Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza and New Year’s Day are annual holidays that can be a tough time for people who have experienced the death of someone loved. Family and togetherness are critical themes for the holidays and can bring up deep emotions whether the loss in new or from years ago.
Grief is not a tidy, orderly process, and there is no right way to grieve. Every person—and every family—does it differently. This can cause emotions to collide and overlap, especially during the holiday season. If you’re wondering how to get through the holidays this year without your loved one, these strategies can help:
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Remind yourself that this year is different. Decide if you still can handle the responsibilities you’ve had in the past. Examine the tasks and events of celebrating and ask yourself if you want to continue them. You may find that changing the way you celebrate helps either by adding a new tradition or changing the celebration entirely. One JFCS client in her 70s, who lost both of her parents around the holidays, decided that she would start a new tradition of traveling to visit her children for the holidays rather than being home alone.
Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Share your plans with family and friends and let them know of any intended changes in holiday routine. Know that it’s all right to tell people you aren’t up to a traditional celebration right now.
Draw comfort from doing for others. Consider giving a donation or gift in memory of your loved one. Invite a guest to your home who might otherwise be alone for the holidays. “Numerous clients of mine over the years have volunteered to feed the hungry in soup kitchens or participate in Angel Tree or Hanukkah Helpers to help others while lifting their own spirits,” says JFCS Older Adult Therapist Connie Austin.
Take care of yourself. Avoid self-medicating your mood through alcohol or unhealthy foods. Get out if the weather is nice; physical exercise is often an antidote for depression. Buy yourself something frivolous that you always wanted or book a pampering session at a day spa.
Give yourself time and allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, anger, etc. It is important to recognize that every person has his/her own unique grief experience and may have different needs related to celebrating the holidays. No one way is right or wrong. Experiencing joy and laughter does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.
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