The holiday season is a time set aside for family and religious traditions. Meaningful activities and gaieties fill our lives and the lives of those we know and love. What happens then, if someone we love dies during this season? In the blink of an eye, our traditional festivities may lose their luster. We may avoid rather than seek our friends, families, and familiar traditions. We may fear our ability to enjoy our holidays ever again. We may fear our capacity to maintain our composure at activities, and we may have lost our energy and desire to participate.
The holidays can be a stressful time of year for various reasons for many people. If you have recently lost a loved one, or if this is the first holiday season you will experience after the loss of a loved one, you may not look at this time of year with gleeful anticipation; you may find that your stress has risen beyond your usual level. Many people who have lost a loved one during this time of year or who are experiencing their first holiday season without their significant loved one find that their anxiety may be causing great discomfort and sadness.
Grieving is difficult any time of the year, but grief during the holidays seems to be especially painful. Over the past years, I have asked many clients for their suggestions and experiences on surviving and overcoming holiday pain. With their permission to share their ideas, I write this article out of respect and with hope that you may find a suggestion that will help you grieve and honor the memory of your loved one. I hope that through these activities, you will gain a sense of comfort and control that will allow you to begin your journey toward recovery.
The first suggestions are those to help you gain control over the reeling emotions of loss.
You must acknowledge and accept your emotions. You may experience extreme sadness, anger, and frustration. This is normal. Your emotions may be directed toward the decedent, your living friends, and family, or both. These emotions may even be directed at people who have nothing at all to do with you or your life. For instance, you may become quite agitated at the store clerk for no true reason; you may end up being extremely rude to him/her for no true reason. These are normal behaviors under these circumstances. You need to realize that your behavior is grief related and forgive yourself.
You might take measures to eliminate unnecessary stress. If in the past, you were the party host for the most wonderful Christmas party or New Year’s Eve gala, realize that you might need a break from it this year. Perhaps if you are up to it, you could downsize your event, however, forgoing it all together and asking someone else to host this year’s events might be easier on you.
Grief relief is magnified by sharing love. Grief is brought on by the loss of comfort and love; it, therefore, makes sense that the opposite action of sharing love would reverse or lessen the effects of grief. Sharing your time and holidays with those who love and understand you, may very well decrease your anxiety, and bring the gift of healing into your life.
Remembering and celebrating the little things brings great comfort. If you and your loved one traditionally began your holiday season savoring a cup of warm wassail, you may find great comfort within the simple action of embracing warm wassail as the commencement tradition of your season. Identify the things you took for granted as part of your holiday cheer; acknowledge and develop these activities as traditions.
Developing new traditions to memorialize your loved one often helps with grief recovery as well.
A candle lighting ceremony to symbolize your enduring love for your loved one is a tradition that allows family and friends to participate in commemoration. Candles and lanterns alike, have long withstood the test of time as the traditional commemoration for those who are lost to us.
Hanging a Christmas stocking for the decedent and filling it with memorial notes, cherished memories, or sweet holiday cards helps mourners move the decedent from a living person into a loving memory. It assists survivors in the recovery process, and the notes become wonderful treasures as the years pass by.
Creating a memorial ornament is a wonderful activity for children. Photos and special trinkets belonging to the decedent can be incorporated into the ornaments to enhance their beauty and significance. As time passes, these lovely ornaments will become family heirlooms, treasured by those who knew and loved the deceased.
If your loved one enjoyed bombarding everyone with snowballs, a snowball competition would be a wonderful new tradition to celebrate and memorialize your loved one. Maybe he/she enjoyed caroling the neighbors or watching a particular Christmas movie; these activities create enduring traditions in which family members can participate and enjoy in years to come.
The holidays are a great time to volunteer and serve others. Opportunities abound, and the need is great for those willing to sacrifice their time and energies to help those who may be less fortunate. Serving others helps us to appreciate our gifts in life, and allows us to concentrate on others rather than our pain, our struggles, and ourselves.
Celebrate Peace and Love
The most profound suggestion that I have received for holiday recovery is that the holidays are a time of celebration centered on peace and love. Examine your holiday traditions and incorporate ways to celebrate the love you carry for your decedent in your heart. In so doing, the peace and joy that was once yours together will return to you. You will find that you are able to enjoy your holidays among those who remain with you, living and loving each other throughout the years and holidays as you progress through life.
If you have lost a loved one during the holiday season, or if this is your first holiday season since the passing of your loved one earlier during the year; I wish you comfort and solace. I pray for your recovery.