It’s the holiday season! A time where everyone is holly and jolly and rockin’ around the tree, right? Well for those who are gripping with grief the holiday season can be less than merry. After someone has died the holidays feel different. It can be difficult to muster up the energy to attend family gatherings. You may not feel like celebrating at all and would rather ignore the holidays altogether. These events and celebrations that were once filled with excitement and joyful memories may now exacerbate the fact that the person who died will not be there to celebrate with you.
Grief is messy. Grief is hard. Grief can be grueling at times. Learning how to cope with your grief can help you heal through the holidays.
Recognize that the holidays will be different.
The first step is admitting. Go ahead and tell yourself, “this year will not be the same.” And since we’re being honest here you might as well add in there, “…and this might suck.” Recognizing that the holidays will in fact be different is important so you aren’t setting yourself up for unrealistic expectations. Almost everything is different after someone dies. The holidays are no exception.
Honor your person.
We know that our person who died will not be physically present with us this holiday season, but we can still honor and recognize them as we celebrate. Have you been wondering what to do with their stocking? Hang it up, as per usual. Invite other family members and friends to write a memory about the person and drop it in their stocking. Maybe even add some photos. You can read these memories on your own or as a group if you’d like. If you don’t decorate with stockings or celebrate in this way you can do the same thing with a memory box! Other ideas for honoring your person during the holidays include lighting a special candle, planting a memorial tree, making a toast, saying a prayer, or having a moment of silence in their honor.
Continue your traditions.
A tradition is a type of custom or belief we continue to pass on each year. What about this year though? Our person who died isn’t here to participate. Continue the tradition. This can be a way of remembering and honoring your person who died. Think about your favorite holiday tradition, maybe one that included the deceased, and continue to practice it each year. This can help keep a sense of familiarity and consistency for family members when much has changed since the loss of a loved one.
Create new traditions.
Maybe your person who died played an integral role in a special tradition and they cannot be replaced and the ritual cannot be recreated without them. This is a great time to create new traditions! If you have children who are grieving get their input on what new traditions they want to practice. Developing new rituals can serve as a reminder that we can still embrace and enjoy life even though our person who died is no longer here with us.
Don’t do anything at all.
You don’t have to celebrate this year. Or next year, if you don’t want to. If sitting around the fire singing Christmas carols with your relatives is too much for you, sit this one out. You have the right to grieve in your own, unique way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve—only healthy and unhealthy ways. Do whatever you can, with what you’ve got right now.
You must learn to be patient while grieving. I hate writing this tip because honestly, I’m still working on this one myself. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for grief. Grief is not a one-time event. Grief is a process. There is no start and end date. Time does not heal all wounds. Time certainly helps and the intensity of our grief does eventually subside, but it never goes away. The grieving process is lifelong. We grieve everyday whether we are consciously aware of it or not. You are doing the best you can, at this point in time. Be patient and kind to yourself.
Are you always in charge of bringing the casserole? Do you not feel like baking this year? Bring something store bought. Do you typically host the gathering? Maybe you didn’t even want to decorate this year let alone have the entire family over. Ask someone else to step up to the plate this year and host the gathering. If the long, enduring gathering seems overwhelming, only stay for as long as you want. (Pro Tip: Be sure not to park in the driveway; you don’t want to get blocked in while trying to escape!)
Don’t ignore the elephant in the room.
Don’t be that person who refuses to acknowledge that someone has died. Chances are everyone already knows. And what’s even more likely is everyone else is already thinking about it too. It is okay to bring it up. It is okay to say their name. Ignoring this most obvious fact can feel like you are forgetting that your person ever lived. Oftentimes, others are happy to hear you bring them up. You cannot make someone else’s grief worse just by talking about it—it already sucks, remember? (see tip #1)
Get some sleep.
The holidays are stressful enough on their own. Top it off with a dose of grief and you are sure to be exhausted both physically and emotionally. Make sure you carve out some time to rest. Find a healthy balance between busy holiday activities and peaceful relaxation during your days off in the coming weeks.
Connect with others.
Find a safe outlet to express how you’re feeling. It is healthy to talk about our grief with supportive others. How comforting it is to hear someone else say, “I miss them too.” Sharing our feelings and memories of our person who died affords us the opportunity to connect with others. When we hear somebody say, “I feel the same way. I know how you feel.” we learn how to empathize with someone else who is also traveling down this winding grief journey. Grief can feel less miserable when we don’t have to navigate the process all alone.
We will never forget our person(s) who died. Don’t try to forget about your grief during the holidays. Not only will this be a failed attempt, but it can even make you feel worse. Pay attention to your grief and use some of these strategies to help cope with the pain of missing our loved ones during the holidays (& everyday!)
Grief symptoms tend to flare up around the holiday season. This is normal. While it is normal to experience some difficulties with grief during the holidays, you don’t have to handle this on your own. If you are having trouble coping with your grief, come in for a session. I’d be happy to help you try to alleviate some of those grueling grief symptoms!