I could smell the gingerbread cookies being baked right now. Scents of the sharp, but heavenly spice wafting through the windows of her small green and white house. An assortment of bright, colorful candies sit in mounds on the marble dining room table, that my cousins and I can’t get near to any other time of the year. But this time of the year is always special. It’s the night before Christmas and we’re all at Grammy Sylvia’s house for the family tradition: baking, building and decorating the biggest and sweetest gingerbread house ever. My Grammy Sylvia who lost her battle with cancer on January 9, 2013 was all about family, tradition and a good party! That woman loved to party and was the most amazing cook, baker and decorator I’ve ever met. The tingly scents of fresh pine dusted each corner of the house as homemade ornaments fought for the top spot on the Christmas tree. But Grammy Sylvia’s silver and gold angel was the crowning glory. Now heavy with the scents of Christmas, her house was Santa central. She used to call all of her children and grandchildren over to her house to shape the warm cookies into a cozy gingerbread house. Blue, green and yellow M&M’s my cousins and I lodged across the roof to make Christmas lights while my grammy and sister drizzled sweet white icing along the sides, their version of snow. A rainbow of jelly beans danced along the walkway of the gingerbread house, lighting its path. Red and white candy canes in each corner were the highlight of our masterpiece. For us, this was heaven.
This gingerbread house was always the centrepiece of our Christmases and while it offered great eye candy, it represented so much more. Intricately kneading the dough represented our roots and knowing where we come from, building the house crumb by crumb was symbolic of building our family; one child at a time (except for my cousin who had twins lol) and decorating the house with the sticky, but sweet candies was our way of sprinkling love, acknowledging the hard times, celebrating our accomplishments and pointing to the light in all of us.
Grammy Sylvia is no longer with us and this Christmas will be the first we celebrate without her. But the memories we have, the lessons she imparted and the stories she told (oh she was a storyteller! whew!) will go nowhere.
This year has been a rough one for many in The Bahamas with so many deaths recorded each month. 117 murders (to date), countless other unreported deaths due to natural causes, sickness etc. Many families, mine included, will have to go through this Christmas grieving the loss of a family member or loved one. I came across this website that helps families to cope and I wanted to share these tips with you.
Ways to externalize the loss – give it a time and a place
- A prayer before the holiday dinner, about your loved one.
- Light a candle for your loved one.
- Create an online tribute for them.
- Share a favorite story about your loved one.
- Have everyone tell a funny story about your loved one.
- At your place of worship remember them in a prayer.
- Chat online about them.
Have a Plan A/Plan B – Plan A is you go to the Christmas Day or Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends. If it doesn’t feel right, have your plan B ready. Plan B may be a movie you both liked or a photo album to look through or a special place you went to together. Many people find that when they have Plan B in place, just knowing it is there is enough.
Cancel the holiday all together. Yes, you can cancel the holiday. If you are going through the motions and feeling nothing, cancel them. Take a year off. They will come around again. For others, staying involved with the holidays is a symbol of life continuing. Let the holiday routine give you a framework during these tough times.
Try the holidays in a new way. Grief has a unique way of giving us the permission to really evaluate what parts of the holidays you enjoy and what parts you don’t. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays in grief. You have to decide what is right for you and do it. You have every right to change your mind, even a few times. Friends and family members may not have a clue how to help you through the holidays and you may not either.
It is very natural to feel you may never enjoy the holidays again. They will certainly never be the same as they were. However, in time, most people are able to find meaning again in the traditions as a new form of the holiday spirit grows inside of them. Even without grief, our friends and relatives often think they know how our holidays should look, what “the family” should and shouldn’t do.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Do be gentle with yourself and protect yourself.
- Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul and your loss.
- Do allow time for the feelings.
- Don’t keep feelings bottled up. If you have 500 tears to cry don’t stop at 250.
- Do allow others to help. We all need help at certain times in our lives.
- Don’t ask if you can help or should help a friend in grief. Just help. Find ways; invite them to group events or just out for coffee.
- Do, in grief, pay extra attention to the children. Children are too often the forgotten grievers.
Sadly, I haven’t seen a gingerbread house in years, much less have I made one. Growing up kind of robs you so much of life’s little pleasures. But alas, memories never fade. Whether you experienced your loss 20 years ago or 20 days ago, I’m sure the sting forever remains, but while living life without the ones we love is hard, it’s not impossible.
RIP to my Grammy Sylvia.