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Twelve Tips for Getting Through the Holidays After Loss

Twelve tips for getting through the holidays after loss.

Why write about loss and grief during the holidays? Nobody wants to talk or even think about grief this time of year. Or do they?

The focus should be on the festivities and good times, right? 

While it’s true, talking about loss and grief is always difficult; it can be even tougher this time of year.

However, the reality is that death and grief do happen, even during the holidays. All one has to do is turn on the news to know there is no reprieve from bad things happening this month. Illness and accidents still happen. Diseases continue to be diagnosed and treatments carry on. Lives begin and end in December too.

If you have recently experienced a loss, (or even not that recently), the holidays can be daunting as you wonder how in the world you will maneuver your way through them without falling apart or spoiling everyone else’s good times. You might even have started dreading the holidays as the first leaves started to drop off early last fall. The period from September right down to the end of the year can be very difficult for some.

Add to that, the seasonal change of lessening daylight hours and more darkness, perhaps it’s no wonder this period can be the most difficult of all for the recently (or not so recently) bereaved. The holidays may also unexpectedly trigger memories of losses experienced years ago.

Sometimes the anticipation of the holidays (or any special occasion) can be worse than the actual days themselves. Not knowing how one will react to them, or expecting the worst, can cause extreme sadness, anxiety or dread.

In 2007, my family received the devastating news that my mother’s cancer had metastasized to her liver and that her prognosis was bad. Very bad. In fact, we received this news on Christmas Eve day. Each Christmas that has followed has been very different than the ones preceding her death.

My mother’s Christmases were events she planned the entire rest of the year. They were productions, filled with more decorating, baking, cooking, eating, shopping, gift giving and visiting than anyone else’s I’ve ever witnessed. Learning how to celebrate the holidays without her took some doing. We are still trying to figure it out. I’m not sure we ever will, or even should.

Today, I’m sharing 12 tips for getting through the holidays after loss that might be helpful:

  1.   The main thing to remember is just like everyone grieves differently, how you feel about the holidays will also be as individual as you are. They might not even BE difficult for you. Sometimes ordinary days are hardest, not holidays.

 2.   Perhaps most importantly, acknowledge that the upcoming days or weeks might be really hard. Stating that out loud, even to just yourself, validates it somehow making it more OK to accept your own feelings.

  3.  Decide what you want to do this year. Do you want to continue traditions or do you want to begin new ones? Or perhaps a combo?

 4.   Do something specific for your loved one. Some people like to light a candle, display a particular ornament in a special place each year, make a donation in their loved one’s name or volunteer someplace the loved one would have chosen or cared about.

  5.  Talk about your loved one by sharing memories and stories about them, even if it makes others uncomfortable. Remembering honors them and keeps them with you in a very real sense.

  6.  Set realistic expectations for yourself. If you don’t feel like doing cards, don’t. If you don’t feel like baking, don’t. If your house isn’t the cleanest, so what?

  7.  Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and eating properly. Remember grieving is taxing physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s just plain hard work and it really does tire you out.

  8.  Try to exercise every day. The benefits are pretty obvious, but worth saying anyway. Exercise relieves stress, helps deter depression and improves your self-esteem.

  9.  As much as possible, surround yourself with people who love and support you no matter what your state of mind. In other words, hang out with people who allow you to be real. Those people are the true holiday gifts.

10.  If you need help, ask for it. If you can’t manage with daily chores, shopping or whatever it might be, it’s alright to ask someone to help you.

11.  There is now an actual clinical term called “complicated grief.” Kind of a silly name in my opinion, because all grief is complicated. Simply put, it means there is no diminishing of your grief with time. You can’t stop mourning or begin to move on. If you are experiencing this, you probably need professional help. Ask for it. You can find more information on this topic at Mayo Clinic’s website.

12.  Remember most people eventually enjoy the holidays again. Hang on to that hope. You will get there. Also, experiencing some nostalgic or sad moments is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s part of life after loss.

This list is in no way complete, but thinking about these suggestions may perhaps be helpful to some. I hope so.

I’m curious about what has been helpful for you, so I hope you’ll consider sharing a comment or suggestion.

Remember, if the holidays are hard for you due to loss, you’re not alone.

Other posts about grief and the holidays you might be interested in reading:

There Will Be Tears At Christmas

Grief & the Holidays, 10 Tips that Might Help

What do you do during the holidays, or any day, to remember loved ones no longer with you?

What are your suggestions for helping the bereaved get through the holiday season?

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Twelve tips for getting through the holidays after loss #grief #loss #holidays

Dealing With the Death of a Spouse

Friday 24th of April 2020

[…] and special events will be a lot tougher for a while, reminding you of the person you’ve lost. Plan for these events in advance by thinking about what you would really like to do. If you’d prefer to go with friends […]

LINDA

Wednesday 26th of December 2018

Holidays can be very difficult times. Getting back to routine after a loss can be very difficult and feel empty as well.

LINDA

Tuesday 25th of December 2018

It's Christmas morning and I lost my mom 2 days ago. . She has been in and out of the hospital since Dec. 04th and had a couple of scary moments in the hospital but pulled through well enough to go to rehab where things were going pretty well. They said she could get out for 4 to 5 hrs on Christmas Day and my husband and I were going to pick her up which we were so happy to do. She suddenly couldn't breathe a couple of days ago and the paramedics rushed her back to the hospital where they hooked her up to breathing apparatus and we had a few more hours to be with her. It was such a sudden and drastic downturn. I was very active while she lie there holding her hand, talking to her, rubbing my fingers through her hair and rubbing her feet. I loved my mom so much. My heart is breaking. This is Christmas morning and I keep seeing her walking up the sidewalk holding on to my brother's arm and sitting with us at Christmas , opening presents and having Christmas dinner just like in years passed. We also had a fun tradition of playing something we called: Christmas Bingo after dinner and before dessert. She loved that. We are still doing all of the above with heavy hearts but I am more depressed and sad today. It's been shocking. We had so many high hopes for today and for having more time with her. I wanted her to be able to go home and be in the sweet little home she loved so much. My heart is heavy. We had a very special relationship that meant the world to me. Mom was 89. She would be 90 in March.

Nancy

Friday 4th of January 2019

Linda, I am so sorry. I understand your heartache. Your loss is so recent and your grief so raw, so of course, your heart is heavy. Do take care of yourself and remember grief has no timetable or handbook. My sincere condolences. Thank you for sharing about your dear mom.

Valerie Nemeth

Thursday 6th of December 2018

As 1 who is an MBC affected person what about dealing with unwelcome changes for It's surprising that mid fall to early winter wasn't the dangerous season because of this

OCTOBER - BREAST CANCER "AWARENESS" MONTH

NOVEMBER - THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE "INFERNAL INFERNO" THAT CLAIMED A FAVORITE BUSINESS OR A "CAT LOVER'S SPECIALTY SHOP" KNOWN AS THE CAT HOUSE

DECEMBER - THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY DIAGNOSIS WITH MBC.

AVA

Tuesday 20th of November 2018

Nancy, LOst my Mom suddenly as her heart stopped. She did have dementia. There was no time to prepare. I would not want my Mom to suffer either. There is not a day that goes by that i do not wish she was here to talk too. My Dad passed thre years ago and my only Brother and sibling 4 months after my Dad. Even though i am maried i still feel this loss everyday. Thanksgiving is in two days and my in-laws want me to go to diner at their house. i decided i would rather stay home and just have a quiet dinner with my husband and our son. Our son is mad that i do not want to go to his Grandmothers. Everyone wants you to put your feelings aside for the day and do what they want you too. It has only been one month, i need more time to grieve. Im hoping someday the family will understand that some days it is hard just to do what i need to do. Thankyou for listening. AVA

Nancy

Friday 30th of November 2018

AVA, I'm very sorry.

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