If you have a loved one in hospice or someone you loved has recently passed away, the holidays may be a difficult time. So many of our celebrations rely on tradition, and it can be hard if a special person isn’t present. However, it's still possible to observe the festivities of the season. Following these tips can help you do just that.
Continuing to celebrate the holidays despite your loss can help you move through the grieving process, but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything you normally would during the season. Because they want to support you and don’t want you to be alone, many people may extend invitations to gatherings this year. Don’t feel obligated to accept them all if you don’t feel up to it. For example, you may prefer a smaller get-together with close friends and family to a large, bustling party, and that’s okay.
Dealing with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and your grief at the same time may feel overwhelming, but it’s important to look after yourself. Eat regular meals, prioritizing healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Get regular exercise and restful sleep. Keep up with your personal hygiene so you feel your best.
Practicing self-care during the holidays can also mean taking breaks. If you feel overwhelmed, step outside or retreat to a quiet corner to collect your thoughts. Take some deep breaths to help yourself relax, and return to the gathering when you feel ready.
Setting realistic expectations can help you avoid feelings of disappointment and guilt during the holidays. Acknowledge the fact that things will be different this year. Prepare yourself for the fact that you may not have the energy or be in the mood to celebrate when it’s time to.
Your friends and family may try to avoid the topic of your loved one during the holidays out of fear of upsetting you. However, talking about them and your feelings can be beneficial. Don’t hesitate to share memories of your loved one or to admit when you’re having a difficult time. The people who love you want to help you through this time, so let yourself lean on them when you need to.
There may be times during the holiday season when you laugh and feel joy. Those positive emotions don’t mean you’ve forgotten your loved one, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about how you're feeling. At the same time, anger and sadness may creep in at unexpected moments. Give yourself permission to experience whatever is there in the moment, knowing there’s no wrong way to feel.
Giving back to others can help raise your spirits during the holiday season. Studies have found that helping others increases levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin for a natural lift. Plus, giving can give you a sense of meaning while coping with grief.
If you feel up to it, consider volunteering in your community. You can get involved with a local organization that provides holiday meals for the homeless or visit people who are housebound during the season. If you’re not sure you’re up to this type of commitment, buy a gift for a toy drive for needy children or make a financial contribution to a nonprofit organization that's important to you in memory of your loved one.
Introducing a new tradition to your holiday celebrations can make your loved one more present. Some things you can do include:
Every family has certain traditions that are extra-special. Sticking to them can be a reminder that, though your loved one always remains in your heart and your thoughts, life continues. If your loved one had a particular job during the season, such as reading The Night Before Christmas, carving the turkey or preparing dessert, assign someone else the role ahead of time.
If you’re struggling with grief, help is available. Consider joining a support group where you can talk to others who are going through similar emotions. You may also wish to talk to a grief therapist who can help you process your feelings and develop more coping strategies to guide you through the holiday season.