As you read this, I am likely on a plane running away. This will be the first Thanksgiving I have not spent in Kentucky but I am so glad James made the decision for us to do something different this year.
Although this is my second holiday season without my Mom and Nanny, I am realizing the level of shock I was in during Thanksgiving and Christmas last year
The holiday season adds a new perspective and layer to your grief.
The holidays are a season of traditions whether it be the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, black Friday shopping, Christmas Eve services or annual parties. It is a time where we are supposed to be surrounded by our loved ones.
These yearly rituals provide a rhythm to our life and with a loss suddenly our life is out of beat. We are out of step with the rest of the world that is telling us to be happy.
The struggle many grieving individuals have during this season is the expectation that things NEED to be as they have always been. Although rituals can bring comfort, the annual dinner can be painful due to the empty chair. The shortened Christmas list is a constant reminder that someone is missing. There may be no one to spend New Year’s Eve with making it feel even lonelier.
I feel it is also important to note that there are individuals who are dealing with loss in ways other than death. There are individuals who are having their first Holiday season after a divorce, families who are caregiving for someone who is terminally ill and others dealing with the loss of employment.
I wanted to offer a few suggestions for anyone who is dealing with loss this season
As you approach this Holiday season consider some of the following.
- Give yourself permission that you DO NOT have to do what you have always done.
- Think about what may be difficult for you and share with others. Many family members do not openly discuss what they are dreading but when they do they often find that others are feeling the same way.
- Make time for self care as you may find that your grief is heavier during the next several weeks.
- Let your support network know how you are feeling regards to planning events. Communication is key.
Specific suggestions are:
- If the yearly tradition is too painful, do something different. Eat Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant or change who hosts the dinner. If attending Christmas Eve services may be too painful, change the church or time of the service or simply give yourself permission not to go.
- Don’t decorate if you don’t feel like it – or change how you decorate for the holidays. When you are grieving you may not feel like pulling out the traditional decorations. If decorating for Christmas with the old ornaments is too painful but you want to decorate, I suggest purchasing a new smaller tree and perhaps purchasing simple ornaments in bulk ornaments that do not have specific memories.
- Change how you do your Christmas shopping. Shop online or purchase gift cards. The mall and stores are crowded and overwhelming. If you must go, plan to go early or during the week when there will be less crowds. It’s also important to note that there are stores that do not play Christmas music (which can be a trigger).
- Honor your loved one. If you are having the traditional dinner, light a candle in their memory. At Christmas you may want to hang their stocking and during the season place notes and memories. Make a donation in their name to a favorite charity.
- Talk about your loved one. Don’t be afraid to bring up memories.
- Find a balance between having alone time and being with others. It is understandable that you may not want to attend every invitation sent to you. However, try to not isolate yourself and remember to spend time with those who are supportive of you. Attempt to find a balance between staying busy to forget your grief and constantly thinking about it.
- Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel the realm of emotions. It is possible to experience joy and sadness all in the same day. Additionally, it is not unusual to find yourself feeling guility for feeling happiness.
As for myself, James and I are having a very nontraditional Thanksgiving this year. We’ve both discussed that next year we hope to make steps towards our “new normal” whatever that may look like. Additionally, as much as I love my Christmas decorations and my multi-room trees, I may choose to put up one. My energy is limited and I’ve given myself permission to not do what I have always done. I know it will not always be like this as I am still healing from my losses.