The holidays conjure images of jubilant gatherings with family and friends, great food, good cheer, and decorations to dazzle and delight. We are bombarded with social media, advertisements, and sugary sweet holiday movies that make the promise that everything works out in the end and all can be cured with a little holiday spirit.
Wow, even typing that felt like a lot of pressure! I don’t know about you, but even in the best of times my holidays have never been so simple or so sweet.
For someone in the midst of grief, holiday cheer can feel a lot like toxic positivity. The pressure to be happy, well organized, and have a perfect holiday can provoke anxiety, feelings of overwhelm, and intense sadness. It can be enough to make one want to sit the holidays out. However, if you want to participate in the holidays after loss there are ways to make it more manageable.
1. It’s okay to go with the flow
When the actual holiday comes along, let yourself do whatever feels best. If you want to cry in bed all day allow yourself to do it. If you want to keep the party smaller this year, that is fine too. You get to decide what you can handle and what feels best for you.
2. It’s okay to have plan on leaving early
You are allowed to go to an event with a timeframe in mind. You can tell the host you can only stay for a bit or plan to leave early. If you feel like staying longer once you are there, it will be a pleasant surprise. When traveling, if staying with others feels too overwhelming, you can plan to grab a hotel so that you can have a place to retreat.
3. It’s okay to include your grief and your missing loved one.
Sometimes allowing grief a seat at the table can be helpful. Even allowing a small bit of time during the holidays by going for a walk, journaling, or creating a meaningful piece of art can be a way to connect with the loved one you are missing. When gathering with others, have everyone share a special memory of the lost loved one. Write your loved one a letter. Have their picture displayed in the room where everyone is gathering or make their favorite recipe.
4. It’s okay to take breaks from social media.
Seeing perfect images of perfect people is not helpful when you are feeling anything but perfect and those images aren't even real. Also, you don’t have to watch holiday movies just because it's the holidays. I have a dear friend who loves Christmas and listens to Christmas songs all summer long. It isn't for me, but I appreciate how she honors her feelings even if the music doesn't feel appropriate for the time or setting. If she can listen to Christmas music in the summer, you can listen to whatever you want during Christmas whether that be Adele or heavy metal.
5. It’s more than okay to communicate with others.
It is okay to ask for what you might need. If you know the holidays will be hard for you, explain how you are feeling and ask for help. That might be in the form of requesting a call on a day that you know might be hard for you or asking for someone else to bring the main course this year. A lot of times people don’t know what to do when it comes to supporting others going through grief. They might think bringing your grief up might make things worse or they will say the wrong thing. You might be doing others a favor giving them information on how to support you.
6. If you do spend the holiday alone, and you might, that is okay too.
Spending holidays alone happens, and unfortunately, loosing someone might leave you in this position. If you would like to be in the presence of others, it could be a good day to volunteer, to accept that invitation to an acquaintance's gathering, or go to a place of worship that is meaningful to you. Again, it is okay for this day to feel exactly how this day feels with no expectations.
7. It’s okay if next year is different.
There will be other holiday seasons and while loss has happened and things will be forever altered, the emotions felt can change over time. Grief will be with us for a lifetime in different ways, but just like a stream meanders over rocks and down hills, emotions shift as well as come and go. How loss is experienced this year might be entirely different than in the future.
If you are struggling this holiday season, I send you so much love. I really do. If you need one on one support please reach out.
Lura Hawkins, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in California. Lover of animals and poetry.