The First Holiday Season Without Mom

by Kip Ingram, Director of Bereavement Care

My mother died this past summer, and as I cope with her loss, I face the challenge of the approaching holidays. I have a strange mix of feelings about it all, both as a son who deeply misses his mother and as a bereavement counselor who works with others on these kinds of challenges. Carrying such a grief makes all my previous suggestions seem especially tentative, as if I will need to approach things experimentally to see what will or won’t work for me. And while I’ve suggested such experimentation to others many times before, it feels particularly poignant now. Many of my holiday memories are interwoven with mom, and there will almost certainly be some unexpected moments of sorrow and a sense that this year is different. So here are some things I plan to do to get through this first holiday without her.

As much as possible, I will yield to some moments of memory and missing mom. I work hard to compartmentalize my own grief when working with others, and this is important as a counselor, but I also need to have times when the professional boundaries come down and I let myself go with the emotions as they pass through me. I don’t know yet what I will do with such emotions, whether I will write about them or talk with someone else or merely sit with them. Whatever the case, I want to yield to such feelings when they arise.

As family gathers, I also plan to engage in a ritual to remember and honor mom. The family hasn’t decided how to do this yet, whether we will light a candle or offer a toast or add an empty chair or eat her favorite dish of food, but we will do something intentional to pause with each other and acknowledge mom’s death. And I suspect this will also be followed by a few “mom” stories, accompanied by smiles and perhaps a few tears.

In addition, I hope to relish in the support of family, friends and colleagues. People around me have been wonderfully supportive and expressed it in numerous ways. I hope to keep the support—the good will and kind words and thoughtful gestures—in mind as a reminder that I am not alone in this loss, and that part of what makes life worthwhile is the kindness of others.

Finally, I hope to be as patient and accepting of myself as possible, however things go. My heart will not be fully in the holiday, and I suspect that even the good moments will be somewhat bittersweet without mom. I will need the gentle self-reminder that it’s okay to be out of step with the sometimes unrealistic expectations surrounding the holidays.

The grief others carry will look and feel somewhat differently than mine in this coming holiday season. Nevertheless, I hope that sharing my intentions for getting through it will serve to evoke some helpful thoughts and particular strategies for coping and getting through.