While families all around gather to celebrate the holidays and partake in festivities, this can be an especially difficult time for those who have lost a loved one recently or around this time of the year. Holidays can magnify the sense of loss and loneliness and be a painful reminder of their absence. Everyone’s grieving journey is complex and unique and there is no right or wrong way to handle thoughts and emotions during these difficult times. Here are some things you can do to alleviate some of the sadness of navigating the holidays without your loved one.
- Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Grief can be challenging at any time of the year and involves a natural ebb and flow of a spectrum of emotions. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling. You may be peaceful and optimistic in one moment and desperately sad the next moment. Don’t try to avoid or resist negative emotions. And if you are having fun, don’t be conflicted about enjoying yourself. It is important to accept that it is possible for different feelings to coexist. For instance, you can miss your loved one and enjoy the holiday with your friends and family at the same time without guilt or judgement.
- Set healthy boundaries and expectations. You decide what you want to participate in or not, depending on what feels right for you. Don’t force yourself to be cheerful, be present at gatherings or participate in traditions just to appease other people’s expectations. Being kind to yourself and setting realistic expectations can help you feel less overwhelmed during the holidays. Be attuned to your needs and communicate them to your friends and family. Know your limits and have a back-up plan ready if you’re socializing – it’s okay to leave early or opt out of celebrations entirely and instead spend the time doing comforting activities such as going through photo albums and home videos. Only commit to the things you feel ready to engage in and go at your own pace and comfort.
- Create new traditions. One of the hardest things to accept with the loss of loved one is the idea that things will never quite be the same again. You may feel your loss more deeply at a time that used to be filled with fun and meaningful family rituals. You may choose to continue certain traditions to keep their memory alive. Or if that proves too difficult you can consider creating new traditions to honor their memory and celebrate their life – this can help you feel connected to them while at the same time help you move forward with hope and optimism. Seek comfort in the knowledge that creating new memories does mean that you are erasing old ones.
- Seek support. While it’s okay to feel a natural inclination to isolate from the merriment, don’t shy away from company simply because you think your grief will put a damper on their holiday cheer. Surrounding yourself with loved ones who understand what you are going through, sharing your favorite memories, and reminiscing in the good times may be therapeutic for both you and others who also miss the departed. You can even consider joining local support groups – sharing your thoughts and feelings with others living through a similar journey can help support you through your grief especially during the holidays.
- Take care of your body. Grief can take a toll on both your emotional and physical health. Neglecting your body’s needs can perpetuate feelings of depression and stress so it is important to make sure you are taking care of your self physically. Avoid overindulging in food and alcohol during the holidays. Maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated and getting adequate amount of sleep is important in maintaining your physical health. Exercise as often as you can – going for walks and getting some fresh air can help you feel rejuvenated.