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Still Buying Christmas Presents.


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For as long as I can remember I've really enjoyed buying my dad Christmas presents every year. It was a fun challenge because my dad's really hard to shop for. I didn't just buy one or two; I bought him up to six presents every year. I just loved the look on his face as he opened up the presents. I didn't even care about what I was getting. The best part of Christmas was the look on his face.

I still bought him gifts this year. He left us only a few weeks ago, and it just seems wrong not to get him something. :( He was so looking forward to Christmas with the family. He really wanted to get out of the hospital for the holidays.

Does anyone else do this? I know it must seem very strange. Mom and I put the wrapped gifts on his side of the night table. We aren't celebrating Christmas this year except for this. It's too painful. We expect a miracle to happen. Like God will have mercy on us, turn back time, and bring him back, and mom and I will be better people, having learned the all-important lesson that family is #1, not petty problems. I put the presents there in case He might have mercy on me. :( I just want to see dad open his presents.

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Dear Em,

You asked, “Does anyone else do this?” Whether others “do this” or not, I want to say a few words to you and your mother that may help you to understand why you are doing this.

It seems to me that buying Christmas presents for your father and “expecting a miracle to happen” are ways that you and your mother are handling the completely unacceptable fact that your father has died. When we are faced with a stressor we cannot change, such as the death of a loved one, denial or avoidance can be a highly adaptive strategy. It isn’t that you really don’t know that your father has died – after all, you wouldn’t be here, posting messages on a grief site, if you didn’t know that this death has happened. Rather, what’s happening now is that this is so big that you simply cannot let yourself believe it, because your mind cannot fully process it yet.

In grief, denial is an important protective mechanism that helps us to manage our feelings and to give us moments away from our pain. It helps us to cope and to hold onto the belief that we will survive. It enables us to pace ourselves, letting in only as much as we can handle, just a little bit at a time. Letting this in all at once would overwhelm us emotionally.

Denial serves a useful function, especially in the beginning. It is your mind’s way of protecting you from more pain. Your brain doesn’t “get it” because it is loaded with memories of your father. Although your father has died, he continues to exist in your memory and in the memory of others. Denial is a problem only if it is used deliberately over a long period of time to avoid the reality of death or to escape the emotions resulting from a loss. These feelings can manifest as insomnia, fatigue or chronic depression.

What usually happens is that, as denial continues to fade, the reality of this loss begins slowly to sink in, and all the feelings you’ve been denying eventually will start bubbling to the surface. Gradually you begin to search for understanding, which is indicated in your questioning how this death happened and why.

As you and your mother connect with the reality of your dad’s death in the weeks and months ahead – however gradually – I encourage you both to take time to consider the following:

  • Are you pretending that things are all right when they are not? Try to be more honest with yourselves and others.
  • Do you keep busy with tasks unrelated to the death of your father? Distractions may keep you occupied but don’t help you move toward resolution.
  • Are you facing up to the truth of your pain? What would happen if you opened up the protective shell you’ve built around yourself?
  • Have you taken a hard look at what is gone and what remains? Try taking stock, counting, reciting and recounting what's been lost.
  • Can you face the fact of this death squarely, by naming it, spelling it out and talking it out? Try replacing delicate phrases such as left and gone away with more truthful terms like died and dead.
  • Try some confrontations and experiences to jolt yourself out of your denial. Confront the reminders rather than avoiding them — both pleasurable and painful: people, places and situations. Reread old letters. Smell a favorite cologne. Look at photographs. Go to church. Listen to songs. Gather meaningful sayings and phrases. Visit special places. Wrap yourself in your father’s clothing.
  • Let others (especially children) see your tears and participate in your sorrow. It shows them how much you care and assures them that it's all right to feel sadness when you lose someone you love.

Your goal in dealing with denial is to acknowledge the truth of this death and to accept the reality that your father is dead.

Denial must be dissolved eventually, but there is no specific time frame. Be concerned only if it interferes with your ability to function normally, in which case, as others have already said, you may find it very helpful to meet with someone in person for individual grief counseling.

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I actually bought my mom a present this year. She has been gone 2 years. I didn't really buy it "for her"...its just when I saw it, it would have been the perfect Xmas gift for her...so, I bought it for myself. She collected Santas and I found a beautiful carved and painted wooden box, inside were 3 carved and painted Santas. They are beautiful. I have them sitting out and it makes me think of her everytime I walk by and I can picture her opening the gift and loving it and that makes me smile.

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Tom's birthday was in Nov. When he got sick we had been looking at new vanity tops. He wanted something like Corian that was all one piece. We had picked something out but never got it made because with his chemo, tests etc, it was hard to find time for them to come measure. Then it just didn't seem important. After he died I could have cared less because I seldom use that bathroom anyway. This fall I decided that it was something that was important to him so I ordered it and it was put in about 10 days before his birthday. On his birthday I just sat in there and talked with him and told him I hope he approved. Everytime I go in there I think of him and his counter top.

For Christmas I usually donate to certain charities and I also got something for the grave site.

So yes people still buy presents, maybe just not the traditional ones you were talking about this year.

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