What Do You Say, Dear?

Author: TAPS

Handling Holiday Invitations 

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The winter holiday season arrives each year just when we may feel like pulling the covers over our heads and ignoring it altogether. Invitations to parties and festive events arrive like clockwork. We are torn because we are not sure if we are ready to celebrate, and we long for the days before our loved one died. Here are some coping strategies on how to deal with invitations, shared by members of the TAPS Online Community.

From Merry, surviving mother of Wesley: The first year I was able to say, "Let me check my calendar" or "I would love to attend. I'll pencil that in and get back to you.” If I did attend, I made sure to give myself an exit plan in case I felt uncomfortable. The second year is just about over and I probably would say the same thing and have the same boundaries in place, too. If an activity is short—two hours or less—I can handle that. Otherwise, I tend to need to move on to something else.

From Joanne, surviving spouse of Ken and author of Military Widow: It’s perfectly okay to say, “Thanks for thinking of me. I’m not sure I’m ready for a (fill in the occasion) right now. Can I take a rain check for another time?” The most important thing to remember is that we do not have to provide a personal explanation. If a well-intentioned friend or family member presses for one, we can simply say, “I’m sorry, but I’d prefer not to talk about it right now.” You have the right to provide explanations and information on your own terms.

From Diane, surviving mother of Caleb: I was always that person who had a hard time saying no. After the death of my son, I thought I should make myself go out and do things. Sometimes I'd find that it wasn’t the right thing for me. I would struggle through and come home thinking, "Why did I make myself do that?”

I've learned to listen to my heart a little better. At our county fair, I usually go to the military commemoration night. This year I didn't feel comfortable going, and told a friend I'd meet her there if I was up to it. I didn't go. The next day I found out a paratrooper holding a flag opened the event. I was glad I had listened to my heart. I wasn’t ready to be surprised with that since my son was killed in a paratrooper accident.

I try not to commit to certain things ahead of time, because when the day comes, I may not want to go. Sometimes I will politely decline saying, "Thank you for thinking of me. I'm not really ready to do that." Or "Thanks, but this is a tough time, and I think I'll pass, but call again. Who knows? Next time I may be okay." If I'm with other people and need to be alone, I just excuse myself and go somewhere to be alone. I’ve found that sometimes it's necessary to have a few minutes to cry, regroup, and just breathe.

From Mary-Ann, surviving mother of Blake: Most people who ask me to do something are aware of what has gone on in my life, so I feel comfortable enough to tell them, “Maybe another time.” Or “Today is not one of my better days.” Last week I planned to go to a funeral to be there for my friend whose husband died of cancer. Then I realized he was retired military. I just didn't think I could handle a flag-draped casket, so I decided to help with the reception instead. I feel she understood since she knew I was working in the background. I've learned that if I try to push myself too hard when I'm not feeling strong enough, I end up falling apart or being depressed for days. It is just not worth it to me. I hope others understand.