When we think of the holidays, we think of a joyous, wonderful time spent with family and friends. However, when you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it may not feel warm and jolly. Holidays are filled with warm memories of happy times so you may feel as if your pain and grief are intensified against the backdrop of the holiday season. Grief is a universal feeling and there is no right way to grieve. However, there are some strategies you may find helpful in dealing with your feelings.
Start a new tradition. Some people find comfort in familiar traditions; others find it difficult to proceed with ones that their loved ones were a part of. Whether it’s lighting a candle, leaving an empty chair at the table or saying a few words about your departed loved one, it can help with your feelings of sadness by feeling like you are including them in your holiday celebration. It can also open the possibility for others to talk about their loss as well. Changes in your traditions are ok, it is an integral part of family life, and we should allow ourselves some fluidity when it comes to making traditions.
Include your loved one in your holiday practices; in whatever way feels right to you. There are many different ways to honor your loved one so that you feel they still have a place in your heart during the holidays. Make a donation to a charity in their name. Buy a present that they would’ve liked and donate it to an organization. If you are feeling ambitious, "Adopt" a less-fortunate family during the holidays, whether through your church or other local charitable organization and help make their holiday brighter in memory of your loved one. Visit their grave; bring a grave blanket, wreath, poinsettia, or other holiday item. To feel like you are including them in your gift giving create and give memorial gifts to family members, friends and others who knew your beloved. Gift ideas include personalized silicone wristbands, jewelry, vases, window decals, mugs, shirts. The possibilities are endless and customizable to be exactly what feels right to you.
Do what feels right for you. Try to remind yourself that this year is going to be different. Try not to put yourself on autopilot to get through the holidays; doing so may put you at risk of being blindsided with grief. Make adjustments to your holiday plans to best suit your emotional ability to handle them. Decide if you can handle these same responsibilities you’ve had in the past. A store-bought pie is easier and can be just as delicious as a homemade pie. Order presents online instead of going to stores. Take it easy.
Give yourself space to grieve. Experiencing happiness is not disrespectful to your loved one. It is also ok to be sad and cry, crying may help make you feel better. Dedicate time to be present with your grief. Cry, scream - it may feel good to get it out. People experience grief in different ways, it is ok to let yourself feel different emotions. Remember, you are going to get through this.
Take care of yourself. When you experience grief; the feelings of sadness can come in waves. Take time for yourself. During the craziness of the holidays make sure you’re nourishing your mind, your body and spirit. Physical exercise can often be a good antidote for depression. Writing in a journal can provide a healthy outlet for you to vent your feelings. Take a spa day. Buy yourself something you’ve always wanted.
Get support when you need it. Surround yourself with those friends and relatives who understand that you may be going through a difficult time during the holidays and who will let you talk openly about what you are feeling. Identify those who will encourage you to be yourself and provide support. Sometimes it can be tough to take the plunge to talk to a therapist; but it can be extremely beneficial to your healing. Connect with other loved ones and friends. Talk about your loss with other people who may be going through the same thing. Our website has wonderful information that can guide you to a support group, as well as extensive resources in our support library.
The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one. Plan ahead, get support from others and take it easy.