Christmastime in D.C. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

My dad died a couple days before Thanksgiving last year, and my BFF died a week later. Thank God for stores and credit cards. That’s how I coped. But this year I had to do better, and doing better began by talking about it.

“I guess you miss your dad,” I said recently to a dear friend who lost her dad a few years ago.

“Yes! she said. “But you know what? He gave us the best Christmases! I mean anything you asked for, he made sure you got it. If you wanted a bike, when you woke up Christmas morning he had your bike already put together standing next to the tree. A pair of skates? You got them.”

Her excitement pierced through the phone like a ray of sun. “Just the thought of believing, growing up knowing that you can get what you ask for. That’s the gift right there!” I said. “I mean life might teach you otherwise, but you’ll always have that experience from your dad to draw on.”

Her excitement shook me loose from grief’s grip for a moment. She said her older siblings had envied her because she seemed to get more than they had gotten growing up. Their parents simply had more resources by the time she was born and fewer demands on their resources since the older kids were out of the house, she explained. We had some good laughs from her trip down memory lane.

She talked about family feasts and talents shows in the living room before the family grew so big they had to rent a community center to celebrate. They spent whole days together, enjoying brunch then an early dinner followed by hours of laughter and partying.

I remembered my dad taking me, my brother and two of our cousins on a shopping spree at Toys “R” Us one year. That was before his flock grew from two children to ten and our material gifts gave way to – well, non-material gifts of abundant laughter, lifelong friendships and shared memories.

I remember my best friend, who was also my aunt. She was only six years older but she brought our extended families together in the fellowship hall at her church. For at least ten years she and her children hosted close to 200 of us – aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws – for a pre-Thanksgiving pot-luck dinner the Saturday before Thanksgiving.We included a program featuring family talent and family history shared on stage in the fellowship hall.

I remember my16-year-old brother, who died two days before Thanksgiving more than ten years ago. My fondest holiday memory with him was the year when he was about 11 and he and his twin found all their Christmas stash in my closet. I had hit a going-out-of business sale at a toy store where I lived in Virginia Beach. They would have Ninja Turtle everything for Christmas.

I stashed in all in a closet, giddy about the grand presentation I would make on Christmas morning. But they were visiting me during the summer and found it – and pleaded for a few of the toys pronto. I still get a hearty smile remembering his joy when he opened the other Ninja Turtle toys on Christmas day.

These fond memories help me handle missing my loved ones. Experts offer other tips, such as these tips offered by the Hospice Foundation of America:

Plan for the approaching holidays. Be aware that this might be a difficult time for you. It’s not uncommon to feel out of sorts with the celebratory tone of the season. The additional stress may affect you emotionally, cognitively, and physically; this is a normal reaction. It is important to be prepared for these feelings.

Recognize that holidays won’t be the same. If you try to keep everything as it was, you’ll be disappointed. Doing things a bit differently can acknowledge the change while preserving continuity with the past. Different menus, changing decorations, attending a different service, or even celebrating in a different location may provide that slight but significant shift. However, be aware that your feelings will still be there. If you decide on a change, be careful not to isolate yourself.

The holidays may affect other family members. Talk over your plans. Respect their choices and needs, and compromise if necessary. Everyone (including you) should participate in ways that are comfortable.

Avoid additional stress. Decide what you really want to do, and what can be avoided. Perhaps cards don’t need to be sent, or shopping can be done by phone or catalog.

Follow Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery on Twitter at: @Sonsyrea.

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