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Perspectives on Grieving

Remembering...Talking About Someone Who Has Died at Holiday Time

By Mary Robinson, Imagine Executive Director 

“A mourner is perforce, a person with a story. The pity is, how very rarely it gets told.”

Christian McEwen 

My mother died on October 23, 2008.  A month later I spent that first Thanksgiving without her at my godmother Ginny’s house with her family. I had known Ginny my whole life and her three daughters, all around my age, were like cousins to me. They were all there too, one of them with her own three daughters.

Growing up we had spent many holidays and birthdays together so we were a lively crew and everyone contributed part of the meal. I brought some traditional items from my childhood, creamed onions and an apple pie; my favorites because my mom always made them.

As the day and evening wore on, I mentioned my mom a few times, hoping someone would chime in and tell a story about her. “Remember when Betty…” or “Your mother was the best pie maker!”  But no one followed my lead. No one bit.

By the end of the evening I was exhausted and went up to my room and had a good cry. It was then I realized how badly I had wanted and needed to talk about my mom, especially this first holiday without her when she had been dead just a little over a month.

The next morning when I woke I thought, ‘I’ll try again.’ Maybe they just didn’t know I needed to talk about her. After all, I hadn’t even realized that’s what I needed. But try as I might, I could not get anyone to chime in and I didn’t yet know how to ask them to do so.

I shared this story with a friend a little while ago and she said perhaps your godmother was grieving, too, and maybe she couldn’t talk about her. Ah! I had been so focused on my own loss it didn’t even occur to me that my godmother was missing her dear friend Betty, too.

But I also think people just don’t know it’s okay and even helpful and wonderful to share stories about the person who has died. The mourner needs to hear the stories as much as they need to tell their own stories.

What stories will you tell around the holiday table this year? Does it help to hear? To speak? Or is it too hard?

p.s. My mom DID make the best pies! She was a wonderful cook and baker. She was happiest in the kitchen and her garden. She was also an amazing businesswoman as well, going to work in real estate in 1974 at age 44 after my dad died, and making the million-dollar sales club in her second year. And it wasn’t as easy to make that club back then when houses in Madison and Chatham, NJ were selling for just $35,000!

 

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