"Holidays are time spent with loved ones" was imprinted on our psyche from a young age. Holidays mark the passage of time in our lives.
For many people, the holiday season is one of the hardest times in grief. We miss our loved ones even more than usual. How can you celebrate togetherness when there is none? When you have lost someone special, your world loses its celebratory qualities. Holidays only magnify the loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper. The need for support may be the greatest during the holidays. You can and will get through the holidays. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. Grief is the way out of the pain. There are a number of ways to help get you through the holidays.
1. Be honest about your grief. There's pressure to have a joyful holiday even when nothing has gone wrong in life. You're not a Grinch, you're in grief! Don't feel the need to fake it or be happier than you actually are. You don't have to have holiday joy!!
2. Include the loss into your holidays. The grief is there anyway. Light a candle in their honor. Dedicate the prayer before dinner to your loved one. Have everyone at the dinner table share a favorite story about your loved one that died.
3. Take your grief online. Facebook in the new town square. Share photos of past holidays with loved ones now gone. Also there are many closed Facebook groups, just for those grieving. Also many pages such as mine have messages to help you navigate loss. You will quickly see others are also feeling loss during the holidays.
4. For events, always have an exit strategy. You don't have to stay. Feel free to say, you just wanted to drop by or you have another event to get to. You can even text yourself if you need to...time to go!
5. Re-evaluate your rituals. Choose what works and doesn't. You can even cancel a holiday. You don't have to do those 200 Christmas cards. You don't have to cook the dinner. Free yourself.
6. "No" is a complete sentence. You should not have to do anything you don't want to do. And you don't have to explain it. "No, thank you" also works well.
7. Pay attention to the children. They are often the forgotten grievers. We think since kids seem busy in school they are fine. Or it's easier to focus on the adults. But children feel the grief and have less life experience and tools to deal with the loss.
Holidays are clearly some of the roughest terrain we navigate after a loss. The ways we handle them are as individual as we are. These holidays are part of the journey to be felt fully. They are usually very sad, but sometimes we may catch ourselves doing okay, and we may even have a brief moment of laughter.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.