The holidays are usually a joyful time of year that most people look forward to with excitement. It can also be a stressful time of year when demands are put on your time, energy and of course your wallet. But, what about your feelings if you are thinking about someone you lost? When you are grieving a loved one, the holidays will be different, especially the first, when you must figure out how to navigate a time without the person or pet that you miss, when that person or pet was a very big part of how you have always celebrated and enjoyed the holidays.
When someone close to you, or perhaps your pet has passed, there are many moments that will remind us of them, whether it is a regular meal, a birthday (yours or theirs), maybe a football game, a cottage party or simply walking through the front door without a familiar greeting, we can be acutely aware of how much we miss that person or pet.
The holidays are sometimes the most difficult season. You try to balance the expectation of being (or looking) happy while you also might feel intense loss, not only of the person or the pet your are grieving, but also the way the holidays themselves, as they are often going to be different without the presence of your missing loved one.
In my own family’s case, my mother passed away on November 9th, so we were still very much in the throws of grieving when the holidays came around. She was always the central figure in our home from baking to decorating to setting the schedules. To say that we were full of joy that year would be false, but we did put together what we thought would be a Christmas that she would be happy with and we did our best to include her. It was important for us to keep up the traditions that she had begun, and as the years have passed, many remain but we have also managed to add some new ones.
Even the family pet can leave a void during the holidays. A few years ago, I had to say goodbye to my dog and best friend Moses. Moses was my only roommate for many years, and we had a few traditions during the holidays that only the two of us knew about. I continue a few of them to this day which makes me smile, and I know he is never very far away when I go for a Christmas eve walk in the snow (his new little brother Ichabod now tags along).
You don’t have to be overjoyed during the holidays when you are grieving, but the holidays can still be meaningful for you and your loved ones. Grieving a loss is healthy and a necessary part of you and your family’s healing. You will certainly be reminded (constantly) of your lost loved ones during this time, and it is certainly O.K. to feel grief.
That said, sometimes when you are grieving the loss of a person or pet, the holidays can be hard, so here are a few ideas that might help you get through them.
There is no need to make any wholesale changes to your holiday traditions. The changes will be obvious enough, so try to incorporate some of the old traditions that remind you of your loved one. It is also a nice idea to reminisce with people who knew them over the holiday. It can be a roller coaster at times, but the memories and stories will be sincere and have significant meaning.
Maybe someone new can give a toast that belonged to your cherished family member or friend, play their favourite music, or maybe read their favourite story. If, as was our case, your missing loved one prepared the meal, then make that a central part of the day. It can be very cleansing for all to get involved, and although it may not be as delicious as you remember, it can help to carry on traditions.
In some cases, a few changes to traditions can also help them manage the ups and downs of this difficult time, while you all deal with your sorrow. In our family, my mother always did the baking and then cooked the big dinner. When she wasn’t with us anymore, we all chipped in to cook the dinner and her grandchildren now do the baking before the big day. My mother would love the new traditions (especially her grandchildren) and when are all together, her fingerprints are all over the celebration and we know she is never far away.
Another thing we do is decorate our Christmas tree together every year a few weeks before Christmas. The ornaments from our childhood with my mother are now splashed with the handmade decorations of her grandchildren, and she would love it.
What the Experts say…
Here is a list of suggestions to help you get through the holidays when you are grieving from an article written by Linda Walter for Psychology today from December 6th last year:
- Allow yourself time to grieve if you want and need to. If you know people who are uncomfortable with your sadness, don’t spend time with them. Surround yourself with those who can support you and are sensitive to your feelings.
- If you find yourself smiling, laughing, even enjoying yourself, don’t feel guilty. You are allowed to feel joy, even in grief.
- You may find yourself overcome with sadness, the giggles, or both, seemingly out of nowhere. Grief comes when our senses are aroused by external stimuli. It could come from anything – a song, commercial, smell. Again, notice it and try to focus on something else.
- Let people know what you need. If you need someone to be with you, ask. If you need to leave a party early, tell the host and leave. Allow others to be there for you, but most of all, you be there for you.
- Try to participate in some holiday gatherings, or at least part of them. Getting out of your house will give you a sense of normalcy, a sense of belonging that can be quite comforting.
- Volunteer somewhere that’s meaningful to you or was meaningful to your loved one. Helping others is one of the best ways I know to lift spirits.
- If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough support, consider enlisting the help of a therapist, even if just to help you get through the holidays.
- Don’t take on too much. Minimize your stress as much as possible. There’s a tendency to want to either do nothing or to keep busy all the time. Keeping busy is fine, but not to the point where you feel stressed.
- Try not to overindulge in either food or alcohol. They may be temporary fixes, but chances are you’ll feel worse the next day. They will not take away the pain and grief.
- Take care of yourself physically. Get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and follow as much of a normal routine as possible.
There is no question that the holidays may never be the same, but they don’t have to remain a sad time. We will never forget those who have gone before us, and the holidays can make the empty seat at the table feel even more empty, but hopefully you can surround yourself with family and friends, keep your traditions and maybe add a few new ones and help each other through your grief.
I wish you and your family happy and healthy holidays.
Kevin-Barry Henry (For Mom and Moses)Order My Book On Sale Now!
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