With the holiday season approaching, we are constantly bombarded by images of happy families together sharing the joy of the season. If you are a griever, however, this may not be the picture that you can imagine at this point. Holidays, birthdays, or other days that were a special part of your family traditions trigger painful feelings of loss and grief. People ask, "so, what do you want for Christmas?" The real answer is, "I want my loved one back".
For some people, anticipating, and perhaps even dreading, the upcoming occasion is worse than the actual day. Fearing that you may react badly, or ruin the holiday for others, can lead to feelings of grief and anxiety. There are several ways to approach these special days. You can try to make them just as they were before the death of your loved one. You can do something completely different. Or you can create a day that combines old traditions with new ones. There may be some pressure from family and friends to do the day exactly as before, but this can be emotionally difficult, because nothing will be exactly as before.
While you might find yourself wishing that you could just go to sleep and wake up after the holidays, that is not an option. The good new is that grief support during holidays is possible! Here are some ideas which may help you face the some of those things you might find challenging.
1. Be prepared.
Before plans and expectations sneak up on you, think about what you can and cannot do this year. Friends and family may, with the best of intentions, make plans for you. They don't understand that the annual tree lighting ceremony, always a favorite of yours, may now cause you to fall completely apart in public, something you would prefer to avoid. Know that some things will just be too hard. Don't fall into the trap of letting others make these decisions for you. If you have already decided what is best for you, gently decline plans that are too stressful.
2. Talk with others.
Who celebrates these holidays with you? Who is sharing your grief? Talk frankly with those people. Tell them what is making you anxious, and explain that you may have some sad emotional moments, but that is just the way it is this year. Listen to their ideas and try to work out the touchy issues. If you have always taken a family holiday photo and sent out a letter, perhaps this year you could send out a favorite group photo from the past. If you can't write the letter, let someone else do it. Don't worry about how you will handle next year. One year at a time.
3. Let others help you.
If you have always been the one in charge of holidays, it can be hard to let go and at the same time, physically and emotionally exhausting to do everything you have done in the past. Choose the things that you want to do yourself. Then invite others to help with specific tasks. Remember that they love you and they want to help. Let someone else bake, clean, or decorate the tree. This holiday season will be hard, but you will get through it together.
4. Be prepared for events and large gatherings.
How long is the event expected to last? Can you slip out early if you need to? Who will be there? If there will be difficult questions, how will you respond? Will there be any emotional surprises, such as a memorial tribute?
5. Honor your loved one.
There are many ways to do this and they are as individual as your family. Light a candle. Make his favorite dessert. Write memories on strips of paper and put them in his or her Christmas stocking. Use decorations that remind you of your loved one, such as hand print turkeys made in school. Buy a gift in his memory and donate it to a favorite charity. Invite everyone to share a favorite memory.
6. Be honest with yourself and others.
If your friends and family try to change old traditions, such as where the holiday dinner will take place, and that is one tradition you do not wish to be different, let them know. While they might think this change will make things"easier on you," if that is not the case, you need to tell them the truth. In all likelihood, they may be grieving as well. If you take the lead and are honest about how you feel, it will make it safe for them to be honest as well.
There is no right or wrong way to get through holidays and other special occasions. It helps to make everything you do a loving tribute to your loved one, while at the same time taking care of yourself. Keep or amend the traditions that they particularly loved so that you can still enjoy the occasion.
You may find that any challenges you face during the holidays convince you to start taking recovery action using "The Grief Recovery Handbook," or to see if there is a Grief Recovery Method Support Group in your area. Taking meaningful action to move through the emotional pain of your loss will make the next special day on the calendar something that can be better enjoyed.