The holidays can be a difficult time for those that are grieving, akin to anniversaries. Because they are considered a time of family gathering, your loved one’s absence becomes all the more noticeable. It can be hard to enjoy yourself without your loved one present, and there is a plethora of emotions that may arise ranging from guilt to sadness to anger to bitterness. It can be really helpful to have some plans in place to help yourself get through these difficult days as a form of emotional first-aid.
When planning for the holidays, you might consider some small ways to include your loved one in your holiday celebrations. Whether as a celebration of their memory, or a way to feel less alone during these special occasions, including them in some way can be healing and allow you to feel less guilty enjoying yourself on a family occasion without them.
Wear something that reminds you of your loved one
Did your loved one give you an item of clothing? You could wear it and think of them. Or perhaps you kept an item of clothing that belonged to them that you could wear.
Make a donation in their honor
Rather than a gift for whichever holiday you celebrate, ask for a donation to be made to a charity that was important to your loved one, or that is relevant to their loss. This could be an organization that works to fund cancer research, or an organization that advocates against drunk driving, etc.
Hold a small vigil
This could be a toast before dinner in their honor, a moment of silence before eating, a short break from fighting with your relatives to acknowledge that your loved one is being mourned. Anything that acknowledges their absence can help bring some peace to everyone’s grieving the day of and honor them.
Honor their presence by sharing stories and memories
This is what my brothers and I do at all anniversaries and holidays. Often the stories are repeated ones – Mom has been gone now 8 years and there are only so many stories that we remember that we can laugh about – but still, it has become an unofficial but fun part of any of our celebrations together.
Our big brother, who has an excellent memory and remembers things from when we were really small (since he’s older) is usually the one to recount a funny story or say a ridiculous quote that Mom once said. We tend to stick to the funny memories which often revolve around her being mad at one of us or saying something sarcastic. We don’t tend to talk about the last year of her life or share stories that were sentimental at all – it’s not an active choice, it’s just not what we do. This keeps her memory alive and has become, in its own way, a little tradition between us. It took me a long time to be able to get through birthdays and anniversaries without her and not cry – sometimes I still do – but in some ways I now am able to look forward to this new tradition – it’s almost like a bonding exercise between the three of us and her.
Hanging memorial crafts
Some people find photos of loved ones who have passed away difficult to look at and others find them comforting. For those who find it difficult to hang photos of their loved one, this idea may not be a healthy choice. I personally have always found looking at photos of my Mom to be comforting and love hanging them all over my apartment. Sometimes I stare at them, sometimes I even talk to them. My Mom thought it was really cute when I tried to make crafts and always supported my endeavors – regardless of the end result. So for me, memorial crafts are a lovely way for me to commemorate her during the holiday season. Memorial crafts are one way to include your loved one in your celebrations.
Maintaining the same holiday traditions you shared with them
If there was some tradition you shared with your loved one, you could consider continuing it: decorating the Christmas tree, making hot cocoa, caroling, etc. This could be a little bittersweet as their absence may feel especially noticeable, but it could also be really comforting remembering them and honoring your memories together by continuing the rituals.
As with any anniversary or occasion, it is important to acknowledge that holidays are a hard time for those of us who are grieving, and to be gentle with yourself and others who are grieving. Taking steps to find small but healthy ways to deal with the absence of your loved one is a great way to both memorialize them while also making new holiday memories.