For most the holiday season is a time of joy, filled with festive celebrations, gift-giving and treasured family traditions. But for those who have recently lost a loved one, the joyful music and bustling holiday parties can be a painful reminder of the loss they have sustained, rather than a source of happiness. When you are deep in the throes of grief, it may seem impossible to feel joy again, let alone muster the energy to celebrate the holidays.
If you are grappling with a loss this holiday season, know that you are not alone—and that however you choose to approach the festivities of the coming weeks, your emotions are completely valid. Grief, though common and universal, is not a linear or one-size-fits-all process; every person’s experience is different, and there is no one “right” way to get through the holiday season. But however, you choose to celebrate (or not!) this year, we have some helpful coping strategies that we hope can provide some much-needed comfort.
Really—it is completely okay to focus on yourself during this emotionally-charged holiday season. Make plans with your needs in mind, and do not force yourself to participate in events or traditions if they will only make you feel worse. Remember that now more than ever, there is no need to please everyone; instead, you should focus on being kind and forgiving to yourself.
Practice the Three C’s
When making plans for the weeks ahead, remember to Choose, Connect and Communicate:
- Choose: You may feel obligated to attend your usual packed schedule of festivities this year—but remember that you have choices. Decide who you want to be with and what traditions feel comfortable to you this year, and feel free to opt out of events or gatherings that you feel will be draining or painful.
- Connect: Grief often leads to isolation and loneliness, which can amplify feelings of depression. While you should absolutely take time to rest and recharge solo if you need to this year, do try to connect with friends and family who can provide you with love and support. Remember—you are not a burden just because you are grieving, and people want to help!
- Communicate: Tell people what you need this year. How can they make you feel most comfortable? What traditions are going to be too painful? Do you want to reminisce about your loved one, or would you rather focus on a cheesy Christmas movie? Keeping lines of communication open means that your support system will be better equipped to give you what you need.
Honor Their Memories
Though the holidays will never be quite the same without your loved one, you can still honor their life and the impact they made on you this year. Many find it comforting to participate in a ritual or activity that pays homage to the ones they love. Consider buying a beautiful ornament in their honor that can live on your tree for years to come, donating to a cause or organization that meant alot to your loved one, or continuing one of their favorite holiday traditions.
Create New Traditions
Your regular holiday traditions may be too painful or draining for you this year—and that is okay. Instead, consider creating a new tradition that sparks joy for you, like hosting a holiday movie marathon or ordering a hot chocolate from every coffee shop in your neighborhood. You might find that it is easier to enjoy the spirit of the season by making new memories.
Above all, no matter how you choose to celebrate (or not!) this year, recognize that your feelings come first and be kind to yourself. Grief is painful, and it takes time to work through those complicated feelings and bittersweet memories. This may not be the “most wonderful time of the year” for you, but you can make it through this season one day (and holiday party) at a time.