Joy, family, love, celebration and togetherness are common holiday themes.
Yet for many, this time of year is harder than most.
For me, it’s a pretty raw reminder that my dad passed away just two years ago on December 9, 2015. His birthday is December 21st.
Amidst the celebrations and enjoying family, it can feel difficult to appreciate the moments when you feel such loss. It’s a reminder of someone missing at the holiday table, and traditions that you won’t celebrate together again.
This time of year — coupled with flooding imagery on social media of family togetherness and love — you might feel a greater sense of loneliness…. even when you’re surrounded by many more who love you. I get it. I’ve been there.
Fact: I’m not a PhD. Or MD.
I’m a real girl who has spent considerable time reflecting on her own grief (both with loss and my health), and who has spent considerable time speaking to a counselor about coping through the process. That said…
Here’s what I’ve learned about how to best manage grief during the holidays:
Acknowledge That This Will be Difficult. There’s no easy way around it. Dealing with grief is tough enough, and then factor in the holidays, and your heart will heart.
Create New Traditions. I want my children to grow up fondly remembering family who is no longer with us. For us, we try to change the narrative to be a celebration of life, instead of one of loss. As a new tradition, we have a birthday cake on my dad’s birthday in order to involve our kiddos and create a happy memory around a loved one. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not easy… but it’s important.
Change the Situation. Is the idea of cooking a big holiday meal and feeling like there’s an empty seat too much to handle? Sister, I get it. We host every holiday and even thinking how my dad would attack the cheese platter with impressive vigor creates pain during a celebration. So change things up… the meal, the environment, any of it, in order to alleviate your triggers. For example, go out to dinner, or make it casual where everyone sits around the TV and watches football or a holiday movie.
Take time to grieve, cry and have all the emotions. You seriously do not need to keep a smile on your face, nor should you. It’s OK and perfectly normal to feel angry and mad and frustrated and sad, and let it out with mascara-filled tears running down your face. Give yourself permission to grieve. This is crucial during the holidays, and always. If you bottle up all the emotion and don’t give yourself time to grieve now, it will hit you like a ton of bricks years later.
Minimize Your Social Media Intake. Feeling down? Do not go on social media and think you’ll feel better. Often the perceived happiness of others can leave you feeling emptier inside as you play the comparison game, consciously or not. Treat yourself to a new book, start a new TV show, write in a gratitude journal, talk with your bff… just avoid mindless scrolling.
Only Say Yes When You Want To. Don’t feel like you need to attend every holiday event. You don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Focus on you, on self care and preservation. No one will fault you. People are inviting you so you don’t feel left out… trust me that it’s OK to say no. Do not feel guilty. I repeat, do not feel guilty.
Accept Help. This time of year can be overwhelming for the best of us. Your tribe wants to be there for you. Let them. Maybe that means a delivered dinner, helping grab a few things while they’re at the grocery store, watching your kiddos for a few hours, or coming over early to plan dinner. Do not try to be super woman. Take the help.
Volunteer. Giving back to your community and others is one of the most selfless things you and can do, and honestly, one of the most selfish. It makes your heart feel so full to put yourself aside for a few hours in order to help those who need it most. Volunteer somewhere meaningful to you, or perhaps at your loved ones favorite charity of choice. Consider making this an annual tradition.
Surround Yourself With Good People. This is of course life lesson #1, but around the holidays and particularly when you’re grieving… you need your good people more than ever. This also means, don’t isolate yourself. Sure, time to yourself is important but don’t go MIA. You need some hugs, some love, someone to be there with you, even if it’s to share some ice cream.
Reflect. If you’re up to it, grab old photo albums, and look through all of the memories. Text them to family and friends who would appreciate it. It’s a fun way to trigger sweet, fun memories that sometimes feel like they can fade over time.
Remember, everyone grieves differently. Everyone handles love and loss differently. As much as writing is my therapy (as evidenced through every Vent Sesh), it’s much harder for me to have a conversation unless I’m really ready. Just being there for someone is everything.