Getting Through Your First Holidays After a Loss

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In late October the sun starts to shift in the sky, and the air grows crisp. This also brings on a feeling of dread in my bones. It signifies the beginning of the season of sorrow. Halloween had been my husband’s favorite holiday. Since his death, I have avoided holiday traditions filled with memory and sadness. His absence seems too glaring and the pain too intense. I have discovered new ways to celebrate. But even with this, the missing and the loss are still there.

Holidays definitely change following a loss. The first holiday after my husband died, we did not cook for Thanksgiving. We went to a restaurant, instead. No one had the energy to do more. I was lucky to have loved ones who took me holiday shopping. Still, the exhaustion of grief kept outings brief. As I shopped, I found myself looking for presents that he would have loved. I realized I would never buy him gifts again and would start sobbing. I cried through family dinners and the opening of presents. I went through the motions of many family holiday traditions.I reminded myself that not every year would be like this. It was enough that year to survive the holidays.

Since that first year, I have taken a different approach to the holidays. Here is a list of some of the key things I learned to make them tolerable:

Accept: I acknowledge when I start to feel the “season of sorrow”. I work on being compassionate with myself. This is a hard time for me.

Reflect: I reflect on how far I have come in my own grief journey and where I am now.

Be selective: Whether I engage in certain holiday traditions or attend holiday events depends on how I am feeling that year, day or hour.

Self-care: I give myself permission to take care of me. This may mean disappointing others because I need time to myself.

Show my emotions: Instead of trying to be stoic or the strong one, I show my tears and sadness when feeling it. This is healthier for me. It also models to others and gives them permission to express their own feelings.

Before the hustle and bustle gets too much, take a moment to think how you want to do things. How are you feeling at this point in grief ? What are you needing? How might you get that? Deciding on certain things early in the season can help. For instance, what traditions might you like to keep? What do you want to do with their stocking? Perhaps you might want to get a special ornament to honor them. Maybe you want to light a candle during Hanukkah with family. You might do something you both enjoyed. like driving around the neighborhood looking at lights.

A bigger question, is what do the holidays mean since this person died? You might not be able to answer this, or other questions all of these at once. It is a lot and it is ok to feel overwhelmed. Journaling can help you remember your thoughts on these and other questions. The most importance piece throughout all of this is figuring out what YOU need. What can help you get through this part of your grief journey and the holidays to come.

So, how are you going to handle the holidays this year?

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