In the months after my mom died (nearly 10 years ago) I participated in a grief support group offered by a local hospice facility. One of the takeaways that has stayed with me across the years it to have a plan in advance.
That empowering thought—have a plan—enabled me to participate in planning activities, holiday events, self-care and much more. It gave me permission to choose. I could gauge my grief and my energy level and make decisions for myself. I could allow myself to notice which things might feel supportive and which might be draining. I could choose to participate or not. I could say “yes” to attend an event and then, on the day of the event say “no thank you” if I needed to.
The idea of having a plan became sort of a mantra for facing into all of the ‘firsts’ of the year after Mom died. As the holidays drew near, ‘have a plan’ meant exploring how to ‘do’ them differently. That particular year, my sisters and I made a plan to travel someplace we’d never been for the holidays. We just couldn’t imagine doing our first Christmas without our mom or our dad (who had passed away two years before.) Our plan was to do the holidays in another place.
What I’ve learned since that first holiday season is that not only does it help to have a plan and permission to change the plan if needed, it also helps to have a Plan B.
Here’s how Plan B came into being.
I was facing a challenging anniversary day. I had a plan to have lunch with a friend to break up the day. And, the friend fell ill and changed the plan. I felt totaled. I felt resentful too. After all, I trusted ‘have a plan’ to work for me! For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself to manage the difficult day. I wandered around. I tried to work. I wrote in my journal. I gave up and took the dog for a walk. And I decided that I need to make a Plan B list.
I needed a list of things to do when I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think of these things when I needed them the most. So a few days later I sat down and wrote a list of ideas. It contained things I could access easily; go to a movie, go to the library or a book store, take myself to Whole Foods and stroll around (something I usually didn’t have time for), get out fabrics or paints, cut out pictures from a magazine stash, phone a friend, take a nap, read poetry, take a hot bath… you get the idea.
I discovered that the Plan B list was just the thing for taking care of myself when I didn’t know what to do. I could look at that list and be reminded that I had creative things to tap into. The list offered me a quick and easy reference—I didn’t have to think too hard about what to do. I could just peek at the list for inspiration. I kept the list handy and added ideas to it when inspiration struck. Sometimes I just needed the list as a reminder—I didn’t always choose from the list instead it was a way to get moving in some direction.
‘Have a plan’ and the Plan B List have stood the test of time for me. I still draw on both of these strategies when I find myself navigating life’s changes and challenges. There are many losses—not just the death of a loved one—that can leave us feeling adrift. And those spaces are just right for pulling out the Plan B List and seeking comfort there.
What is your plan or on your Plan B List for this holiday season and beyond?