- More than anything, listen to yourself, take care of yourself, and don’t set your expectations too high. Things can never be the same as they were.
- Try to rest – grieving is physically and emotionally exhausting.
- Remember: how you manage this year may not be how you plan and manage next year. As long as you are comfortable with whatever you decide to do, that is all that is important.
- Whatever you do, wherever you are, have a peaceful time.
How do I survive holidays without my loved one?
The holiday season, or the season to be jolly, can be a very difficult time, especially some months after death. This is when friends and those not immediately close to your loved one have begun to move on with life and may have assumed that you and your family are doing the same.
How do I survive holidays without my loved one?
Some families try very hard to forge ahead and celebrate in the same ways that they had previously. In some cases, this can work, but my experience of working with families has been that it is better to do whatever you feel you can do, not necessarily to try too hard to have a good time. There are many ways that both private events like birthdays and public holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah can be managed. It is normal to fear an upcoming event or anniversary. Unexpected feelings can emerge. It can feel like there is no escape, with holiday music playing in shops or cheery people wishing you happy holidays or a happy new year.
Holiday music, carols, and weather can evoke memories, as well as feelings of isolation and disconnect from those who are planning excitedly. Younger family members may not understand the finality of death, and there may be pressure on bereft spouses to provide holiday celebrations like they always did in the past. There may be financial difficulties too, particularly if the deceased was working or the main source of income for the household. The pressure of managing grief through the holidays, even without any added financial concerns, can feel just too huge.
Surviving holidays with grief isn’t easy, but you can help yourself manage it by doing some of the following things.
Don’t hide your grief – wear it, share it
Talk. I always promote the benefit of talking out grief. Discuss with your family how you all might be feeling and how each of you might wish to participate in the event or not.
Be honest. Children do have the ability to understand. It’s okay and can be useful not to hide your grief from children. It is important to explain why you feel sad and to ensure that they know it isn’t their fault. Ask them how they feel about their deceased loved one. Encourage siblings to share thoughts and feelings with each other, and give them permission to be honest too.
Some families feel unable to have decorations. It might be triggering to put up the tree or get decorations out of storage. One client told me she just couldn’t take the boxes out of the loft, because her husband had put them up last season, and he always got them down. It is acceptable not to have decorations if you feel unable to.
There are lots of ways to remember. For example, make a special area or room for remembering the deceased that might have flowers, candles, or photographs. Some people like to visit the grave or a special place where they feel closest to their loved one. Others may find this too difficult. Remember, grief is as unique as our relationship with our loved one. It’s about doing what feels most comfortable and manageable for you. Do only as much as you feel able to manage. Don’t feel pressured into anything that feels too big.
You might be concerned about sending and receiving holiday cards. It can be very difficult to write a card and not put your loved one’s name on it. It also applies to receiving cards. Sometimes cards are sent by those unaware of the death, so the deceased’s name will be unintentionally mentioned. Some families include the name of their loved one. One family wrote “Never forgetting our darling David” at the end of the message. Whatever you feel comfortable with is normal, and it is important that whatever you wish to do, you do.
Some families find it very difficult not to buy presents for the deceased loved one. If you wish, you could donate your gift to a local hospital or hospice in their name.
On the day
Do what is best for you. Let the extended family know how you wish to manage the day, and don’t be persuaded to do anything or go anywhere that doesn’t feel right.
Make it different by having a different day, eating at a different time, and changing the routine. Most families have a way in which they always celebrate. Your life has been changed by this bereavement, and it is acceptable to change family traditions that may not be emotionally or physically possible now.
You might allot part of the day as a special time to share memories of your loved one, look at videos or photos, or write something for them. However, spend your time being kind to yourself, and give yourself permission to be however you feel.
How you choose to celebrate your loved one’s birthday should be your choice to fit with how you are feeling. Here are some ideas taken from my own clients’ experiences of birthdays.
Some people take flowers to the grave; others have flowers, a lighted candle, and a memory book at home for members of the family to write in. Memory books give an opportunity for conversation and for other family members to read about and share how they are feeling. One family had a small gathering and celebrated the life of their father/husband, showing videos and playing his favourite music. This was useful to them. Some do not wish to acknowledge the day at all; they feel unable to manage it emotionally, and that is okay too.
There are triggers in any event, and coming to a place of managing a life without someone you love is hard. I often say that you do not get over a death, but instead learn to live alongside it. As time passes, it becomes more manageable, but on special occasions or when those triggers occur, it can feel as raw as the day it happened.
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Don’t hide your grief. Wear it, share it. AJ
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