Each year as the holiday season nears, I notice an increase in the amount of letters I receive for my website writing project called, "The Things You Would Have Said." The holidays can bring up an overwhelming amount of emotions that can be hard to deal with, especially when you feel enveloped in heartache while everyone around you is full of joy. I read letters from people writing to lost loves, siblings who have died by accident, or parents who have passed from old age, all expressing their doubt in making it through the holidays without their loved ones around. They write, "Thanksgiving was your favorite holiday, you died just two days before" or "This is my first Christmas without you. I don't know how I'll smile when the kids come over for presents." It can be difficult to find the strength to keep family traditions alive, especially if the person who loved them so much is no longer around to share in the experience. My hope is that, by doing a few simple activities to include our loved ones' memory in the festivities, we can keep them close to our hearts and feel their embrace this holiday season.
Write a letter
It can often be useful to take a moment to sit down and write a letter to the person you've lost, expressing your fears about the upcoming season and how you are feeling in the present moment. It can be a letter of frustration and anger, or an honest articulation of how difficult times have been and how much they are missed. It will not only help get the feelings off your chest, but a connection is created when you write a letter to someone: it will make you feel closer to the person, as if they are reading your words and comforting you. You could even take a moment to write about memories you shared with them around this time of year, or about the plans for the family in the coming months. It's a way to include them in the process, making it feel like they are right there and part of it all.
Cook their favorite dish
A great way to make a lost loved one part of the holiday hoopla is to cook one of their favorite dishes. Did your brother love mashed sweet potatoes? Was your mom a fan of pumpkin pie, but only the pie filling and not the crust? By creating what they loved and acknowledging your reason for making it, your loved one can be included in the celebration. At dinner, you could even share with others about why you made the dish and recount a particular memory you had about the person eating it. Maybe they had a unique way of preparing it or pulled a prank on someone while serving the dish. It can bring a string of laughter to a potentially somber event.
Partake in a family tradition
Another way to remember a loved one is to carry out a tradition that the person enjoyed. Perhaps they always looked forward to going to the Christmas tree farm and drinking apple cider as you all picked out your favorite tree. Instead of going to the local grocery store tree lot this year, either because of fatigue or sorrow, I encourage you to go to that tree farm they loved and embrace the tradition. You might be surprised by how much you can feel them there, walking beside you as you search for that special tree. Even more, I bet they'd be happy you did it.
Volunteer at a charity they supported
There is no better way to honor the ones you've lost by donating your time to a cause they passionately believed in. As a way to continue their legacy, it will not only make you feel like you are connecting with your loved one on a deeper level, but you will be helping others in need. Whether it's serving food at a local homeless shelter or making holiday cards with cancer patients at the hospital, spend time with the people your loved one cared about. Volunteering also brings a sense of appreciation for what you have, and it can help lift your spirits when you know you are enriching the lives of others.
Keep a gratitude journal
An important way to remember the positive aspects of your life, especially when you are feeling lost and alone, is to keep a gratitude journal. Each day, write down two things that you are grateful for. It can be a person, a favorite place to visit, an emotion, an idea. When we start generating a list of things we appreciate in our lives, we can focus on the positives that we do have instead of the sadness we feel about the ones we've lost. You could even take a step further and write a note of gratitude to someone in your family or a close friend, and give it to him or her at the next get-together. Maybe they have been a great support for you during this hard time or they did something special for you to help you through it. When we can acknowledge the good in our lives and the valuable people around us, it can make the difficult times a little easier to manage.
To submit a letter this holiday season to "The Things You Would Have Said," please visit www.wouldhavesaid.com.