There’s no time of year so deeply steeped in sensory stimulation as the month of December. The colored lights, the catchy songs and, of course, the family gatherings.
Christmas and the holidays that surround it are shrouded in rituals and traditions, but nothing can overturn all that joy faster than trauma and grief. The holiday season is often the toughest season for those dealing with the overwhelming absence of a loved one.
“When memories arise, they can serve as constant reminders of people’s losses and watching people celebrate the season as they suffer can be a very painful and overwhelming experience,” said Marcus Cheung of the Calgary Counseling Centre.
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Cathy and Ryan Decker of Calgary lost their 13-month-old daughter, Avery, just months after she celebrated her first Christmas. She died suddenly in her sleep while in a day care home. His death is unexplained.
The Deckers told PKBNEWS that facing Christmas without their baby girl was an impossible task.
“We tried to ignore it, we didn’t want to participate, we didn’t want gifts, we didn’t want other kids, it was too painful for us,” Cathy Decker said.
Instead, the couple headed for the mountains alone.
“We brought her picture with us, we put her on the table so she felt like she was enjoying Christmas dinner with us. We lit a candle with his name on it…. We cried and wept.
“During the happiest times, you want to share it with all your loved ones. When such a crucial piece is missing, it stings even more,” Ryan said.
The loss is also difficult to deal with for bereaved children who yearn for a sense of normalcy and what their families used to be.
“There may be times when we need to say no to certain outside invitations and yes to self-care,” said Nadine Gariepy-Fisk, director of the Children’s Grief Center in Calgary.
“But we have to be aware of who it serves, what is the cost of saying no to these things in the short and long term.”
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Gariepy-Fisk said communication with children and other family members is extremely important, and even if you don’t continue certain traditions this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t next time.
“We recommend the three Cs – communication, connection and care; what are our concerns, what do we really want and what don’t we want,” Gariepy-Fisk said. “Can we do some things the same way and some things different, maybe find some common ground.”
Ryan Decker said while acknowledging that it can be difficult to find the right words to comfort a bereaved family during the holiday season, saying nothing can often be worse.
“Just be there, listen, even a simple ‘we’re thinking of you’ and never be afraid to say the name of your loved one – we love to hear our daughter’s name,” he said.
The couple now have two more children. They are determined to give their daughter and son the same Merry Christmas they once knew. The family has created precious ways to include their firstborn Avery Violet. They hang purple ornaments and her stocking and they light a candle in her honor at Christmas dinner.
“We light it with the flame symbolizing that its light is always there with us,” Cathy said.
Although their pain never subsides, they have found a way to let that light shine around them for all of their children.
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