The holiday season, with its emphasis on family, joy, and closeness, is often a time of celebration. However, for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a bittersweet reminder of past moments filled with happiness. Managing the complexities of grief during the holiday seasons can be a challenge, as each person’s journey is a unique one.
I remember my first Christmas following the death of my younger brother. I felt torn between the desire to create something magical for my children and family, and the need to honour my late brother’s memory. Between my needs and wants, I also had to be realistic about my capacity. Grief is after all exhausting: physically and emotionally.
When supporting clients in managing grief over the holidays, I’m often asked about the ‘right way to grieve.’ I remind clients that ‘the right way is your way, and the only rule of thumb is not to hurt yourself or others.’ Some people may opt to distance themselves from the holidays as it may feel too overwhelming, others may travel, and some will find a way to embrace the holidays. These are all great options. What people choose to do can vary widely, and there’s no one size fits all approach. Each person and family will discover what works best for them as
they find their way through the complexities of grief.
Making a plan
One helpful approach is to make a plan leading up to the holidays. Make a note of events (anniversaries, birthdays, traditions, etc.) which may be emotionally challenging, and create a plan. For those facing their first holidays without a loved one, planning ahead can help manage any anxiety which may arise. Consider what you would like to do for yourself (self-care), and anything you would like to do for your loved one as a way to honour their memory. It can be anything you want, remember it’s about honouring your relationship with the deceased.
Creating a routine for the day and fostering a plan to be surrounded by supportive people can be helpful aspects of creating a plan. If you find yourself in need of additional support on managing grief, don’t hesitate to reach out to professional supports.
Free yourself from the weight of past expectations, and do what works for you, and what you have capacity for. Grief is an active process and requires a lot of energy. If on the day you’re not feeling up to engaging in the plan(s), it’s okay to take a step back. A core component of working through grief is kindness. If the day feels too heavy, give yourself permission to engage in things you enjoy such as reading a book, resting, watching a movie, or simply enjoying the beauty of the outdoors during the winter.
Permission to say no
The holiday season often carries numerous expectations, from work commitments to social gatherings, gift shopping, and decorating. For those grieving, these expectations can intensify emotions and add to the exhaustion. It’s important to remind yourselves that it’s okay to pass on a function, to decline an invitation, or to leave an event at any time. Large gatherings may seem overwhelming, so consider more intimate settings with a few close family and friends instead. Setting healthy boundaries based on what you can realistically manage will help with navigating the holiday season.
Finding healing through tradition & rituals
Traditions play a significant role not only during the holiday season, but also with how we connect with our loved ones who have passed. Rituals are a bridge between the old and the new. They arise out of need, purpose, pain, and a want for continuity. Whether it’s making a donation, creating a special ornament, lighting a candle, or sharing a special story. These traditions and rituals allow us to pay tribute to those we’ve lost, and connect spiritually and emotionally, while embracing our own healing journey.
So how do we love in absence? Consider rituals and traditions which are important to you and your loved one(s). Find the things you cherish and value. What brought you and your loved one joy? Is there a special place you liked to visit together? Do you have a cherished item which brings you comfort? Rituals allow us to accommodate, and work through, the pain of grief, and find a new way to love. Just like our grief, rituals are unique to our needs. The impact of our traditions and rituals may not always be apparent to others, but the meaning we derive from them is uniquely ours. Traditions and rituals offer a way to love and connect even in the absence of those we hold dear, serving as a testament to the enduring nature of love and the power of healing.
As we move through this holiday season, let us remember that every act of honouring our loved ones and ourselves is a great act of love. By connecting through traditions and shared experiences, we counter loneliness, celebrate life, and find healing. The pain we carry is a testament to the depth of our love. Grief persists, just as love does. When we channel that
love through traditions, it becomes a bridge connecting us to those we hold dear. This connection has the power to reshape our emotions, the way we experience love, our perceptions of the world, and even our fundamental beliefs. It offers us a fresh perspective and a renewed approach to love itself.