Surviving the Holidays

The loss of a loved one can feel especially poignant around holidays, birthdays, anniversaries or other special times.

Holidays like Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day can be difficult for those who have lost a parent or a child. For grievers who have lost a parent, seeing others celebrating their parents can be painful. For those who have lost a child, Mothers’ or Fathers’ may be an especially painful reminder of their loss.

The holiday excitement and demands that come along toward the end of the year can be an exceptionally overwhelming time of the year for those who are grieving. Holidays such as Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanza and New Years are filled with traditions and memories. They are the days typically set aside to celebrate with family and friends around gift giving and food. No matter how and when these actual days are commemorated; our culture certainly puts a great amount of emphasize on them. Stores are filled with holiday music, decorations and enticements for the perfect gift to have on your shopping list.  So how do you cope during this season of merriment when you have experienced the death of a loved one?

Some suggestions that can be useful include:

  • Plan ahead-anticipate on how you might want to spend the day and plan accordingly
  • Consider doing something different than how you have usually celebrated the holidays. Perhaps going out to eat will feel easier than preparing a large meal at home.
  • Give yourself the option to change plans at the last minute if necessary. Grief is such an unpredictable experience, even if you make a decision for how you want to spend the holiday, you may decide differently when the actual day arrives.
  • Try to shift your perspective to be able to deal with your loved one’s absence. Perhaps your focus could be on the “gifts” he or she left behind. Healing may be in the form of gratitude for these unique “presents.” Only you know what they are and how they can help you heal.

Creating a Family Gift

Holidays can be extremely difficult for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, especially during the first year after the death. At a time when everyone is supposed to be thankful, happy and enjoying themselves, the bereaved often feel sad, depressed, and lonely.

Remembering a loved one at the holidays can provide much needed solace. My mother died just two days after Christmas several years ago. The first anniversary of her death was particularly poignant since it also coincided with the holiday season.

I particularly wanted to honor my mother but was faced with the same concerns many of you struggle with. How do I go about remembering her particularly when faced with a holiday so packed with nostalgia? What if other family members react differently and don’t find it comforting to talk and remember her when we gather to celebrate the holidays? Even grief counselors struggle with these same issues!

Here is what I decided to do. After some anticipation and planning ahead about what our time together might be like, I provided my siblings – all seven of them – with journals. In each of the seven journals, I recalled a special memory that I had about each sibling with my mother and wrote a personal recollection of this. As a family, we passed around our journals, allowing each sibling to personally transcribe a memory etched in their mind about our mother and that particular family member.

At the end of our gathering, each sibling had seven distinct glimpses of special moments with our mother to take home with them. My siblings were so appreciative of these journal entries. For all of us, it made that very difficult holiday just a little bit more Bearable.

My hope in sharing this personal experience is that it would provide you with the impetus to begin to think how you might want to remember your loved one this holiday season. Memories can help sustain us in our loss.