Holiday Survival Tactics

by Jenny Derr

This will be our third Christmas without Billy.  Sadly, I know too many people who are in the same boat, or are about to go through their first season without a loved one. 

It has made me reflect back on how we got through, how we coped and came back up for air on the other side.  I thought maybe some of the things I did (and still do) to get through might help someone else. 

We lost Billy in April of 2016 at age 24.  Billy loved Christmas, our whole family does!  I used to go way over the top to ensure that every kid felt that Christmas was magical! 

That first Christmas was hell, there is no other way to describe it

I remember pulling out all of the Christmas bins to start decorating, the first thing I pulled out was the stockings.  We had needlepoint stockings and each family member had a different one.  I looked at those stockings and burst into tears. 

I packed them right back up and pulled out my phone to search “stockings.”  This was probably the second week in December, which was late for me, but it was hard that year and I was delaying everything I think.  I found a shop on Etsy, that had really pretty stockings that were very different from what we had always had. 

I wrote her and explained our situation.  She had those stockings to me in a week.  They were beautifully wrapped in an old McCall’s sewing pattern with the most touching handwritten note. I will always remember her kindness and compassion.

Here are some things that helped me….

I hope they can help you too.  Also know that no matter what you do, go away, stay home, start new traditions, do everything the same, do nothing the same, etc… it’s going to be hard.  And that’s ok.  Give yourself grace.  Give yourself some space. 

For me, I know when I pull the ornaments to hang on the tree, this is the first time I will start listening to Christmas music.  And I know I will cry, either a song will trigger a memory or an ornament will, so I like to do this alone.  That way I can cry when I need to but still get the ornaments hung.

In no particular order:

  • Change things up, maybe consider going somewhere different for the holidays, especially the first one as it really is the worst.  If you always did Christmas Day dinner maybe do it Christmas Eve instead, create new traditions and memories while honoring the old ones.
  • Don’t feel pressure to have a magazine layout inspired home.  If all you can muster or bear is candles in the windows, that’s AWESOME!!!!  If you have always done a tree in every room and cannot bear the thought, just do one small one, or none, whatever you feel you can do is just perfect.
  • If you always made a certain kind of cookie but even seeing the recipe brings you to tears, that’s OK.  You can try a brand new recipe or skip cookies altogether.  Again, give yourself grace.
  • Christmas cards, omg the worst right??  Don’t send them.  It is ok.  You may be ready to send them again at some point, but if not, that’s ok.
  • Give back, there are so many organizations that need support, be it financial, time, gifts, food.  This has been one thing that helps me so very much.  I also love to give to organizations within the recovery community.  I think getting out of my head helps me a lot.

Just know that whatever you do is perfect for you.  I am holding space for all of you.

Published by

Jenny Derr

Jenny Derr is an active advocate for substance use disorder

3 thoughts on “Holiday Survival Tactics”

  1. Great ideas Jenny.
    I did the same thing with stockings. I didn’t “do” Christmas for 2 years at all. When I finally did, I pulled them out and could not hang them. So I ordered pretty ones online and they still get hung.
    Our first Christmas “doesn’t count”, as it was 5 days later and we were zombies. We sat there and opened up his presents under the tree. Christmas has never been the same, but it is without expectation now, which is good. I was a huge Christmas person too, hanging fresh greens all over the house. After Whitten died, I started out with candles in the windows and a tree, for a few years. It’s been 7 years and I do decorate, because that’s my thing. But some things have never returned – the little tree in his room with crazy decorations, waiting for him, the baking of all his favorite cookies. And it’s ok.
    Today, December 20, is the seventh anniversary of his death. Almost the shortest day of the year. A dark day, literally. We now have a gathering of friends and family at our house and that will be tonight. It is a smiling occasion now, and we toast the holidays and Whitten. It also takes away some of the original dread of the day.
    He always wanted us to have people over more.
    Peace to everybody reading the blog today. We will all get through this…

    1. I didn’t do anything for two years other than put a fake wreath on the door. That was it. Then year three we got a small tree. I don’t do much but I do some. I go to support group, cry more and talk more. And fortunately, I have friends that listen.

    2. Gray I will be thinking of you and Chip and sending love today especially. I still remember Kevin getting the news about Whitten. I am glad the loss is a little less sharp. May you think of some fun memories today. Love you 💙

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