persuasive efforts others might make, where you might say something you don't mean or can't easily respond to. Try something like this:

Since our baby died, we are really trying to survive in the best way we know how. Attending family functions like previous years feels especially painful at this time. While we appreciate each of you and at times need you near, for this holiday we need to do something different. After all, we are so different right now and it is so raw that we believe changing the tradition or avoiding the holiday all together this year is critical to our mental health. Please don't take this personally; it is not about you, it is about us, as parents of a baby who can't be there as we planned. If possible, light this candle in her/his memory and think of us. Or stop over and say hi after 8 pm (or whatever time is appropriate if any is). We know you want to be there for us. We hope you will respect our needs at this time. We love you and hope you will understand.

Communicating your love for your family and asking them to support you as you do what you feel is best might aid them in understanding. Or it may not, because they feel your presence is needed (for them and for you). They will feel a loss if you aren't there and a certain helplessness as you grieve alone. Be aware that this is probably where their pleas for your presence will stem from.

Best wishes to you as you follow your heart during this difficult time,

Sherokee

Laura Randolph

Facing Thanksgiving and Christmas with empty arms and a broken heart is difficult as it is; the prospect of spending the days with lots of family can be overwhelming.

If telling several people you won't be at the family holiday dinner will be too draining emotionally, you could tell one family member who is sympathetic to your situation and have them tell everyone else. This would help you avoid painful and awkward conversations with any family member who is less than understanding.

On the other hand, you may want to tell everyone yourself. In that case, just be honest and tell them you do not feel up to celebrating this year. You do not have to justify your decision. You have suffered a tragic loss and even if some of the family is hurt by your absence, remember that you are hurting deeply yourself and you need to be aware of and respect your emotional limits.

The holidays can be a lonely time when you are grieving. Though the family gatherings might be too stressful, you may want to invite a close friend or family member to have lunch or just visit prior to or after the holiday. Don't be afraid to pass on celebrations, but also don't be afraid to reach out when you need company or comfort during this time.

My heart goes out to you and I hope you are able to find some measure of peace during the holiday season.

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