The holiday season is officially upon us. No matter where you go – the mall, the local coffee shop, your favorite restaurant across the street – you can’t help but notice the twinkling lights, the jolly fat man, and the various assortments of wreaths and Christmas trees. You can’t take a step without hearing the faint noise of a holiday jingle in the distance. Although some time has passed since your loved one departed, you’re still adjusting to a new normal. You may even be dreading this time of year.
Holidays Aren’t Always Happy
Let’s be honest: even in good times, holidays aren’t all fun and joyful. A lot of hard work goes into holiday preparations, and then there’s the constant pressure to be cheerful and appreciative. Unrealistic and unmet expectations are one reason many people struggle with anxiety and depression during the “most wonderful time of the year.”
For anyone who is grieving during the holidays, they are an even greater challenge. As the season approaches, you may be filled with heartache, rather than lighthearted anticipation. When the festivities begin, your sadness and loneliness seem magnified. All the things that make the holidays special – togetherness, friends, family, celebration – can exacerbate the emotions of a broken heart.
Try to remember, although you may feel all alone or lost, you’re not the first to face the holidays while grieving. Others have felt the way you’re feeling now, and they’ve learned to cope. We spoke with Dr. Pam Perkins of Perkins Counseling and Psychological Services in Wake Forest, North Carolina. As a psychologist, she helps clients deal with bereavement during the holidays, and she shared some helpful recommendations with us. While no one suggestion will work for everyone, we hope you’ll find some ideas here that will work for you.
9 Tips to Coping with Grief During the Holidays
1. Acknowledge the Change. Things just aren’t the same, especially on the first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Trying to pretend like nothing has changed is a sure recipe for holiday disaster. Perkins says, “Be proactive and plan ahead.” If you’ve lost your parents and you usually celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas at their house, then in advance of the first holiday after the death of a parent, call your siblings and say, “What are we going to do instead?” Or if the place you’ll celebrate isn’t changing, you might consider setting a place at the table in honor of your missing loved one.
2. Get Creative Keep in mind, there is no right or wrong way to observe the holidays. You may want to do something totally new – for example, you could plan a Christmas Eve buffet with a completely different menu than the Christmas Day dinner you are accustomed to because the sweet honey ham was your deceased grandpa’s favorite, or your departed sibling always requested your homemade apple pie. Hang an embroidered stocking dedicated to your loved one, and fill it with a few of his or her favorite things. Find what works best for you.
3. Reevaluate Your Expectations Maybe you’ve always baked dozens of holiday cookies, or you had the most beautifully decorated house on your block. Chances are you don’t feel up to doing it all this year. Eliminate the words “should” and “ought to” from your vocabulary; when you hear these words, look out – a guilt trip is right around the corner. Don’t set up unrealistic expectations for yourself or let others tell you how you should feel or what you should do, and if you hear yourself saying, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” Perkins says maybe you should ask yourself why you’re feeling that way. It’s likely you should acknowledge the feeling rather than dismissing it. This year, resolve to do only those things that give you pleasure.
“You can’t recreate the past: you can’t have a perfect holiday,” Perkins tells us. “The commercials make it seem like everybody is happy. Everybody has the perfect family. I mean, how ridiculous are these commercials when there are two Lexuses in the driveway, and it’s like, seriously, do you know anybody,” that gives their spouse a luxury car for Christmas? Don’t let Hollywood and marketers set your expectations for the holidays.
In fact, Perkins says another way to be proactive is to tell people what you need. If you need someone to watch the kids while you run errands, ask for that help. Your friends and family will be happy to assist, but chances are they don’t know how. You have to tell them.
4. Involve Family and Friends in Holiday Planning With emotions running high, communication is more important than ever. Discuss your plans with the people closest to you, and let them know you’re feeling anxious about the holidays. Explain that you might want to limit your participation in the festivities, but let them know it’s okay to carry on their celebration without you. Clearing the air will relieve you of feigned happiness, and it will relieve your family of tiptoeing around you.
5. Start New Traditions in Memory of your Loved OneCreating new holiday traditions after a death in the family can include making a donation to his or her favorite charity, keeping a lit flameless candle in the window, or mentioning him or her in your prayer before your holiday meal.
6. Take Care of Yourself Make sure to get enough rest and eat well. Don’t overindulge in rich foods or alcohol, and don’t medicate your feelings. Numbing the pain won’t make you forget. Doing so could make things much worse.
A healthier option than overindulgence is doing constructive or relaxing things that make you feel good. Perkins gives examples of taking nice, long baths or trying walking, running, or biking. If doing puzzles or crosswords helps take your mind off things, then make sure you take time to do them.
7. Be the Good Remember the true meaning of the holidays. Consider spending a day working at a soup kitchen or filling holiday baskets for the needy. Send a card to someone else who is hurting, telling him how much he means to you. Sponsor a child in need and send him a personalized teddy bearto remind him he is loved. Giving to others will temporarily shift your focus from your own sorrow, and it may even bring a little joy to your holiday.
8. Express your FeelingsWhen you’re sad, say so. Whether you share your feelings with someone you trust, keep a journal, or write a letter to your loved one, don’t keep your emotions inside. Bottling up your feelings will almost inevitably result in an explosion of emotions – often at the worst possible moments. Remember to share your happy feelings, too. Concentrating on what’s positive tricks your mind into letting go of some of the negative energy. The pain of grief comes and goes, so enjoy as much as you can. Having fun at the holidays is not a betrayal of your loved one.
9. Find support Whether in person or on social media – for example, Perfect Memorials Grief Support on Facebook – some people find comfort in support groups. Others may prefer one-on-one conversations with a friend or someone who has been through a similar situation. “People who have some kind of religious faith, they can take that back to God and pray about it,” Perkins says. Of course, talking with a professional counselor like Perkins can also help.
Getting Through the Holidays After a Loss – Memorials Can Help
We understand that preserving the memory, the good times, and the fulfilling life of your dearly departed is of utmost importance to you. We have several customizable Christmas memorials for loved ones to help you do just that while alleviating some of your grief during the holidays. And if you’re looking for ways to help someone you care about who is grieving during the holidays, these ideas make thoughtful comfort gifts.
- Every time you take a look at your Christmas tree, you will remember your loved one with a beautiful, personalized holiday memorial ornament.
- This wooden cross ornament embodies your loved one in a sacred, holy manner, reminding you your family member is in a better place now.
- Having a teddy bear under the tree during Christmas time is a sweet sentiment for deceased youth. It can also bring you solace if you simply need something to hold during the holidays.
- Christmas isn’t the only time of year you will be missing your beloved. Keep your loved one close with a beautiful piece of memorial jewelry. Choose one of our photo engraved jewelry options for a unique and elegant piece.
- Coping with the loss of a pet is nearly as hard during the holidays as dealing with the loss of any other member of the family. Keep your animal companion with you always by wearing a piece of pet memorial jewelry.
Share your Holiday Grieving Tips with Us
Are you grieving the loss of someone you love? Do you remember past holidays when you were grieving? What methods did you use to cope? We’d like to hear your tips for dealing with holiday grief – and maybe your suggestions will help others, too.