“I hate this time of the year,” my friend said. I didn’t have to ask why because I knew that she lost her husband in mid-December two years ago. Last December, on the first anniversary of his death, she said it was like there was an energy force all around that no longer resonated in her. Everything was “Happy Holidays” and “Happy New Year” but she did not feel happy at all.
This year the holidays were even worse because it seemed everyone expected her mourning to be over. After all, it had been two years — never mind that she shared 15 holiday seasons with her husband.
As a grief expert who has spent decades working with those who have lost loved ones, I can tell you it’s so much more than one season and then you’re “done” grieving. It’s also not about whether your loved one died or divorced you during the holidays, its about the pain that follows. If your loved one died in March, you still miss them around the holidays. And we often minimize other forms of loss that are not death — if it’s a divorce or a break up, you also experience loneliness during the holidays.
Holidays are about togetherness, but how do you have togetherness when the one you want to be with isn’t with you anymore?
For many people, holidays are the hardest part of grieving. When you have lost someone special, your world loses its celebratory qualities. Holidays only magnify the loss. I want to share a few strategies to help get you through the holidays.
1. Be honest about your grief.
Pretending you don’t hurt won’t help you. Allow yourself to feel the pain. Ultimately feeling the feelings will lead you out of your pain.
2. Ask for help and allow yourself to receive it.
Your need for support may be greatest during the holidays. Be honest with the people you love about how you feel. Tell them what you need. They are not mind readers. Give them the opportunity to be there for you.
3. Designate a specific time and place for your loss.
Talk about your loved one. Perhaps say a prayer or tell a story about that person before your holiday dinner. Light a candle. Share an online tribute. Give to yourself. Consider marking the holiday by doing something special just for you.
4. Know that you have the power to choose. Give yourself options.There is no right or wrong.
One approach is to have a plan A and plan B in place. For example, plan A is you go to Christmas or New Years dinner with family and friends. Plan B is leaning into the loss. It may be watching a movie or looking through photo albums. Many people find that when they have plan B ready, plan A becomes easier.
Another approach is canceling the holiday all together. For some, the framework of holiday traditions provides comfort, but if it’s torture, know that you are entitled to cancel your plans. Take a year off. The holidays will come around again. Do nothing more than what you want. No is a complete sentence.
Grief has a unique way of giving us permission to re-evaluate our traditions. If your old rituals no longer serve you, create new ones.
It is natural to feel you may never enjoy the holidays again. They will certainly never be the same as they were. However, in time, most people rekindle the holiday spirit. Until then, be kind to yourself. If you know someone in grief, don’t wait for that person to ask for help. Just offer. And pay attention to the children. They are often the forgotten grievers.
No solution is going to bring you the happiness you want or bring a loved one back. While grief is not a problem to be solved, I know how challenging holiday grief can be. I hope these ideas allow you to find comfort this holiday season and into the new year.