The first time through the holidays since losing a loved one can be extremely difficult. According to Grief.com, we can miss our loved ones more during the holidays than any other time, and it can be the hardest part of grieving. We're reminded of past holidays or wishes of what the holidays could be instead of what they are. We are often torn between wanting to continue with family traditions and feeling too much sadness and loss to celebrate without our loved one.
After the first time through holidays and anniversaries since you've lost someone, the experience can be even more varied. For some, the grief will have become more bearable and, while we can miss our loved one more during the holidays, we are able to remember good memories and reminisce rather than feeling unable to move forward.
For others, the second or third time (or more) through the holidays can still be painful. Depending on your personal circumstances, any of these scenarios could be completely normal for your stage of healing.
If you or a loved one is struggling with grief at this time of year, here are seven suggestions to help:
1. Grieving is a personal process
If you are feeling pressure because you have seen someone deal with grief over the holidays in a different way, stop.
What was okay for them doesn't have to work for you. Besides, some of us have a very adept public face and others might not realize how much pain may be hidden underneath. So if this means going to all the usual events, but not putting pressure to stay as long, that's fine. If it means kindly declining events and reducing your commitments and celebrations, that's fine too.
2. Self-care, self-care, self-care
The holidays are so often about others: buying gifts, making the season fun for someone else, worrying about disappointing someone if we don't do what we have done in the past, etc.
When you're grieving, it's ok to adjust your priorities to include caring for your own tender heart. Plan more time for rest and quiet if that's what you need, or extra time with people who are loving and supportive if that helps you recharge.
Self-care is a very important part of healing from grief!
3. Refuse to feel guilty because you can't or don't feel like trying to "do it all"
Your life has taken a detour and what was normal for you before, isn't normal now. You're in the process of grieving what was lost and building a new normal - these things take time.
If you spend energy feeling guilty, you are robbing yourself of the energy you need to heal. There's nothing to feel ashamed of if you need to scale things back, or even avoid holiday events altogether. Let people know you're grieving and that it's too painful right now, but that you appreciate being remembered and that you will deeply miss being there.
Most will try to be understanding. They may encourage you to attend, but that doesn't mean you have to. Do what you can and give yourself permission to slow down.
4. "But I have kids who need me to make the holidays special."
Work to strike a balance between meeting your needs and theirs. According to The Dougy Center, children grieve differently than adults. They need support, attention and love as well. Talk to them about how sad you all are and ask them to help decide how to honor the loved one who is gone.
Maybe a family member or friend can help out with some of the traditional family activities so you have support and feel less pressure. Perhaps, as a family, you look for ways to help other families who are also sad this season and find ways to serve them.
Use this as an opportunity to discuss the meaning of holidays beyond gifts, parties and decorations.
5. Stick to your routine
As much as possible, you'll want to stick to your normal daily routine.
When things feel overwhelming, keeping your schedule as normal as possible can sometimes help - as long as you're not taking on too much or using it as a way to avoid grieving.
Having structure in your life can help you take things one moment at a time and feel grounded in something familiar.
6. If you don't feel like celebrating
Not everyone feels this way, but some do. I certainly did. Christmas carols in the stores were enough to have me leaving the store in tears with a half-full cart abandoned in an aisle- never mind having decorations up in the house!
Take comfort in knowing that if this is how you're feeling, it won't always feel like this. Talk to family and friends and let them know what limits you're putting on celebrations for yourself this year. Ask for their support; do what you can, but listen to how you're feeling.
Strive to strike a balance so that you don't shut everyone out and become isolated, which can increase depression and feelings of hopelessness. But, don't overextend yourself either.
7. Get support!
Find a grief support group, reach out to family, friends, or others in your support circle. If you find you are not feeling better, and you're having trouble getting to work, eating or sleeping, find a therapist. A therapist is someone you can talk to that you don't need to take care of or protect. Someone who can sit with you as you cry and work on coming to grips with your loss.
Chris Adams Richards, LCSW is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been a psychotherapist in private practice in West Jordan since 2013. She's passionate about helping adults heal from grief, loss and trauma and is currently accepting new cli