It’s the holiday season. For many of us, that means big meals, gifts, family, and friends. For some of us, it also means reflection and grief, thinking of a loved one who has died. What once was joy and comfort during the holidays can now be a painful reminder that our special person is no longer with us.
This might be your first holiday without a parent, partner, child, or someone else close to you, or maybe you have been grieving for some time. It’s true, the holiday season will never be the same as when your loved one was alive. Yet there are still ways to feel connected to your loved one and create new and meaningful experiences during the holidays.
Here are some ideas that may be helpful to you as you honor your grief and your loved one.
Keep things the same or start something new
There is often comfort in the familiar. If you traditionally get together with family or friends, or you have young children who look forward to attending the annual holiday parade, it might feel important to you to stay with some of your long-time traditions this year, if only to keep a kind of regular rhythm in your life.
Just remember that traditions can never fully be the same without your loved one. Someone else may have to do the special things the person who is no longer with you used to do. This can lead to difficult feelings of sadness, guilt, and even anger. That is OK. Finding ways to feel connected to your loved one is one of the most important parts of coping during the holidays.
Acknowledge that you are missing your person, and that this time is difficult for you. Share memories of past holidays you spent with your special person, or place a picture of the person in a visible spot while you take part in the tradition you used to share.
On the other hand, it might be a great time to create a new family tradition. Starting a new tradition does not mean you are forgetting the person, or the way things were. New traditions can still honor your special person and past holiday traditions while welcoming positive and meaningful new experiences.
During the holiday season, family and friends might invite you to special events, or get caught up in shopping, cooking, and all the other activities of the season. They may forget that the holidays can be a challenge for people who are grieving.
They might feel responsible to cheer you up when you are grieving, and encourage you to do things you aren’t ready to do this year. Remember, there is nothing wrong with saying “no.”
If you always host dinner during the holidays, for example, talk with your family about changing your schedule — maybe this year is the year you’re a guest, instead of the one in the kitchen all day.
Take some time to think about what you need this holiday season and plan ahead. Ask for help, say “no” if you are feeling overwhelmed, and give yourself the gift of time to care for you. If you are at a big party and you need a few minutes alone, take a break.
If you decide that it’s time to leave early from the family get-together because you’re feeling emotionally exhausted, go for it. You don’t have to exchange gifts and attend party after party just because you’ve been invited. Politely decline and do not feel the need to explain your reasoning. You need to do what is best for you. It is OK to say “no.”
Give yourself permission to say “yes”
Sometimes when grieving we just need permission to say “yes” and enjoy the moment. Joy, excitement, wonder, and laughter can coexist with grief. It’s normal to sometimes feel guilty for enjoying the holidays. It can seem like a betrayal of your loved one — somehow unfair that you get to keep living and they do not.
It is not a betrayal of those you have lost. Both things can be true: you can miss your loved one and still take part in the holiday season the way you want to. You can enjoy the holidays, even while you’re grieving.
Take a break from the holidays
Your grief is unique to you, and so is the way you want to live with it. If the best thing for you is to take a partial or complete break from the holidays, do that! You can keep to yourself or enjoy a small celebration with people close to you.
No matter what you decide, please realize that there is a lot of support available for you and your family from Centrica Care Navigators. Hopefully you have someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling, or other safe ways to find comfort in a time of grief, like enjoying your favorite songs, movies, and books.
You can learn about our special groups for community members who have experienced a loss here, or call Centrica Care Navigators at 269.345.0273.