When there is an empty place at the table, it is hard to feel joy especially around the holidays.
Along with the jingle bells and snow there is an extra layer of emotion that normal days you can forget but the holidays bring into focus.
But you don’t need to dread the holidays anymore because there is a plan.
Surviving the Holidays After a Loss
1 - Decide What you Want From the Holidays.
Ask yourself what would make you happy during the holidays. Think about your personal expectations and what you need during this time.
If you need space this year or can’t emotionally deal with family during the holidays, figure that out before committing to family gatherings.
You may choose to forgo the big holiday traditions and spend the holidays on vacation forming your own new rituals in a different place.
Or you could seek the comfort of family and celebrating the traditions the way you have always done them.
Both ways can be a very healing time for many people.
2 - Acknowledge Your Feelings.
Grief is powerful and sneaky. One minute you feel fine and the next minute you are sobbing uncontrollably.
Allow yourself to feel those emotions and to embrace them as they come instead of pushing them away.
Cry when you need to cry.
Smile when you feel like it.
Find ways to bring laughter back into your life.
Know that these emotions are normal during the holidays and that is okay.
3 - Communicate with your Family.
Talk to your family before the holidays begin to see what their expectations of the holidays are, too.
When a loved one is gone things change and so do family rituals.
Discuss who should host, who will attend, and how you want to work the holidays as a family or if you need some time apart this year.
When grief is concerned, honest communication is essential.
4 - Have an Alternate Plan.
Always have an alternate plan during the holidays in case things get too hard to handle emotionally.
Stay for what you can stay for and leave when you need to go.
If needed, let the host know beforehand that you may need to step out a little early so you don't feel the need to have to say a big goodbye before you leave.
5 - Find a Way to Bring your Loved One into the Holidays.
Whether that be as a family or as an individual, find a way to honor your loved ones.
By acknowledging them openly you are embracing the feelings instead of letting your emotions creep up on you unexpectedly.
You may want to set a place for them at the table, light a candle, or frame a picture of your loved ones to bring to the gathering.
It may be making one of their specialty dishes or just taking some time to talk about them as a family.
These little things can change the way the holidays can go especially if it is the first one after a loss.
6 - Take the “Shoulds” Out of the Holidays.
There can be a lot of demands around the holidays that you place on yourself or that others place on you.
You should host Christmas dinner.
I should make homemade neighbor gifts.
You should be at the party.
I should make a gingerbread house with the family.
I should be smiling and happy so everyone is comfortable.
But “shoulds” are miserable and rarely make you happy even when you do them.
They can exhaust you and steal your emotional resources you need during this time of year.
There are very few things that you have to do and you need to decide what you actually want to do.
Remember the world won’t end if you don’t make a homemade pie for Thanksgiving.
7 - Remember the Love.
Love is why you are all connected. You all lost someone you loved very much.
This is the season for love.
Give it freely and receive it freely.
Most of all don’t skip the holidays because you are grieving.
Take them back in a manner that would make your loved one proud and happy.
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