You’ve gotten through the death of your loved one, and the funeral that followed, only to find out that the worst was yet to come. The overwhelming reality of the loneliness and confusion that your life has become without your loved one, is undeniable. Life seems to be moving on without you, and it is hard to know how to move forward.
You have another large hurdle waiting for you in the next few weeks…the winter holidays. There are few times during the year when your loved one’s absence will be more deeply felt and mourned than during these holidays. These special days will become days you will have to get through, rather than occasions you can continue to celebrate and enjoy. Be prepared that these family holidays will potentially be some of the most challenging days you will have.
You should also know that most of us (grief veterans), who have already made it through several holidays without our loved ones, have tripped over these holiday hurdles many times, and have had a hard time getting back up on the track of life to continue on our journey when the festivities are over. Sometimes the fall can be so devastating it can seem impossible to know how to get up and keep going. The reality of seeing other families celebrating, with all of their loved ones present, may make the fact that your family has an obvious vacant spot, and will never be whole again, that much more painful. Your broken heart may break open even further. This is what you should be prepared for…I wish I’d had someone to warn me. Maybe then the fall wouldn’t have been so difficult to recover from.
While holidays still remain hard for us veterans, we have learned what to expect and that we should pace ourselves as we make our way through the mine laden field that these celebrations can present. Just as the death of your loved one changed the way you look at life, holidays will never be the same without your loved one by your side.
Here are a few words of advice that might help you get through the day:
Getting through the day is enough
Be very patient and kind with yourself during this time. Understand that these days will be hard and give yourself a break. You don’t have to keep it all together, you just have to get through the day. You can pick back up on the work of healing your grief after the day is over. Regardless of the pressure you may feel to act like you are okay, it is okay to feel sad. You are in pain and you shouldn’t have to hide that pain to make others around you feel more comfortable.
It is OK to talk about your loved one
Bring up memories you have of your loved one during the holidays, and ask others to share their memories with you. Some may be uncomfortable with this, but hopefully there will be others who are able to help you keep your loved one’s memory alive during these times.
Listen to what your body and emotions are telling you
I tried to ignore my feelings of loss and sadness and focus on the festivities, but my physical body did not cooperate. Instead it reminded me that, ultimately, I’m not the one in control. The overwhelming emotions that I experienced made me physically ill and I ended up sick in bed for several days after the holidays. Be patient with yourself. Listen to the signals your body is sending you. Care for yourself during this time as you would care for your dearest loved one.
It is okay to say no
Remember that you may not be able to keep up with all of the activities you were able to do before. It is okay to say no to a family gathering or to leave early if you are not tolerating it well. Do not feel guilty about you, doing what is best for you and your family.
Remember the holidays you shared with your loved one
Remember the beautiful holidays you were blessed to share with your loved one before they died. What amazing gifts we received. This love can help to comfort you, and this love will always belong to you. Love can never be lost. When love and loss exist side-by-side, the pain of your loss will become easier to bear.
Before you know it the holidays will be over and you will be back up on the track of healing again. You can make it through these days.
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You can find my book, The Other Side of Complicated Grief, here.
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 grievedifferently. 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.