Surviving the Holidays After a Divorce

(Re-posted from December 17, 2013 with edits)

SnowmanDivorce is very hard. Divorce and holidays are even harder but with strong family support willing to make whatever adjustments needed, it helps in drawing emotions and attention away from tragedy. I keep my children and myself focused on the blessings that God gives us every day; it is the only way to make it through the tough times.” (Cindy Partin Freeman)

I am so proud of the young woman in the above quote — Cindy Partin Freeman, my God-child. Cindy’s future was planned. She and her husband would balance jobs, household duties, and above all, raise their two children together. And then it happened — he wanted out!

Though the road has been a rough one to travel, Cindy now leads a group called, SALT, which stands for: Single Adults Learning Together. SALT is a ministry to singles whether divorced or never married.

I asked Cindy to share with our readers some of the things she and her group use to Survive the Holidays After a Divorce. The following are some ideas she provided.

  1. Change up Tradition: Ask the child what he or she would like to do. It seems strange to say this, but tradition draws attention to what is different (a parent missing.) If they change it up, the child is caught up in a new activity and the loss of the other parent isn’t as prevalent. Example: If they normally open gifts on Christmas Eve, choose to go to a Christmas Eve service instead.
  2. Santa: If the children are real young and still believe in Santa, we suggest having Santa at the primary residence. Some parents will allow the other parent to be there. That is rare and it depends on the relationship between the two parents. They have to ensure that it is all about the child and not any issues they may have if they do it this way.
  3. Finances: If finances are an issue (which is most likely the case), we suggest being honest with the children and letting them know that you may not be able to spend as much on them as you have in the past. In doing this, the parent needs to have alternatives to off-set this such as: creating coupons of quality time with the child. Have a special activity planned like driving around to see lights or an at home movie marathon planned, etc.
  4. Avoid a Busy Schedule: Divorcees have a tendency to stay busy to either keep themselves out of the home so they don’t have to be reminded they are a single parent or they think they need to stay constantly on the go so they don’t have moments of being alone. Even if they have children, they will do this and keeping the children going may turn out to cause more stress and be more harmful than good. The suggestion is to actually reduce your schedule. At the beginning of a divorce, emotions are all over the place and adding the stress of a busy Christmas schedule is a recipe for disaster.
  5. Have a Plan: Even though we say not to create a busy schedule, we do suggest having a plan. Don’t let the holiday creep up on you and not know what they should or need to do. Plan it out. Where are they going to be? What are they going to do? Who is included?

As I see Cindy making announcements on Facebook to the singles and divorce group concerning times of meetings and activities she plans with the adults and their kids, I am reminded of the words of Joseph, who experienced many losses at the hands of his brothers.

As you may recall, Joseph’s brothers sold him to traders going to Egypt, among other things they did to him. As a famine spread throughout the world, God had placed Joseph in a position as the Governor of Egypt. Having foreknowledge of this famine, Joseph had the people of Egypt storing up food for seven years.

And then one day, who should appear in need of food? You guessed it – Joseph’s brothers. But, the beauty of it all was that, despite how he had been treated, Joseph had recognized that the Lord had been with him throughout his ordeal, and his attitude had remained Christ-like. He said to his brothers:

You intended to harm me, but
God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done,
the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:20

Cindy chose not to be a victim to her circumstances and has taken her rough times and turned them around to help save many lives. I believe Cindy will agree with me when I say: “There’s no greater joy than taking a loss that could have destroyed you and your children, and turning it around to help others.” What better way to Survive Divorce, especially During the Holidays.

Do you have additional ideas as to how to survive the holidays after a divorce? If so, share them with others in the comment section.

Surviving the Holidays After a Death

Re-posted from December 10, 2013 (with edits) by Martha

Christmass TreeIt was March, 1970, when the phone call came from the hospital: “Your daddy has had a massive heart attack and is in critical condition.” Four hours away, my husband and I drove the longest trip of my life and arrived in time to see him for a few minutes just before he passed away.

And then, nine months later, Christmas arrived on the scene. I vividly recall sitting down to the table to eat on Christmas Day when suddenly, an ocean of tears filled my plate because of the empty seat next to me. As if there was an “elephant in the room,” no one dared say a word about “who” was missing; we just kept on eating and talking small talk.

As I look back on that day 45 years ago, I have to ask myself, “why didn’t we mention daddy’s name and honor his memory in some way?” I think it had a lot to do with the fact that “no one knew HOW to help one another,” which happens a lot of times during family shared grief.

One thing I know for sure: On that Christmas morning, — “I was in pain.” I would have loved to have taken a break from the pain of daddy’s death just for Christmas, but to borrow a quote from Grief Share Organization: Grief Doesn’t Take Holidays.

Perhaps you and your children are facing the holidays having experienced the death of a loved one this year. While there are no cookie-cut answers as to how to work through the maze of emotional pain brought on by death, children in particular, need extra tender care to help them survive the holidays. After all, it is supposed to be a happy time filled with activities and gifts, but someone they loved dearly is missing this year. What could possibly be “Merry” about it?

So, I am offering a few personal survival tips of my own, as well as a collection of ideas from different sources for you to examine. Perhaps there may be just one that will help you walk through the maze with your child during this holiday season.

  1. Realize it will be Tough: I think we set ourselves up for what I call a “false spiritual high” when we take the stance, “I am going to be okay; Jesus is with me.” Indeed, He is with us because, well because He knows what it is like to suffer the loss of a loved one – His own Son. That is why He is there to comfort you, but remember it is He who said: “Blessed are those who mourn (grieve) for they shall be comforted.” On tough days, talk with the God of all comfort and ask Him to get you through the next moment.
  2. Make New Memories and New Traditions: Things change when your loved one is no longer with your family. That means there might family traditions or extended family get-togethers that you and your children might want to omit or change this year. That is okay. Realize your limitations and do only what works best for your immediate family.
  3. Visit the Cemetery: This is a personal thing for most people. Some take flowers and other mementos; others go and sit and talk to their loved one. Still others might find that going to the cemetery the first year is just too painful. I confess that I could not go that first year, and can I tell you that, even today, I don’t feel guilty about it. I believe survival means “doing what you feel you can do until the time comes when you are able to do more.” Talk with your children and let this be a decision each child makes according to his/her desires, free of any guilt.
  4. Give a Gift to Charity: All of us have a little kid in us when it comes to giving and receiving gifts. Why not suggest to your child that since they cannot give their loved one a gift that they give a monetary gift to a charity in his/her name, or give a wrapped gift to an organization for needed people.
  5. Share Memories: Today, as I think about that first Christmas my daddy was not with us, how wonderful it would have been to have told stories and shared a few laughs about him; after all, he was always joking and laughing. Why not engage your own children in conversations with such lines as: “Remember when ____________ would say this, or when __________would do that? For sure, it will bring on a happy memory.
  6. Take a Trip: One young woman I know with 3 kids and expecting her fourth is taking her children to Disney World for Christmas. Oh yes, she found out she was pregnant right at the time of her husband’s unexpected death. In her words as to the reason for the trip, “we need to get out of town.” (Enough said!)
  7. Decorating the Christmas Tree: On strips of paper write memories that family members have of the person who died. Loop the paper strips to create a chain and hang it around the Christmas tree. (1)
  8. Give a Special Gift to the Deceased: Wrap small boxes in holiday wrap. On each gift tag write a gift that person has instilled in you, such as courage, a specific skill, responsibility, kindness, etc. (2)
  9. Volunteer: Helping other people always makes us feel better about ourselves and should be taught to children at a young age. Around the holidays, take them to a soup kitchen to help those who do not have a meal awaiting them at home, or have them collect toys for children who do not receive presents during the holidays. All of this helps children to feel better about themselves because they are helping others. It also helps them to get through the holidays. (3)
  10. Church, Christ, Comfort: What better way to help your children survive the holidays after the death of a loved one than to give your child the gift of these three C’s. Church gives them a place where they can praise and worship God with a community of others. Christ gives them hope. Your own personal relationship with Jesus is the best gift you can give them, as they see you walking out your faith, along with your pain. Comfort comes from your prayers with and for them and helps de-stress the situation. (4)
  11. Save Time and Space for Yourself: In your effort to help your children, you may have a tendency to overlook your own grief. Plan a time when a close family friend or relative can care for your children so you can have a time and space for yourself to reflect. Also, don’t feel you always have to be composed around your children. It’s okay for them to see your tears, and even ask them for a hug on your down days. Together you and your children, along with God’s help, family, and friends are going to make it.

You might have other suggestion as to how to help a child survive the holidays after a death. If so, leave a comment and share it with others.

Thanks for joining Hannah and me this week. Join us next week when we will be talking about Surviving the Holidays After a Divorce.

(1) The Dougy Center for Grieving Children
(2) Ibid
(3) Bonnie Rubenstein, Associate Professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education
(4) Grief Share Organization

The Gift of Hospitality

Thanksgiving 2015As a child growing up on a farm in Southwest Georgia, it was not uncommon for family and friends to drop in for an unexpected visit. It was also not uncommon for my mother to greet them at the door with a smile on her face and say: “Ya’ll come on in. Now, ya’ll just sit down and talk to Roy, (my daddy) and I will have supper ready in one hour.”

And as they would say in Georgia: “You can bet your sweet britches that in one hour flat, a spread would be on her table – three vegetables, 2 meats, macaroni and cheese, and oh yeah, fried corn bread.”

Guests would remark: “I have never met anybody who could whip up that much vittles in such a short period of time like Faye can.”

What amazed me was that Mother never sat down to eat with her guests. She was up serving them – filling their tea glasses before it got empty, and continuously saying: “Ya’ll eat now, you hear! I’ve got plenty more food left in the pots in the kitchen.”

And then there were the holidays. “Oh, my goodness!” She baked tons of finger-licking goodies and cakes on top of cakes. My mother could have put Paula Deen to shame! After the death of my daddy, she sometimes remarked: “I’d love to get a job as a hostess at a restaurant.” I just love greeting and serving people.”

Yes, Mother definitely has The Gift of Hospitality.

What do we mean by “The Gift of Hospitality?” Rather than define this gift, it is easier to describe it. People with this gift:

  1. provide an environment where people feel valued and cared for
  2. makes people feel welcome
  3. friendly, outgoing, trusting, sociable
  4. they are the greeters at church, the potluck host, hospitality dinner team leader

In the book of Romans, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians, various gifts are listed that God has given us. However, 1 Peter 4:7-10 specifically calls out for HOSPITALITY.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. [NIV]

During this upcoming holiday season, the people with the Gift of Hospitality are about to “kick it up a notch,” as the famous chef, Emeril would say. They don’t mind – they love it! As my former pastor, the late David Berkeheimer, used to say:

“the gift God has placed within an individual is the one they use with
a minimum of effort, a maximum of joy, and with a maximum effectiveness.”

So, when you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal, you can bet your sweet britches that there will be someone up serving the table, and making sure that everyone’s tea class is filled, and who went the extra mile to pull the meal all together. Be sure to include them in your thanks. After all, God has given them a special gift to serve you and honor Him.

Faye 90th BirthdayBack to my mother. She is 91 years old now, and her body no longer allows her to serve the way it once did. Often I hear her say: “It just kills me that I can’t cook up a big meal like I used to and have a crowd of people sitting around my table.”

That, my friend, is The Gift of Hospitality that is still in her heart. Once God gives you a gift, no matter what it is, the passion for it never leaves you because that was the way He created you to serve others and bring honor to Him.

I just know that when Mother gets to heaven, she is going to be standing at the Pearly Gates waiting for all her family and friends to arrive. I can just hear her saying:

“Ya’ll come on in. Now ya’ll sit here and talk to Roy and Jesus,
and I will have supper ready in one hour.”