By: Ashley EARLE, LMHC
We commonly associate the holiday season with what we see in the media; commercials, TV shows, and movies conveying warmth, connection, and comfort as we come together with our loved ones. The holidays can promote so many positive feelings for us, but can also be very challenging for those that have lost loved ones. Feelings of grief often heighten over the holiday season, as the holidays can trigger feelings of loneliness, pain, sadness, anger, and anxiety.
Whether the loss happened one month ago or several years ago, the holidays can feel stressful and unwanted. People, places, words, smells, sounds, and things can trigger memories of a loved one and allow difficult feelings to surface.
“Who is going to carve the turkey? Grandpa used to carve the turkey.”
“Mom used to make the best apple pie.”
“Remember when Dad would say grace? He would always say…”
Holidays can be filled with traditions and routines that can be very difficult to do after the passing of the loved one. There can be pressure to go along with what is your normal holiday get together. Something to consider is that you do have the power to choose what your holidays look like. Decide what plans you want to be a part of, who you would like to spend the holidays with, and when you need to leave. It is also okay if you would like the holidays to look completely different than what you are used to.
It is important to know that responses to grief and its healing process are unique to the individual. Things that can provide comfort to others may look different than what could be most helpful for you. Here are some reminders for this holiday season that may be helpful to you:
Give yourself a break. As the holidays approach, you may struggle to regulate your feelings. Maybe you are more irritable, crying more often, or simply unmotivated. Give yourself permission to take time for yourself. Use more PTO. Set boundaries with your work. Allow others to help you with life demands.
Take care of yourself. Prioritize yourself physically and mentally. Rest your body if it is tired. Remember your basic needs; ensure you are eating enough and drinking enough water. If you feel you are struggling emotionally, talking to others or journaling your thoughts may be helpful.
Be mindful of those who provide comfort. Comfort can be challenging when we experience feelings of grief. Grief can make you want to isolate yourself; often increasing feelings of loneliness. It is important to remember that you get to define your support system. It is okay to use friends, coworkers, and others who may not be the “traditional” family unit. Cuddle with your pets! (If you choose to talk to them, I can guarantee your secrets are safe with them!)
Give yourself permission to feel grief. Over the holidays, we can feel the need to “wear a mask” and present as if we are not actively grieving. Sometimes there is a pressure to appear happy and joyous with others. This can be challenging for our mental health if we try to repress difficult feelings of grief. It is okay to talk about your grief. Give yourself permission to cry if you feel you need to.
Honoring your loved one. It can be helpful to honor your loved one over the holidays by finding things that help you remember them in a comforting way. If your mom made the best dessert, try making it yourself! (It’s okay if it does not turn out perfect). Share your favorite stories of your loved one over the holidays. Try to be aware of what memories feel good and which ones feel like they are too much. This can help you understand where you are at in the grieving process.
Processing your grief. It could be helpful to process your grief in therapy. Having a non-judgmental space to begin healing parts of your grief can be a valuable resource. This can be especially helpful over the holiday season, as you may find yourself thinking about your loved one even more.
Know you are not alone. It is common to feel like others will not understand your loss, as you are the only one with your specific relationship with your loved one. However, those in your life can relate to feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety. They may not have experienced the same loss, but can relate emotionally and give you a space to feel heard.
Holidays are not always cheerful, and this is okay! There is not a right or wrong way to navigate the holidays after the passing of a loved one. Be kind to yourself, and allow flexibility. Holidays are part of your grief journey, and it is okay to take them one step at a time.