Have Yourself An Okay(ish) Little Holiday
If you’re not feeling in the holiday spirit this year, you’re not alone. Whether you are grieving a recent loss or ten years out, the holidays can be particularly triggering for grievers. Department stores are playing “Happy Holidays” on repeat, the grocery store bursts with displays of easy-prep gravy and must-have spices, and the twinkle of your neighbor’s porch lights glow through your window. And, while perhaps you’re happy to see others happy, the “magic” of the season only serves as a reminder of everything and everyone that’s missing.
Many mistake the physical loss of a loved one as the only loss. The holidays expose the many layers of loss that grievers may experience – the loss of what was; of tradition; of financial stability; of designated roles; of companionship. This year, your holidays may look different. You are different; grief changes us and grief, itself, changes. Below, we have curated a few helpful tips and reminders as you navigate this season:
We all grieve differently, even if we’re grieving the same person and, because of that, you may have different expectations about what the holidays should look like. Communicating with those around you helps to build a framework for what your holidays might look like this year. Who will host? What traditions might you keep? What might you skip (reminder: just because you skip it this year, doesn’t mean you can’t pick it up next year)?
Know your triggers. Grief attacks can happen when you least expect them and at the most inopportune moments. Take time to tune in and identify those triggers (ex: smells, songs, times of the day) and explore how you might address or respond to them. Who are your safe people? Do you have a safe corner of the house where you might retreat to if you need a moment alone?
Set Boundaries and Expectations
Give yourself an out! Not sure you can handle family dinner at Cousin Terry’s? Let folks know ahead of time that you need to leave at a certain time for another engagement (note: it’s okay if that engagement is going to bed early or sitting at home with your furry friend and a hot cup of tea).
Be Honest With Yourself and Others
Take inventory of how you are feeling about the holidays. What is your capacity and how can you preserve your mental and emotional energy? Maybe that means letting someone else host this year or saying “yes” less.
Give Yourself Permission
Just as we can give ourselves permission to skip traditions, it’s okay to give yourself permission to laugh and enjoy the holidays, too. Experiencing guilt amid joy during the grief process is extremely common. Remember, enjoying life doesn’t mean letting go or forgetting your loved one.
Integrate Your Grief
Death ends a life, not a relationship. How might you acknowledge your loved one’s absence and remain in connection with them during the holidays? Below are a few ideas, but allow yourself to find ways to remain connected that feel meaningful for you:
- Place an empty chair at the table and/or place a photograph of your loved one where they can be seen by all
- Go around the table and share your favorite memory of your person
- Bring out the family photo albums or home videos
- Write them a letter
- Bake their favorite dessert
- Make a playlist of their favorite songs (they don’t have to be holiday songs!)
- Make a new tradition – maybe go to their favorite restaurant if you don’t feel like cooking this year or take a walk outside with your people or furry friend in their memory
- Volunteer for or donate to a cause near to your person’s heart
Holidays can be stressful in the best of circumstances, but when we are grieving, they can further draw our attention to feelings of isolation and heartache around all that we have lost. While these tips don’t bring our people back, they can help us bring the past into the present and allow us to navigate the holidays with greater comfort.