If you’ve recently lost a loved one, or know you will soon, the holidays can be a very difficult time, especially family-centric holidays like Christmas. The empty chair, the lonely bed, and the quiet moments are very real things, and the holiday season can seem to magnify them. These are times we have always spent with those we love, and without them, we can feel at a loss as to what to do.
The most important thing to remember is that you can cope. Many others have gone through what you are going through and there is a way through the pain. Below are four tips to help you cope with the holidays after the loss of a loved one.
Whatever your expression, it’s important to lean into the feelings of grief rather than avoid them. Expressing feelings and externalizing the reality of the loss are important keys to moving through grief and dealing with the pain of loss. This is the value of mourning. Whether you choose take any of the other three suggestions in this article, mourning is something everyone dealing with loss needs to do.
Saying a prayer at a family holiday dinner giving thanks for your loved one, lighting a candle at Church, or creating an online tribute to them are all positive ways to express these feelings. One of the most cathartic mourning activities can be remembering your loved one, telling funny stories about them, or sharing favorite memories around the table.
2. Plan A/Plan B
If you feel like holiday celebrations may be too much for you this year, that’s ok, but one helpful trick is to give yourself a plan B. Plan to go to the events, but for each one, come up with a plan B, such as a movie you both enjoyed, or looking through old photos, or going to a favorite place. Many people find that just having a plan B in place helps make attending holiday events much more manageable.
3. Skip the Holiday
Yes, it’s ok to just skip a holiday one year if you feel like it’s just too much for you. It will come around again. You may feel like it would be empty and you’d just be going through the motions. These feelings are perfectly natural, and there’s no reason to force yourself into anything. For some, the traditions of the season may help give them a framework for coping, but if that’s not you, that’s ok. Just be sure to communicate with family and friends about how you’re feeling and make sure they know this is a conscious choice you are making.
4. Mix it Up
Grief has an interesting way of giving us permission to evaluate and change many things in life, including our celebration of holidays. There’s no right or wrong way to do holidays during the grieving process. Doing it the way you always have may be right for you, and may give you a sense of stability. However, if you feel the usual routine might only add to your difficulty, you have every right to change it.
You may feel that you will never be able to enjoy the holidays again, and that is completely natural. They will certainly never be the same. However, over time, most people are able to gain a new sense of meaning in observing holidays with family and friends, acknowledging the loss in healthy ways and honoring loved ones who have passed.