I was going to start this article explaining why it was being written. Something like, “For most of us, throughout our lives, we anticipate the arrival of the holidays with joy and excitement. The frenzy of parties and shopping, of baking, decorating and spending time with family- but for the griever, this excitement is replaced with a sense of dread.”
But you know this already.
Most people I speak with say, “I wish we could just fast forward to January 2” and view the holidays as no longer something to look forward to, but a looming date on the calendar that is filled with fear and despair.
Assuming we don’t have a time machine or the ability to hibernate through a tough winter season, how do we get through this very difficult time of year?
- First and foremost know that this year- the holidays can be different. Of course they will already be different because a significant person in your life will not be there to share in the traditions. So rather than trying to fit this holiday into the framework that every other holiday before this has fit, know that trying to force things to be as they’ve always been may only serve to magnify the absence of your loved one. This is a tough one for many, especially amongst family when one person needs the change and another insists that everything must remain as it’s always been. If you are the one who just can’t face the traditions of years past, try to explain that maybe just this year, celebrations can happen in a different way. Emphasize that it could be just this year – nothing says that traditions can’t resume next year or the following. But for just this year let them know that you can’t host the big party, attend the family event, bake the 10 dozen cookies like you always did, or whatever else may be asked or expected of you…
- Plan to go late and leave early. Bring your own car. For every plan you make, put an asterisk on the end of… “yes I’ll go*” (*as long as I feel up to it). I truly dislike the word “selfish” and the negative connotation it brings, but know that it’s okay to be a little selfish this year. You do not have to do anything you don’t want to do. This is not the time to be a people pleaser.
- For a lot of the country, this time of year brings not only the challenge of the holidays but the prospect of cold weather. So what do you do when nature imposes an isolation even more evident than the one already being felt? Plan for being stuck inside. Find an activity or a project perhaps…something you used to do that you can relearn, pick back up, or become familiar with again. Or maybe something new that you can teach yourself. Something you can research, read about, buy supplies for online. Keep the noise on in the house (tv or music), cook and bake if you can, and pick up the phone to catch up with family and friends (who may also be stuck inside!). Follow a farmer’s schedule of waking up with the sun and going to bed with the dark – shorten your days and catch up on some sleep if you’re able.
- If trying to plan anything for the holidays- plan to be sad. That’s weird advice, maybe, but life is filled with expectation. Expecting to feel “normal” this holiday season will likely result in a let down, at least at some point. Expecting to feel sad on the other hand… to feel a little empty, to feel a little lost, is a more likely and more realistic scenario. When we plan for problems, we can also plan for solutions. If we’re planning to be sad, we can also plan to surround ourselves with those things that can lift us up in low times.
- What’s so challenging about the holiday season is the nostalgia that comes with it. It’s the one time when even the least traditional person will reflect on how things used to be. The loved ones we’ve lost ultimately played some role in our celebration and there will be reminders of them everywhere. Did they have an assigned seat at the table? A favorite song they wanted to hear again and again? Did they carve the turkey or bake something special? Getting through the holidays this year may mean finding ways to keep them with us – to honor them and to find ways to feel their presence. Maybe we set a place for them at the table or serve their favorite dish in their honor. Or perhaps we ask everyone to share a cherished memory or favorite story. If we’re breaking from tradition or doing something we’ve never done, there may still be ways to include our loved one- taking their picture along, or journaling to tell them about it at the end of the day.
In the end, getting through the holidays is not about forgetting about our loved one in order to push away the pain. It’s about taking time to reflect on the life we had with them, and how to keep them with us in the present.
It will be hard, and at times it may be painful. But by shifting our perspective this holiday season and turning the focus to honoring those we’ve lost, we can help ensure that while they may not physically be in the room, they can always remain with us in memory, mind, and spirit.
A quick search online will reveal endless articles on grief and the holidays. While there’s no doubt that it’s an incredibly challenging time of year, at www.griefincommon.com we know that a griever needs support all year round. We’re here, there’s help, and it’s free to join. Connect with others who understand, today.