You are facing the holidays and someone you love will be missing from the holiday table because they have died. Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced a loss. You are not alone. Rather than times of feeling joy, togetherness, sharing, and thanksgiving, holidays can bring feelings of sadness, loss and emptiness.
Many people find that their anticipation of the holiday season is worse than the days themselves. Try to take charge of the holidays rather that letting them take charge of you. The following are some suggestions that may help:
- Talk about your grief. During the holiday season, don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away and talking about it openly often makes you feel better. Family and friends don’t know what to do, so they sometimes not mention your loved one for fear of upsetting you. They may not realize that you are already thinking about the loved one many times a day. Break the ice by mentioning the loved one first. Identify caring friends and relatives who will allow you to speak openly about your feelings. Find those persons who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings, both happy and sad.
- Eliminate unnecessary stress. You may already feel stressed so don’t overextend yourself. Avoid isolating yourself, but be sure to recognize the need to have special time for yourself. Realize also that merely “keeping busy” won’t distract you from your grief. Experience suggests that it only increases stress and postpones the need to talk out feelings related to your grief.
- Mention the name of the loved one who died and relive fond memories. Include the person’s name in your holiday conversations, talking about special memories of past holidays, realizing that you can hold these memories in your heart forever. Think of them and allow yourself to smile. If you are able to talk candidly, other people are more likely to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life.
- Do what is right for you during the holidays. Well meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays. Discuss your wishes with a caring, trusted friend. You may want to change traditions this year or consider going out of town for a change of scenery. Talking about these wishes will help you to clarify what it is you want to do.
- Balance solitude with sociability. Solitude and rest can renew strength. Being with people you love can help you feel less lonely, especially if they accept you as you are and do not tell how they think you should feel. Plan to attend some holiday gatherings even if you don’t think you want to. You can leave early if you want. You may surprise yourself by having a good time.
- Find a creative outlet. Write a poem, song, or story about your loved one and share it. Create a memory book. Buy some water colors or oils and put your feelings on paper or canvas, even if it only splashes of color. Use the money you would have spent for your loved one’s holiday gifts to donate to a charity. Light a candle at dinner. Donate a book in memory of your loved one. Release balloons in memory of your loved one. Consider volunteering. Give food to a needy family.
- Be tolerant of your physical and psychological limits. Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. You low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.
- Remember the children. Even if it takes energy you think you don’t have, try to have a good holiday season for the children. If you need help preparing your home or buying gifts, ask a trusted friend to help. Christmas tree ornaments carry many emotionally-laden memories. Therefore, many families choose to buy different ornaments for a few years until they can face unpacking the old ones. Put the tree in a different room or space this year.
- Embrace the memories. Memories are one of the legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. And holidays always make you think about times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with loved ones. Keep in mind that memories are tinged with both happiness and sadness. If they bring laughter, smile. If they bring sadness, then its all right to cry. Memories were made in love. No one can take them away from you.
As you approach the holidays, remember: Grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to be around loving and caring people. Let your tears and sadness come and go throughout the holidays. That is a very important part of the healing process. The tears and emotions that you don’t express will prove to be destructive to you.