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.