It's the most wonderful time of the year... unless you’ve lost someone special?
For most, the holidays are for celebration, reflection, and time spent with loved ones. From watching your favorite Hallmark movies to cooking tasty seasonal meals, the holidays often leave us feeling cheerful. However, for anyone actively grieving the loss of a loved one this time of year can be very daunting.
While the holidays can often magnify the feelings of grief that surround the loss of a loved one or add additional stress, there are ways to manage this unique time. Here are six ways to support yourself or a loved one through the holidays:
- Acknowledge that the holidays will be different this year
- Plan early and communicate expectations
- Be open and honest with your feelings
- Avoid isolating yourself
- Consider changing traditions or creating new traditions
- Schedule a visit to your therapist
Acknowledge that the holidays will be different this year
One of the first things you'll need to do to support yourself or a loved one through the holidays is to acknowledge that things will be different this year. The first holiday season after the loss of a friend or family member may be very hard. With time, future holidays may still include some feelings of grief and sadness, but these usually decrease with each year. Accepting and acknowledging the difference this year can allow you to openly face the change and the feelings it brings.
Plan early and communicate expectations
Was the family member you lost this year the one who always hosts your holiday dinner? Did they tend to bring a unique personality or perspective to holiday traditions? Planning for the realization that someone else will need to "fill their shoes" can be very difficult to think about but will need to happen at some point. If you begin to plan for this "new normal" early, you will allow for time to process the changes ahead.
It's also important to communicate expectations with those you will be celebrating the holidays with to ensure everyone understands because not all handle grief the same. The same can be said for those dealing with situations of abuse or addiction during the holidays. Having open communication and clear expectations, such as, "There will be no alcohol brought or consumed during our Christmas dinner", sets the tone for all in attendance.
Be open and honest with your feelings
Grief is a process and not a problem to be solved. It can be unpredictable. When you are open and honest with your feelings (with yourself and others) everyone involved will be better equipped to navigate this time. Be gentle with yourself and give permission to feel whatever you are feeling, even if you are not feeling what others are.
Avoid isolating yourself
Not everyone handles grief or stressful situations the same. It's okay to allow for personal space on occasion to grieve alone or give yourself time just for you. But remember, it's also important to connect with others. Time with friends, family, or community and faith members is also important for us. Too much isolation can become unhealthy; humans are social by nature and we benefit from connection with others.
Consider changing traditions or creating new traditions
There are so many memories wrapped up with the holidays. Traditions are a big part of what makes this time of year so special. If there is a tradition you've always participated in but might be too hard to even consider because it is so deeply linked to memories of your lost loved one, it's okay to change the tradition or even skip it this year. Creating new traditions, including some that honor your loved one, can be a good alternative to dealing with holiday traditions after loss.
Schedule a visit to your therapist
We understand that talking to friends or family about how you're feeling might be hard at times. Visiting your therapist, or setting up your first appointment with a therapist if you don't already have one, might be a good idea. If you'd like the expert support of a mental health professional, contact us at one of our counseling centers. We're here to help and we’ll gladly assist connecting you with the right services for you.
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