It’s the season of twinkling lights, gift-giving, delicious food and quality family time. But for those grieving a loss, the holidays may be the most difficult time of the year. Enduring the holidays without the physical presence of a loved one who helped make this season special may be especially painful in the first year without them.
While it’s healthy to acknowledge that feelings of grief may be intensified during the holidays, there are ways to cope this season and even spark a sense of holiday joy.
Set realistic boundaries and expectations.
The holidays are often met with obligations that may be too difficult to handle while you’re mourning. Be transparent with your family and friends about how much stress you are willing to take on this year. For instance, if the weight of cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner normally falls on your shoulders, don’t be afraid to ask another family to cook the turkey this year.
While you should not feel guilty for turning down invitations to holiday events that may be especially triggering, it is important to find a healthy balance in order to ensure that you aren’t isolating yourself. Instead of automatically saying, “no” to every get-together, try planning ahead in case the event is ultimately too much for you to handle. For instance, planning to drive yourself to the event so you know that you can leave at any time may provide a sense of comfort and control.
Manage your emotions.
The holidays can bring on a variety of emotions in the wake of the loss. While the absence of a loved one may be especially magnified during the holidays, like when there’s an empty seat at the dinner table, it is important to avoid ignoring your emotions; sometimes, allowing yourself to experience grief is the best way to get through it. On the same token, it is also important to manage unfounded emotions, like guilt following a moment of excitement or joy. Remember, this season is meant for celebrating, and your loved one would want you to feel happiness during these times.
Create new traditions.
Although they may not be physically present this year, commemorating your loved one’s legacy by creating new traditions that honor them may help you feel their presence and bring a sense of comfort to the whole family. There are many creative ways to celebrate the one you’ve lost in the holidays, like playing their favorite board game, baking a dessert they loved or putting together a centerpiece with their favorite flowers. Simply devoting time to telling stories and reminiscing on the best memories of your loved one may be cathartic for everyone.
There’s no denying that the first holiday season without a beloved family member or friend may be the hardest. But by taking special care, you can find ways to make this season easier on yourself while honoring the one you have lost.
November is Have the Talk of a Lifetime Month. Created by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC), Have the Talk of a Lifetime is an initiative aimed at advocating for individuals to have meaningful conversations with their family members about their life stories and the ways in which they would like to be memorialized.
This month, try setting aside a time to plan for your family’s future while discussing important moments in your history. By sharing your life’s journey and struggles while reminiscing on the people and places that mattered most, your family can walk away with a deeper understanding of you.
So how do you have the talk of your life?
While it may be meaningful to plan the conversation in a place that is significant to you, like a park where you often took your children or the church where you got married, you can have the talk any place you feel comfortable.
It may be helpful to compile a list of talking points beforehand, but you should let the conversation flow naturally. This time should be devoted to talking about your favorite memories, recounting important historical events that happened in your lifetime and reminiscing about your life’s biggest moments. Try discussing your family lineage and sharing advice to be passed along to future generations.
While it may be uncomfortable to talk about death, discussing your preferred funeral arrangements with your loved ones in advance can ease the burden on them later. Dedicating part of this conversation to speaking about how you wish to be remembered is the best way to ensure your life is celebrated in a way that honors you best after you are gone. We offer a free checklist that may aid in the discussion of your final wishes.
Visit talkofalifetime.org for more conversation starters, tips and activities.