The holidays bring about a season of reflection, celebration, and anticipation. However, for those experiencing grief, the holidays can feel overwhelming.
The waves of grief can often feel like they are coming closer together and with more intensity.
There might be a noticeably empty spot at the table, traditions feel different, and the longing for connection with the person whom they have lost feels more intense.
For those experiencing grief, you might find yourself crying more often, feeling more anxious, and/or wanting to withdraw or avoid the holidays. I want to take a pause and say that these feelings are more than normal.
After a loss, even the logistics of “whose house are we going to celebrate at?” feel laced with heaviness. I have seen this play out in my own life, and the unsureness of navigating new territory can feel daunting and uncomfortable.
So then how can we navigate grief during the holidays?
Allow yourself a space to experience grief
Grief is a multi-layered emotion. Around the holidays not only are you grieving the loss of a loved one but also grieving the sense of normalcy. You may find that you are busying yourself out of avoidance. Consider taking time to yourself to reflect on your loved one. This can look like a spiritual ritual, talking out loud, journaling or writing a letter to the person you lost.
We often think of self-care as something big like a spa day or taking a trip. However, it can be more simplistic and attainable than that. Allow yourself to splurge on a favorite treat, take a nap, get some fresh air, partake in an activity that fills you up.
Talk with others
Undoubtedly, others in your life are also feeling the grief surrounding the loss of your loved one. Grief can make us feel lonely. However, if we allow it to, it can become a source of connection. Share a story or memory of holidays past, look at pictures, or simply share a simple sentiment like, “I wish they could be here for this” or “they would have loved this”. Being in relationship and connecting with others who are also experiencing grief can be a source of comfort.
Make a Plan
One of the overwhelming aspects of the holidays after experiencing loss is the unknown of what things might look like. Make a plan to help formulate expectations and set boundaries. Talking through what the logistical aspect of the day might look like can help ease anxieties and allows you a space to voice your desires and boundaries around the schedule and activities.
Create a new tradition
When grieving, old traditions can feel strange or can magnify the absence of your loved one. Keeping traditions is a beautiful way to create a sense of routine, connection to the past, and safety of familiarity. There can also be comfort in finding new traditions that both honor and integrate your loved one into the day. This new tradition might be something totally new like going ice skating or watching a new movie. Or it can be a tradition that honors the person who you lost. This can look like setting a place at the table for them, making their favorite dish, or hanging an ornament that reminds you of them.
Seek professional support for grief
Don’t hesitate to seek professional help whether it is finding a grief group or scheduling a few counseling sessions with a therapist. Even after the holidays, we can find ourselves in the throes of grief as the holidays surfaced new memories or brought about a new dimension of loss.
Remember that you can feel multiple feelings at once
Grief doesn’t have to steal away the joy of the holidays. Both can exist in the same space. The grief might be present, but you can give yourself permission to feel multiple emotions. For example, you can notice the ways in which you are desperately missing your loved one while also feeling joy as you watch your favorite holiday movie. Share a laugh with a family member or friend. Following the loss of my grandmother who was such an integral part of holiday celebrations, I felt both overcome by the desire for my grandma to be there, but I also felt the gratitude for the family that she built as we sat around the table sharing food and stories and hopes for the year to come.
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