Holidays are the times of the year that families come together to celebrate. They mark important milestones in our lives and make beautiful memories for years to come. When we lose a loved one, it can seem like the world has come to an end. But, in reality, it hasn't. Their passing has left an empty space in our lives and enjoying the holidays can seem difficult with them not around. For many people, holidays are the hardest part of coping with grief and trying to figure out how to go on.
The first step in coping with grief at the holidays is to acknowledge holidays will be difficult for a little while. You can make it a little easier by deciding how much participation you want and obtaining the support you need from friends and family.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone is different and may take more time than others. The important thing to remember is that even though they are not physically present, your loved ones live in your heart, your memories, and even in your traditions as the years go by. Here are a few suggestions for giving yourself the time you need to grieve, but not shutting yourself off from the rest of the world during the holiday season.
Give Yourself Time
It is important that you don't ignore your feelings or try to bottle them up to put on a brave face for others. You need to express sadness, anger, and loneliness or else those feelings will consume you. It is okay to cry and experience sadness, that is part of the healing process. When you allow yourself to express those emotions, you will then be able to experience joy and laughter because you have begun the path of healing.
It's Ok to Skip Certain Things
If there are certain parts of celebrating the holidays that you think might be too much for you, it's okay to skip it. If you don't feel like putting up lights or a tree, then don't do it this year. Maybe decide that you will just do small decorations around the house, saving the tree for next year.
Let Family and Friends Help
Surround yourself with people who love and
support you. Let them know ahead of time about how you are feeling, and if you
don't want to participate in certain events right now. They will appreciate the
fact that you need time and will offer help when they think you might need it.
Be open to letting others help you. This is a time when families come together
to support one another.
Set Boundaries with Holiday Events
If you don't want to participate in the annual Christmas tree decorating, that is perfectly okay. You can participate or not participate, it's completely up to you. Sometimes you need to set boundaries as to how much you feel you can do right now. Family members may try to pressure you into attending a holiday party because they don't want you isolating or turning into a hermit.
Have a Plan B
As with anything in life, it is good to have a plan B. Sometimes you need a backup plan in the event that things take a different turn, or you just decide that you need to take a breather. This might mean stepping away for a little solitude, or respectfully telling your host that you need to go home. It is often easier to attend parties and get-togethers when you know you can always shorten your stay if you need to.
Plan Ahead to Fill Empty Holiday Roles
One of the hardest parts about holiday traditions is handing over a responsibility to a new person. In many families, Grandpa always carved the Thanksgiving turkey and dad dressed up and played Santa for Christmas. When someone passes away, that responsibility passes to another family member. It is important to decide who will be the new Santa or turkey carver this year. Planning can minimize the awkwardness of the situation and help everyone transition.
Honor Old Traditions & Honor Memories
It can be helpful to continue with old traditions that existed in order to honor and celebrate the individuals who are no longer here. This is a helpful way to keep their memory present.
To celebrate individuals that are no longer here, it's important to create new traditions and make new memories. A part of the family celebration could be to take a few moments while saying "grace" to remember those family members who have passed on and how much you love and miss them.
Volunteer/Do Something Charitable
When you're feeling down, one way you can lift your spirits for a short time is by volunteering to do something for someone else. It often helps you to focus on the needs of others for a little while. Getting out of your own head for a while and seeing the joy you bring to others can be very liberating.
Volunteer a few hours to take care of dogs at your local animal shelter or help cook and serve food at a charity kitchen. Taking your mind off your own problems and doing something nice for someone else can bring a smile to your face and put some joy in your heart. There are all kinds of things you can donate your time to.
Holidays are difficult to get through after experiencing a loss. Recognizing that it will take time, and allowing yourself some flexibility, will make navigating the holidays a lot easier. Decide how much you think you can do this year and communicate those ideas with family members so they will respect your needs for privacy and solitude at certain times. It is perfectly acceptable to leave a party a little early if it becomes overwhelming. It won't be like this forever, it does get easier in time.