Grieving at the Holidays

I’ve written about Jane several times before. She and I have been friends since we were 14. Her birthday is coming up on the 19th, two days from now. And yesterday, her dad passed away after a long struggle with Parkinson’s. I didn’t know him very well – probably as well as she knew my father. But he and his wife – I know her only as Mrs. Oh – were always very kind to me, especially considering that I was a white Catholic girl whose lifelong friendship with their daughter could only have perplexed them.

Parkinson’s is an insidious illness that drains the whole family. Though there were certainly aspects of the martyr in Jane’s mom’s insistence on doing virtually all of the caregiving herself, she was also, as Jane described her in her FB post announcing her father’s passing, a warrior. Mrs. Oh was, in her younger life, a nurse. Her husband, Jane’s father, was an OB-GYN. It must have been terribly difficult for him to become the patient after all those years of having been the medical authority.

As I was thinking about how much more challenging it is to lose someone – even somebody suffering with a long, debilitating illness – right around the holidays, I remembered writing an article for a small, bimonthly local health journal a number of years ago. It was the first Christmas after my father passed away, and I recall it resulting from our family’s efforts to find a new normal. Here’s a bit of an excerpt from the article, originally printed in the Arizona Networking News, Volume 25, Number 6, December 2006/January 2007.

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it is particularly difficult when the loss occurs near the holidays. Whether it has been one year or 20 years, you are likely to feel the loss much more acutely during the holiday season.

Although everyone grieves differently, it is important that you be kind to yourself and find the best way to cope with your emotions at this intense time of year. What can you do if eggnog and ho-ho-ho are just not on your radar during this festive season?

  • Acknowledge your feelings.
  • Cry, if you need to cry. 
  • Get support.
  • Offer a prayer, blessing or good thought for your loved one. 
  • Light a candle.
  • Leave an empty chair at the dining table. 
  • Give a gift or donation in their name.
  • Write a letter to the person you lost. 
  • Do not be afraid to talk to your loved one.
  • Begin a new tradition. 
  • Create a memory book.

This is just an excerpt of my original article. Read the whole thing here.

The interesting thing to me, as I reread that article, is that I didn’t specifically touch on loss through adoption at all. I have truly been blessed to have experienced a relatively easy, predominantly open adoption. As a result, I never really went through holiday anguish of the sort other birthmoms understandably experience. I mentioned in a prior post the only time I remember having a significant sense of adoption grief/loss during the holidays – it was during a holiday party we threw for the employees’ children one year during my first tenure at Lehman Brothers. It’s not that I didn’t experience grief, loss, or regret – but those episodes have been blessedly brief and infrequent. I credit that to all the talk therapy I was able to do with my wonderful Spence-Chapin counselor, Mary Weidenborner.

Now that I’m on the thought train, I’m sure sad, grieving, and struggling birthmoms will remain on my mind for the duration of the holiday season. I send each and every one of you heartfelt love, blessings, and hope that the pain will recede and that you find a way to celebrate and enjoy the holidays in spite of the sorrow.

As for Jane and her dad: Godspeed, Dr. Oh! Love you like crazy, Jane!!

no more pain

Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

I Declare This Season of Celebration Officially Open

I Declare This Season of Celebration Officially Open

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted. Haven’t forgotten you, little blog – and dear readers, whoever and wherever you may be. But I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. Procrastination is its manifestation – the challenge is that it disguises itself as crocheting. What that means is that I can – and do – rationalize the procrastination by telling myself that I’m not wasting time because I’m creating something beautiful. In most cases, this is true. I’m actually a pretty talented crocheter. The problem is that I’m not creating the things I feel I’m really supposed to be creating. Crocheting – regardless of how beautiful the resulting item – is not the best use of my time right now.

Another thing I’ve been doing a lot of is playing a word game on my phone, even as I am aware of the ridiculously addictive nature of screens. Who knows what kinds of subliminal messaging I’m allowing my brain to receive as strive to make as many words as I can out of this?


Again, I tell myself I’m doing something useful by building my vocabulary and stimulating my brain – neither of which is untrue. But I’ve reached and surpassed Level 700. I won’t calculate how many minutes I spent getting there, as that would just depress me further and could actually result in my climbing under the covers and staying there for a day or two.

So I’m not sure it’s a holiday funk, because it feels like it’s been going on a lot longer than that. I am certain that some of it is grief – it’s going on three years, but Corina’s absence can still be such a difficult thing to reconcile. She was never much for the holidays, but it’s the famliest of family times, and our family has shrunk so much over these last four years. Now it’s just John, his stepmom, and I.

I still delight in the time I got to spend with Eric and his parents this past summer. We talked during that visit of his coming – with his best friend and Meaghan – to Phoenix in January for the big annual golf tournament. They were all so excited. Clock’s a ticking, though, and I haven’t heard anything further about those plans. The grown-up thing to do would be to call or text him and ask him directly if he’s still planning to come. But the hesitant, tippy-toe birthmom part of me fears the answer is no, and since I’d rather not know that just yet, I keep on waiting – ahem, procrastinating – to make that call or send that text message.

out of the dark

I was just re-reading a prior post where I mentioned The Grief Recovery Handbook. A friend gifted me another copy last week. It still sits in the canvas grocery bag in which I brought it home, on the dining room chair where I plopped it when I came in from that meeting. But I’m starting to feel that this funk – or grief – has stolen enough of my time and productivity and fitness and emotions. I probably need to crack the spine on that book and read it. It’s our first Christmas in our new house, and John and I have commented many times how blessed we are and how much we love our home. So as of right now, I publicly declare this season of celebration open. If grief again shows her head, I will welcome her, comfort her for the moment, and then politely ask her to take her leave. What we resist persists – but that doesn’t mean I need to coddle or wallow in the muck.

I was reminded earlier today that Christmas lights have cheered me since I was a tiny girl – so I guess it’s time to boil up some hot cocoa, load Pandora’s Rockin’ Holidays Radio on the car stereo, and hit the road. Time to do some holiday self-care.

holiday lights

Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

Easter Traditions

Easter Traditions

Today is our first Easter without John’s grandmother, Mary Kelemen. She was an amazing lady, and though she slowed down in the last few of her 93+ years, to the end, Easter was the holiday we continued to celebrate at her home, with formal dinner, fixings, and eveything that entailed. She was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church, and their Easter is often on a different day than most Christians celebrate it. This year, for instance, today is regular Easter, while the Russian church does not celebrate Easter until next Sunday, April 8. The latest I recall celebrating Easter with Mary was May 5.


A couple years ago, I was let in on the family secret: the recipe for hrudka, a traditional Slovak dish made and served specifically for the Easter meal. It’s a sweet egg cheese – and I never liked it. Let it be stated that I may be the fussiest eater on the planet, something I never realized until I married into John’s family. “You don’t like that, either?” they’d exclaim through the years, as I just shook my head apologetically.

Side note: the Kelemens refer to this hrudka dish as (phonetic pronunciation) yay-ech-nick, yet I cannot find that word on the web anywhere – perhaps because I have no idea how to spell it. Yet site after site after site uses these exact words to describe its name: “It goes by various names, including hrudka, cirak, sirok, sirecz, and on and on.”

Each component of Mary’s Easter meal had a meaning behind it, coming out of the Czech tradition:

Paska: a special Easter sweet bread, rich in eggs and butter. This is symbolic of the risen Christ, known to many Christians as “the Bread of Life.”

Baked ham: symbolic of the great joy and abundance of the Easter season.

Kielbasa (pronounced kil-bah-see in the Kelemen house, for some unknown reason): a spicy, garlicky, smoked pork sausage that originated in Poland and the Ukraine. It symbolizes God’s favor and generosity.

Red beet horseradish: symbolic of the Passion of Christ, yet typically sweetened with a little sugar since, after all, Christ did rise again.

Salt: used for flavor and to serve as a reminder to Christians of their duty to others.

butter lamb

Butter, molded into the shape of a lamb (ours always had cloves for the eyes): symbolic of the goodness of Christ which Christians should exhibit toward all other living creatures.

Yay-ech-nick: egg-based cheese made into a “ball” and cut into slices. It’s supposed to be served with bitter herbs that indicate the moderation with which Christians should approach all things, but we never had the herbs, so that point was a bit lost on us, perhaps.

Hard-boiled eggs: Mary had the coolest shrink-wraps for her eggs with amazing Russian patterns on them. She would tell us stories about her mom and her aunts painting the same designs by hand on actual eggshells. The eggs symbolize the rebirth of Christ.

Potato salad: not a Czech tradition, but a family one, as John’s stepmom, Gayle, makes the most amazing potato salad you’ve ever tasted.

My family did not have quite as many Easter traditions, at least as they relate to the meal. Every year, we did attend all three days of the Triduum services, the days, beginning with Holy Thursday, leading up to Easter Sunday.

Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper. In the Catholic tradition, Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet before the start of that meal is reenacted during Holy Thursday Mass. Twelve parishoners are selected to be seated at the front of the church as the priests literally bathe their feet. Our family had that honor on two occasions during my growing up years.

Good Friday is the day that commemorates Christ’s death on the cross – the holiest times being noon to 3 p.m., recognizing the time he is supposed to have actually spent on the cross before dying. Good Friday is the only day of the year when no Mass is said anywhere in the world – in honor of Christ being gone for those three days. Most churches have a Stations of the Cross ceremony during the afternoon, where the entire Passion of Christ is reenacted through a prayerful walk around the church, stopping at statues or paintings that depict various events throughout that time of Christ’s life.

Though Easter is supposed to be the Big Day, Holy Saturday is really the Catholic church’s Super Bowl: it is the day all the new people who have been studying and preparing to become Catholic for the last six months to a year are baptized and receive communion for the first time. In college, I sponsored a gal to convert to Catholicism. Mary also sponsored a woman who converted to the Russian church, so we had that in common.

You get a sense of how deep the theological indoctrination runs – and not necessarily in a bad way – in that I have not attended these services for more than a dozen years, yet I can still describe them with great detail.

My family’s Easter Sunday traditions were milder: an egg hunt in our backyard, followed by a midday meal featuring a ham. This continued even into our adulthood, as my mom really loved the searching and finding game. Who knew what happened to the Easter baskets after the hunt was over, so each year, I would head to the thrift store to get new ones for all of us. Mom’s was, without a doubt, the blingiest basket I could find.

I’m not sure I ever heard the Stanfields’ Easter traditions described. If I did, it’s the one detail I failed to commit to memory. I imagine it involves Mass on Sunday morning and a large family meal. I do know that my kiddo has taken after me in the sweet tooth department, so he probably loves the candy and jelly beans.

Speaking of Easter candy… my sister Corina also had a sweet tooth, and a few years ago, she sent her daughter, Samantha, to the store a day or two after Easter to grab a couple bags of discounted Easter candy. She gave Samantha a twenty, expecting her to return with about $15 in change. Things did not go well when Sam came back with a giant bag laden with every candy imaginable and no change. “They were all on sale and I couldn’t decide, so I got one of each,” was her explanation.

Everything being different this year, John, his stepmom, and I have decided to take ourselves out for Easter brunch. If you ever decide to try this, I recommend making your reservation before 9 p.m. on Good Friday, as most people do. Your choices will be (understandably) limited if you wait. It will be quiet, but nice. I’m sure we’ll express gratitude for the abundance with which we’ve been blessed – but we’ll also acknowledge all the people recently gone from our table.

Wishing you Easter blessings and a beautiful spring!

Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.