Updated: Jan 2, 2020
The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year for many people, for multiple different reasons. Holidays imply “time spent with loved ones”. But add in a recent, or even not-so-recent, loss of a loved one, and the holidays multiply both the stress and the grief of the loss. This may be your first Thanksgiving, or Hanukkah, or Christmas, after the loss and you’re not sure how to celebrate the holiday without that person. You may be experiencing sadness, anxiety, depression, or even denial about what is coming up. You may not know how you can get through it. You may think, why even celebrate, when your loved one isn’t here to celebrate with? You may not have accepted your new reality without your special person it in and are still fresh in your grief. You may feel regrets, or a sense that things are “unfinished” with you and your loved one. You may want to isolate and not be around friends and family because it will just be too painful. You just wish the holidays didn’t happen this year.
While we cannot fully skip the holiday season, you can learn and incorporate these 5 ways to help you get through the next few months without losing sight of yourself and your loss. You can make your holidays meaningful while still honoring, and grieving, your loss.
Mourn the Loss Intentionally
Holidays may be the hardest part of the grief process for many people. Mourning is the external manifestation of the loss. Funerals are a large part of mourning. So are other similar actions, rituals, or customs. Perhaps you light a candle for your loved one, or plan ahead to say a specific prayer at a family dinner. Perhaps you cook and remember your loved one’s food contributions and cry, all together as a family. If you give the loss, and your grief, a specific time and place to be acknowledged, then it becomes intentional and thus a bit easier to manage. When we know there is an identified space to grieve, we can plan for it and then move on from it with more peace.
Start a New Tradition
Holidays are about traditions, often that are passed on through families from parents, grandparents, and even further back. While traditions can be grounding, after a loss they can feel overwhelming. You may want to review your current traditions, and if they don’t make sense to continue without your loved one, agree together to make a new tradition. Or you can even skip a tradition or two for a while, until the time comes when the grief isn’t quite so fresh and everyone can manage going back to it in the future. Maybe there’s even a tradition that you needed permission to let go of because you didn’t enjoy it anymore, and this is the perfect time to do that. You will find meaning again in traditions around the holidays.
Connect with Friends and Family
It may feel that connecting and being around others who are happy is too difficult for you. How can they be happy, after the loss of your loved one? While the idea of being around friends and family over the holidays may be difficult to think about, isolating yourself will be far worse. We are human, and are made to connect with others. Denying ourselves of one of life’s basic needs will not be helpful, especially after a loss. While you may not feel comfortable discussing your loss or your grief with others, being around others may remind you of how much joy there is to be found in life and that, while your grief is still so painful, it will get less painful as you go on. We cannot grieve alone.
There is no reason that you have to “do” this holiday season exactly the way you’re “done” others in the past. This holiday season is different and you are allowed to do different things. You may want to skip some key events or even the holiday itself, and that is ok. If you don’t feel like celebrating Thanksgiving after the loss of your loved one, then plan something else meaningful for you on that day. You can serve others, or go to a movie you’ve been wanting to see, or do any number of other things. This may shield you somewhat from the pain, but remember to be fully aware of why you are skipping this event or holiday and fully give yourself permission to do this. You don’t have to skip the event or holiday every year, and in time you will be able to find joy and meaning in the holiday again.
Realize that your mind and body have been through a large toll with the loss, and go easy on yourself this holiday season. Take time daily to think, to relax, and to not get caught up in the frenzy of the season. You don’t have to do everything, or make everything perfect. What you do need to do is listen to your body, and when it is telling you to slow down, listen to it. After a loss, our bodies are often exhausted and drained, and it is common to get sick with a cold or illness. If we stress ourselves out over the holidays by doing too much while we are still grieving, it’s almost a given that we will fall ill. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.
While the holidays are rough on everyone, especially those that have experienced a recent loss, you can find ways to get through them while minimizing your pain and grief. You can find meaning and joy again in the holidays, or barring that this year, you can get through it with less pain than you anticipate. It may take a bit of planning and preventative work but remember to Mourn the Loss Intentionally, Start a New Tradition, Connect with Friends and Family, Skip Things, and Slow Down and you will get through it.
If you are interested in how the therapists at Catalyss Counseling can help you get through your grief and loss during the holiday season (or any other season), contact us for a free 20-minute phone consultation or schedule an appointment online with one of our experienced therapists. We specialize in grief and loss and bereavement, treatment.
Shannon Heers is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Englewood, CO. Shannon helps adults manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, grief and loss, and addictions, to live a more balanced life. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn or Facebook.