5 Simple Ways to Cope with Grief During the Holidays
Before you make any plans for this year's holiday season, read on for five radically different ideas that you have not thought of, because no one talks about it!
First things first: Forgiveness
I know that forgiveness seems like an odd topic to start talking about holiday preparations, but honestly one of the biggest challenges about grieving during the holidays is feeling guilty:
We feel guilty for celebrating when our loved one can’t be here enjoying the festivities with us.
We feel guilty for staying grumpy in the midst of all the holly jolly frivolity.
We feel guilty for not making a bigger deal out of the last holiday enjoyed together prior to their death.
We feel guilty for feeling guilty, because logically we know guilt solves nothing.
I am here to humbly request that you give yourself the biggest gift of all this season: forgiveness. Rest assured that you did the best you could with the information you had, under the given circumstances. Accept that you are not able to change the course of past events. This holiday season, release any lingering regrets to allow yourself to embrace the less-than-ideal present. Just as it is.
Now we can get serious about prepping for the holidays.
1. Reason for the season
Soon enough, the stress and anxiety of the winter holiday season will begin to ramp up. Now is the time to pause and take the wide view of things. When you are grieving, you often feel scattered and unfocused, which only adds to the pressure of holiday prep time. So I challenge you, as soon as you finish reading the next sentence to STOP and actually answer this question:
What is the most important core value you want to keep in mind during this holiday season?
Did you immediately think of a spiritual value, such as peace, generosity, or love? If you identify with the Christian faith, your answer might be the obvious: "Duh, Jesus is the reason for the season!" Think about what values he stood for, if that makes the most sense to you.
After someone you love dies, your priorities change and you become even more aware of the preciousness of time. Your core value might reflect your religious faith or an admired quality that your loved one’s life demonstrated.
Keep brainstorming until you land on one special word that best expresses the importance of this time of year. Once you settle on your “seasonal theme,” write it down in huge letters somewhere you can read it every day. This daily reminder will be important, because when we are distracted or overly busy, it is so easy to forget what matters most. This core value will be your touchstone when overwhelm threatens.
Seriously, do not go on to item #2 until you can answer that question!
2. Talk about it
Once you have your core value-based theme ready, you are prepared to start talking about your holiday plans with family members. The seasonal theme you landed on will guide the discussion and ensure everyone focuses on the big stuff, without getting off track. Reminding folks about the “reason for the season” usually will tamper any replays of old patterns of pride and controlling family dynamics.
Every family is dysfunctional in some way, right?
During your family discussion, talk about your holiday traditions and especially the memories that involved your loved one who died. What do you remember most about your last holiday season with them? What was their favorite holiday ritual, food, decoration, or song? What traditions would you like to keep this year, and which ones would you prefer to skip or change completely?
Using the theme from question 1, sketch out a simple plan for how you and your family ideally want to spend this upcoming holiday. Be creative. No idea is too big or too small or too wacky. Traditions can evolve over the years!
4. Honor them
Once you have a general plan in place, think about how you will include the person who died in a very special way. Will you honor them by placing an empty chair at the dinner table or creating a “tabletop shrine” with their photo surrounded by memory objects? Maybe you will decide to donate to a beloved charity in their name. Consider their personality, hobbies, and what they valued most.
However you choose to honor your loved one, please do NOT avoid talking about them. Pretending they didn’t die and you don’t miss them will not make the holidays easier to bear. Sometimes, we avoid saying a deceased loved one's name for fear of "upsetting" someone else in the family.
I promise you that everyone is thinking of them anyway. So I challenge you to be the brave one who speaks their name aloud. Tell the old stories. Pull out the old photos.
Honor the memories to strengthen connections.
5. Be flexible
Now you have a framework for “celebrating” the holidays. My next bit of advice is to throw it in the trash. Just kidding. Sort of. I recommend that you consider any planning tentative. Let everyone involved know that the holiday plan is subject to change at any time, depending on how you are feeling.
Especially during the first few holidays after a death, you are perfectly within your right to cancel at the last minute if you feel too overwhelmed to participate. If you need special permission, please recall what I wrote at the top of this post about the gift of forgiveness.
Wishing you and your family peace and blessings during this holiday season.
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