By Terez Hartmann
There IS a Way Forward, Even After Loss (and Yes, Even During the Holidays)
Dick Van Dyke, the celebrated American actor known for his work in “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “Bye Bye Birdie”, “Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang”, “Diagnosis Murder”, and the Disney classic film, “Mary Poppins”, had amassed multiple lifetimes-worth of experience by the time he turned 80-plus. Then, he experienced a myriad personal challenges, the passing of his grand-daughter and multiple friends, the death of his first wife, Margie Willett (the mother of his children and long-time friend, who passed due to cancer in 2008), and the transition of his then life partner of 30 years, Michelle Triola, (also due to cancer). With such a full and successful life already, combined with the pain of these losses, no one would have blamed him if he had chosen to withdraw from life or star in his own exit scene shortly thereafter. Yet…
…At 97 years young (and soon to celebrate his 98th Birthday on December 13), he is celebrating 11-plus years of a joy-filled marriage to an amazing, vibrant woman and has added more film credits to his resume, including both “Night at the Museum” films, the 2018 Mary Poppins reboot, “Mary Poppins Returns” and the 2022 documentary “The 90s Club.” He goes to the gym every day, volunteers and contributes to multiple causes, continues to sing and dance his way through life (literally), and finds so many ways to keep laughing and sharing that incomparable smile of his with all who have the honor to be in his presence.
Though I still have many years to add to my life (hopefully) before having the honor of joining the 90s (or even 100s) club, I have most certainly heard the bittersweet melodies of holiday music for several years and felt the echo of many ghosts of Christmases past—especially after moving through my first round of holidays without my mom—THE queen of all-things-Christmas.
In all honesty, the past 10-plus years of Decembers prior to her passing were anything BUT ideal, but her shift into the ethers in 2021 stirred many childhood memories of the magic my mom always infused into “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, which brought with it a potent mixture of both smiles and tears. Yet, I know for sure the LAST thing my mom (and mom-plus [mother-in-law Bonnie], dad, aunt, brother, daughter, cousins, grandparents, family, friends—and all those I’ve had the chance to know and love who have joined our team of angels—would want for me is to spend each December hiding away in a crumpled ball on the bathroom floor, in the dark, with all the sounds of the season on mute…
…So like Dick, I too decided that somehow, some way, I would move through grief and get back to the business of LIVING: And as the 1st of December approached, I resolved to honor the natural ebb and flow of emotions in the best way I could and continue to reach for being able to gracefully receive some much-needed tidings of comfort and joy.
Below is what I did to move through grief and create moments of peace—and, yes, even joy—during one of the most emotionally charged times of the year. May these ideas be catalysts for YOU to experience happier holidays, too.
1. Allow Space (Don’t Over-schedule)
Grief is like the flight path of a butterfly: It can take many unexpected twists and turns and present itself at what may be “inopportune” moments in virtually ANY setting, so do allow time to be in your own space to process as needed and, if possible, spend time with family and friends who are truly loving, understanding and flexible because plans can and WILL change when sorting through grief. Though it can be tempting to “over-schedule” in an effort to avoid thinking and feeling, allowing for a balance of unscheduled time—while still engaging in life—really paved the way for the lighter heart and spirit I am feeling this holiday season.
2. Feel, Accept, Move On
Repression and suppression often result in regression, so it is far better to express and RELEASE in order to allow for healing, discovering new perspectives, and embracing personal evolution. The process truly looks and feels different for everyone and takes however long it takes, but, in my experience, allowing the flow of emotion sooner rather than later is the first step to being able to shift your heart and mind into a state of peace, and to resume forward motion.
During my journey, EVERY period of emotional intensity ultimately cleared the path for a time of calm and a desire for rest, which was then followed by a lighter heart and mind. But it is important to note that it is good to strive for a balance between grieving and getting on with life: Then and now, I let the emotional rhythms of the moment play themselves out to a point of completion, but I find that getting my hands into something engaging, constructive and productive—as soon as possible—is often the best medicine for my soul.
3. Create NEW Traditions
The first Thanksgiving without my mom, my husband and I spent the day hiking, and this year we are collaborating with some fab friends for a Thanksgiving potluck and karaoke party. For the 2021 December holidays, we decided to honor many Celtic traditions and practices of our ancient ancestors by hosting our first ever solstice dinner, and for the Christmas holidays, we started a new tradition (which we are continuing this year and beyond) of traveling and experiencing new places and spaces that have their own unique flavor of holiday festivities. Did these stop me from missing my mom during the holidays? No. But it did shift my focus, interrupt old patterns, and open me up to new paths for connecting with my heritage and cultivating new relationships and even deeper connections with family and long-time friends.
Rather than spending December in a place of sheer coping, changing the energy and staying open to new experiences brought the unexpected gift of feeling actual, tangible JOY.
4. Honor the Ones you Love
I have long been a fan of up-cycling—especially when it comes to history and tradition. So even though we introduced many new things in 2021, I still honored my mom in multiple ways during the holiday season and intend to keep these traditions alive. For example:
For the first time EVER, I actually made sweet potato pie (with whipped cream on top!)—one of my mom’s favorite holiday treats.
When we hosted our solstice dinner, we “reserved” a seat at the table for her.
In true Santa-Mom fashion, we went all out with our Christmas decorations at home, brought and decorated a small tree that we placed in our hotel room, and ensured there were many gifts for “the kids” (my brother and sister-in-law) to open on Christmas morning.
I knew I could not bring back what was, but even with the layer of bittersweetness, it still felt SO good to integrate that part of her essence through “upcycling” some of the generosity and holiday magic that my mom was known for.
5. Participate and Connect
Many people tend to isolate themselves when sorting through grief—especially during this time of the year—and, sadly, some choose to stay in that loop for many years hence. While it is good, healthy and encouraged to carve out solo time to process, there are times when support and 3D human interaction can be the thing that brings the spark of light back into your life.
Along with creating new traditions, I decided that it was more than okay to reach out as needed, to let more people “in” and stay open to allowing more new people and experiences in my life.
Life will always continue to move forward, so I have found that moving forward with it can provide all kinds of new opportunities for greater serenity, connection, fun, expansion, adventure and love. Just like Dick Van Dyke’s example, I truly believe that if we keep our heart and mind open and in motion, life can and will present new doors, new paths, and even a little holiday (and EVERY day) magic.
The Bottom Line: Happier Holidays
Thank you, mom—and everyone who came before me —for the seeds of joy, magic and wonder you planted in my soul. And thank you Dick—for continuing to be such an inspiration with your message of continuing to “Keep Moving” (the title of one of his amazing books), find new reasons to smile and to fully embrace MY journey Onward, Upward & Forward to happier holidays.
It is my wish and intention that you, too, move through and beyond grief, find ever-increasing moments of peace, continue to let love in—in whatever form feels good to you—and to stay open to the beautiful bonuses, awesome upgrades, and many sensational surprises that the holiday season—and life—are waiting to share with you.
Perhaps that is THE very thing the ones we love would most want us to do?
Much love and wishing you Happier Holidays now and always,
Terez “Firewoman” Hartmann is a Visionary Creative & top-rated instructor, Law of Attraction & Allowing YOUR Success specialist, published author, speaker, singer-songwriter, recording & performing artist & composer, “Catalyst for Fab-YOU-lous” and true Renaissance Woman who has already helped over 10,000 students in over 130 countries allow success and live life on FIRE. She is deeply passionate about helping other Powerful Creatives and Leading-Edge Thinkers live unique, empowered lives on their terms by cultivating the courage to dream, to express themselves boldly & authentically, and to focus Onward, Upward and Forward into new possibilities. http://www.terezfirewoman.com
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For more tools to move Onward, Upward & Forward through and beyond grief:
Onward, Upward & Forward MASTERCLASS: Finding Future Focus while Coping with Grief
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Onward, Upward & Forward: Focus Mastery + Breakthrough Life Coach 2-in-1 Certification Course