Traditionally, holidays are spent with people that we love and cherish the most. We create memories and engage in traditions that are near and dear to who we are. Some take for granted that these things will carry on forever. That is, until someone you love dies. Dealing with the loss of this person might be hard. However, dealing with the loss of this person around the holidays can be especially painful – particularly the first year.
Holidays tend to amplify the loss. The sadness, hurt, tears, and anger might intensify. Your desire to participate in celebratory activities might be low. Additionally, you may not have the energy to shop, decorate, or prepare the holiday meal. What you notice is that the way you're experiencing the holidays has changed.
Here are tips to help you cope with the grief as well as tips on how to honor your loved one.
Tips for Coping with Grief during the Holidays
Allow yourself to grieve. Lean into the feelings of grief, don't avoid them. Literally ask yourself, "What are the feelings I'm experiencing" – joy, sadness, hurt, loneliness. Say them aloud. Also pay attention to where you feel grief in your body. You might have a headache, dry mouth, nervous stomach, etc. This helps you to learn how you experience grief. People grieve in their own unique way. No one way is right or wrong.
Get rid of the guilt. Don't feel guilty about grieving the loss of your loved one. It is also not necessary to apologize. When you apologize, you're sending a message that you're doing something wrong. Grief is a natural response to loss. Especially to the loss of someone you care about that has died.
Be realistic. Remember that things are different. The responsibilities you had in the past may not be realistic anymore; or necessary. Grief has a way of giving us permission to evaluate what parts of the holiday we enjoy and what parts we don't.
Seek love and support. It can be comforting to have people around that love and support you but it can also be overwhelming. Create time for privacy as well as time for planned activities with others. Share your plans, communicate your needs, and allow people to be there for you. We all need help at certain times in our lives.
Take care of yourself. Avoid self-medicating with alcohol and other substances. Eat healthy, exercise and engage in pleasurable activities. Consider buying yourself something you always wanted but never allowed yourself to have. If going to the shopping mall is too stressful, shop online.
Tips for Honoring Your Loved One
- Light a candle in honor of your loved one.
- Write a poem about your loved one and read it during a holiday ritual.
- Purchase a holiday ornament in honor of your loved one.
- Remember them in prayer at your place of worship.
- Put a bouquet of flowers on the table in memory of your loved one.
- Have everyone tell a story about your loved one.
- Decorate the gravesite with holiday decorations.
- Watch your loved one's favorite holiday movie.
- Sing out loud to your loved one's favorite holiday music.
- Journal about your favorite holiday memories with your loved one.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one. It is very natural to feel you will never enjoy the holidays again. The truth is that they will never be as they were before, but they can be enjoyable again. Be patient. More than anything, be gentle with yourself. Seek the help of a professional if things become too overwhelming.