All posts by MaryMac

MaryMac is a grief and bereavement specialist, host of The Mary Mac Show podcast, award-winning author, speaker, executive grief coach, consultant and founder of The Foundation For Grieving Children, Inc., the first national public charity of its kind which raises funds to assist, counsel, comfort and educate children, teens, young adults and their families after a loved one's death.

After the Family Meeting

So you’ve gathered everyone together and you’ve courageously listened to all the viewpoints about whether to ‘Christmas or Not to Christmas’.

You got more than you bargained for…some want the whole works, some want a condensed version, some want nothing at all. Now what?

It’ll be somewhere in the middle.

Those who want it all, will understand it’s just too overwhelming for you. Those that want nothing will need to honor that the person who died would want you to still live your life. And those who wanted something less than was ideal, are the compromisers of the bunch and thank God for them.

Now consider the list:

  • Tree
  • Decorations
  • Baking
  • Cooking
  • Shopping for gifts/food
  • Entertaining
  • Invitations/Events in the community
  • Cleaning/Painting
  • Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Dinner

Take this list, and add to it if need be, and separate into four columns.

First column is the task (above), second column is how you usually handle this task, third column (most important) is ‘How could I do this differently’ and fourth column is ‘Who can I get to help me with this?’

Now that you have a sense of what everyone in the household wants, develop the answers to these questions on paper, let it sit a bit, then revise again. It’s a very interesting exercise which will soon show just how much time and energy we normally put into our traditions. It may be the cause of unnecessary stress at this point in our grieving process, so please take that into account.

Once you see it on paper, it can be much easier to reevaluate with family just what is ‘do-able’ this year.

To Christmas or Not to Christmas – That is the Question

Last evening as I was decorating and generally clearing away too many papers (perils of a writer), on the television came a 2002 Hallmark Channel movie entitled “A Christmas Visitor”.

It featured a couple whose son had been killed in the Gulf War and had received notification from the US Army on Christmas Eve. Consequently, over the last twelve years, it seems this family had decided to forgo any Christmas celebrations.

In the movie, the only surviving sibling, this young man’s sister, was dealing with surgery to remove a lump in her breast. At the time of her brother’s death it seemed she couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.

In a tender moment, she revealed to her Mother how she always felt unloved growing up because their family, unlike her friends’ families, never celebrated Christmas after her brother John’s death. She believed that by not putting up a tree, decorating the house, etc. that her parents were indirectly telling her that they loved her brother more than her.

Even the mother in the movie embraced the daughter and suddenly realized how selfish she had been in her own overwhelming grief that she hadn’t taken into account how it would affect her daughter or husband.

When we have lost a significant person in our lives, especially a child or a spouse, our tendency as adults is to concentrate so much on our own grief and to dismiss the needs of the surviving children and family members.

If you are in this position now and you are struggling with whether to completely forego all the festivities of this season, please think twice. It’s very easy to just crawl under the covers and just want to disappear, but there may be others in your life who count on you to love them and nuture them and make life as ‘normal’ as it has been in the past.

No one can say this will be easy for you. It’s not. Actually, it’s probably one of the most selfless things you will ever do, especially if this is the first Christmas, Hanukkah or holiday season you are living through without that special someone.

But remember this, please…how you show love to those who are living, will go a long way to how your family survives this tragedy. Your surviving children, and perhaps your spouse, are screaming inside, “but I’m still alive…notice me…love me…look at me…pay attention to me…hold me…cuddle me…say nice things to me…give gifts to me…”

If you are either unsure or have already decided to not do Christmas, please reconsider. You don’t need to do all that you have in the past, but the very best start is to have a family meeting and let everyone express their feelings.

Once you have a clear understanding of what everyone feels, you’ll be able to rethink a more moderate strategy for what you can do and what you just can’t do. At least everyone will have a better sense of why you feel the way you do and they won’t feel so left out of the thinking process.

Christmas or Hanukkah might look a little different this year but it can still be celebrated.

Next post will look at alternative ways to do that…

Gratefulness – How May We Count the Ways

Thanksgiving, 2008 in the USA is a day when we count our blessings. It is a day of recognition for all we have and all we’ve experienced during the past year. It is a day of being exceedingly grateful for all the wonderful family members and friends who still grace our lives and who bring meaning into each day.

In the hectic pace of commerce, the child rearing, the hobbies and sports, and all the tasks of living, we frequently remember to simply say thank you.

Thank you to our lover, partner, spouse and friend for all they give us in life. All the tenderness, compassion, care and concern. The little things that mean so much like when you’re ill and they’re there for you. Or when you just need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to hear the entire story just so you can get past it.

Thank you to your other family members and friends who always seem to know when you really need a friend and they either appear or call just when necessary.

Thank you to your little ones who make life so special. They always seem to keep us laughing.

The reason we take time to celebrate and recognize and thank all those whom we love, is because they will ultimately come a time when they aren’t around to thank. And a life without regrets is simply the best way to live.

With gratefulness on this special day for all those I love and who love me…


On This Day: Honoring Veterans and Their Survivors

On this noteworthy occasion of Veterans Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Canada, I wish to acknowledge all the sacrifice of all those who have served in the military so that citizens, like myself, would have the ability to be free and safe.

How often we take for granted our security in this country. How often we forget to acknowledge that these amazing men and women have voluntarily, yes voluntarily, chose to go off to foreign lands and sometimes put themselves in harms way so that you and I could do what we do each and every day.

They give us the ability to have the freedom to choose how we wish to live our lives. Think about that for a moment. We get to choose what we do, how we speak about our government and it’s elected leaders, whether we act respectful or not, where we choose to live, how we wish to spend our money, etc.

Their sacrifice makes all that possible.

Yet there are some of these brave men and women who we will not be able to honor face to face any longer, as they have given the ultimate sacrifice. Instead we thank their widows and widowers, their bereaved parents and children. Theirs is a much different, yet difficult road. They grow up without their loved one near them to love and nuture them, comfort and console them.

One book which supports families after a military death is “Military Widow: A Survival Guide” written by two outstanding ladies, both grief and bereavement specialist, Joanne Steen and Regina Asaro.

I’m am so grateful for this book as it’s a long time coming. It was needed to be written as there is nothing else like it out there. It is so specific and gives practical and compassionate advice, laced with true-life stories of military families and their challenges after a loved one’s death.

If you are grieving a military death, I highly recommend your purchasing this book. Click here for details.

Meanwhile, always remember our military’s sacrifice for without them we would not know the freedoms we enjoy today.

Blessings to all.

Tunnel To Towers Run – Firefighter Stephen Siller

Regardless of the dreary, rainy day in NYC today, the spirits are extremely high as nearly 15,000 dedicated folks run from Brooklyn through the Battery Tunnel to the site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

It was there that Firefighter Stephen Siller, dedicated husband and father to five young children ranging from 10 years to 9 months, was killed on September 11th, 2001. To assist in the effort, he ran through the Battery Tunnel back into Manhattan with all his gear on.

To honor his memory and that of his fellow 342 New York City Firefighters killed that day in service to their fellow citizens, this race is held to raise funds for a Foundation in his name, started by his wife Sally and his family.

Nothing touches my soul more than other individuals who understand the great need to assist young children after the death of their parents or siblings. There are many organizations which only help 9/11 families but this organization helps children whose parents have died in any manner.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run ( raises funds to provide counseling and financial assistance to children under the age of 10, whose parents have died.

I admire and praise their efforts as folks who believe as I do that little ones grieve just like adults do, and we must care for them early, when they need us.

If you enjoy runs, I encourage your participation next year as they do wonderful work for young people.

And to the thousands of brave members of the FDNY, including my wonderful cousin Lt. Sal (Peter) Pastore in Inwood, please accept our sincere appreciation for everything you do to keep us safe everyday.