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Surviving the Holidays and Remembering Our Loved Ones

For those mourning the loss of a spouse, child, parent or other loved one, the holiday season can be filled with extreme sadness, stress and seem daunting. Whether it’s the first holiday without your loved one or it has been some time, the holiday season can be something you start dreading months before they arrive. Amid the hustle and bustle, twinkling lights and smiling faces, you witness others celebrating the holiday season and ask yourself, will I ever enjoy a holiday again? It’s completely normal to feel sad, lonely and disoriented during the holidays. You are not alone. For some, taking a break from the holidays can help but for others, staying involved serves as a symbol of life continuing and provides comfort. Here are some strategies that you can utilize over the next few weeks as we navigate the holiday season.

For those mourning the loss of a spouse, child, parent or other loved one, the holiday season can be filled with extreme sadness, stress and seem daunting. Whether it’s the first holiday without your loved one or it has been some time, the holiday season can be something you start dreading months before they arrive. Amid the hustle and bustle, twinkling lights and smiling faces, you witness others celebrating the holiday season and ask yourself, will I ever enjoy a holiday again? It’s completely normal to feel sad, lonely and disoriented during the holidays. You are not alone. For some, taking a break from the holidays can help but for others, staying involved serves as a symbol of life continuing and provides comfort. Here are some strategies that you can utilize over the next few weeks as we navigate the holiday season.

Honoring your loved one can help with the healing process since a part of them still lives within us. Consider having close friends and family gather at a park or someone’s home to launch balloons or paper lanterns in the sky while sharing funny or memorable stories of your loved one. Writing a special message on the balloon is also a nice touch. This can bring comfort and allows people of all ages to be involved. In addition to setting the holiday table marked with a candle or a bouquet of their favorite flowers, you could spend time with family and friends looking through photographs of the loved one that go back in time as you celebrate the life of your loved one together. Serving as a volunteer somewhere that’s meaningful to you or meaningful your loved one is a good way to lift spirits during a trying time. You could also consider making a donation to a cause that was important to your loved one. One thing that brings me comfort is to complete a random act of kindness for a stranger. Every year during the month of December, I will pay for a stranger’s meal at a restaurant to honor my late step-son, who also has a birthday during the month of December. This simple act of kindness brings a smile to my face.

One way to deal with grief during the holidays is to decide how much or how little you want to participate in holiday celebrations by setting boundaries. While difficult, it is important to put yourself among people during the holidays. You should by no means feel obligated to accept every invitation you receive but consider accepting at least one invitation. You might find that spending the days leading up to the holiday and the days after with friends and family better fit than spending the day itself. People often isolate themselves from holiday functions due to fear of bringing down the mood or crying and getting upset in front of others. It's important to realize that those who love you understand the circumstances but want you there anyway. While friends and family care and want the best for you, they might not have been in your shoes so your feelings are valid and should be respected.

Although it can be tough to resist change, you might find that reframing holiday traditions can reduce stress. You might find yourself asking whether you need to carry on with traditions you’ve held throughout the years or if you should begin to develop some new ones. Modifying traditions in a way where you don’t highlight your loved one’s absence can be accomplished. For example, you may want to host Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at a family member’s house instead of yours or open presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning. You might find that keeping some traditions provide extreme sadness and choose to eliminate them. If driving around to look at Christmas lights was a tradition you held with a loved one for many years, but you no longer can carry on the tradition, you could replace it with something such as taking dinner to a shut-in or volunteering in a shelter or kitchen. For some, staying home during the holidays might be too painful. Taking a trip to the beach or mountains might provide a change of scenery needed for peace.

There isn’t one right or wrong way to deal with grief during the holidays. What works for one person might be upsetting to someone else. Handling the following a death, especially in the first year, can be difficult so listen to your feelings give yourself some grace. Everyone copes differently, and you will find ways that are easier or more helpful for you than others. Don’t be afraid to cry and reach out to a close friend or family member to talk through your feelings. Taking care of yourself, sharing memories, and being surrounded by supportive people are great ways to get through this time, but you will have to decide which methods work best for you.

Erin Hutchins Johnson

November 9, 2022, 6:00:00 PM