As I sit down to begin writing this article, the calendar catches my eye, and I realize that the holidays are fast approaching. I smile at the realization because I remember my parents talking about how the holidays rolled around faster the older they got. I’m beginning to understand!
Ready or not, the holidays will be here before you know it. Just saying that out loud can stir up all kinds of emotions. Typically, from a young age, it has been ingrained in us how the holidays are supposed to unfold. As the holidays approach, we know the traditions we hold dear and look forward to the people we count on to be present. Holidays are one of the ways we mark the passage of time in our lives, a milestone shared with others.
However, when dealing with a loss, especially if that loss is of a significant loved one, looking at the upcoming holidays may be anything but celebratory. It seems that holidays may even magnify the loss and deepen the sadness. With good reason, the holiday seasons are often the most emotionally difficult times for people who have lost a loved one.
So, what are we to do? Begin by acknowledging the difficulty in this time of year and remember that finding meaning in the loss is as individual as we are. We often say that a part of us died with our loved ones, but finding meaning is also realizing that a part of them still lives within us. At some point, we need to move from focusing on the part of us that died and focus on the part of them that still lives within us. The important thing is to be present for our loss, wherever we are in our grief journey and in whatever form the holidays do or do not take.
The holidays are a part of our grief journey that we must fully feel. We expect sadness, but we may also be surprised to find that, maybe in small ways, we are okay and may even have a moment of happiness or laughter!
Remember that you can—AND WILL—get through the holidays. Pretending that you don’t hurt or that this isn’t a difficult time of year isn’t true and won’t work. Rather than trying to avoid the feelings of grief, try to embrace and feel them. It’s not the grief you are trying to avoid. It’s the pain. No one can take the pain away, but it does become manageable. Grief is the experience of claiming and naming what you are feeling inside and is the way to discover how to manage the pain of loss.
With the holidays just around the corner, it’s not too early to begin thinking about them and planning to get through them successfully. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
• You always have choices. Giving some thought to the holidays ahead of time allows you to think about possible choices ahead of time so that you aren’t caught off guard.
• Choosing not to celebrate is an option, but you may find that it feels better to, at the least, acknowledge your loss in some meaningful way. Resist the desire to isolate yourself from others. Being with those you love may provide emotional and spiritual nourishment and help you heal.
• Be clear about what you need from yourself and others. Don’t set yourself up to be overwhelmed. Simplifying may be an easier approach this year. Unless you tell them, people don’t know what you need or feel. Ask for the help you need.
• Know that it’s okay to break from tradition or to begin a new tradition. If the tradition emphasizes the absence of your loved one, it may be too difficult to keep this year. Allow for minor changes if needed. However, don’t be afraid of creating new traditions. A new tradition may be more healing for you and others than trying to continue as always.
These are just a few things to consider before the holidays arrive. Know that you can be as prepared as possible, but something may still catch you off guard and trigger your pain. When that happens, cry your tears, embrace the support given, take a deep breath, and give it another try.
Please remember that we are here to help you in your grief journey. We are just a phone call away.
Lee Ann Livingston
Spiritual Care Provider
The Hospice & Community Care team has a number of resources available for helping families walk through grief and loss.
Learn more about the support and services available to you.