My church’s caring ministry is affiliated with GriefShare, an international grief support program. The first holiday season after my dad passed away, I went to a GriefShare Surviving the Holiday seminar. Going in, I didn’t think I had a lot to gain from it; I had already gone through several “firsts” with my dad’s birthday and father’s day, so the first round of holidays without Dad didn’t seem like a big deal.
However, as I went through the seminar, I realized I probably wasn’t as prepared as I thought, and I ended up gaining a few pearls of wisdom that I’ve taken with me over the years:
Have a plan.
Once the holidays hit, it’s hard to tell how you’re going to feel emotionally, so it’s often helpful to have a plan and prepare as much as possible.
Schedule family get-togethers well in advance so you know what you’re getting into and when. Figure out what you’re cooking/bringing and make a grocery list so you don’t have to think things through at the last minute. Get your gift shopping done early.
Simply having an answer to the “what are your plans for the holidays” question, even if the answer is “nothing,” can put your mind at ease.
Prepare for hard-hitting moments.
Certain aspects of the holidays can strike you like an “emotional ambush.” Pulling out the Christmas ornaments that belonged to a loved one, sitting at dinner and realizing there’s an empty chair, or hearing a song that reminds you of those you lost can be extremely triggering.
It’s easy to live in denial and think you won’t be affected by anything, but mentally preparing for it can make it a little easier. It’s okay to let yourself experience your pain during those moments and to feel whatever you need to feel.
Don’t try to duplicate past holidays.
You simply can’t. The holidays in years past included your loved one, and your future ones won’t. It might take a bit to determine what’s better for you and your family: maintaining old traditions to feel close to your loved one, or creating new traditions because the old ones don’t feel the same without the person you lost. There isn’t a right or wrong decision, and your family might disagree on what to do. It might take some trial and error to decide what you prefer.
No matter what you choose, it can be nice to find a way to honor your loved one within your traditions. Having a special Christmas tree with ornaments that commemorate them, cooking their favorite holiday foods, or going somewhere you know they would have enjoyed can be great reminders that the ones we lose are always with us.
Don’t overburden yourself.
If your family was the type to host the whole family for the holidays, maybe you need to take a step back from that after your loss; cleaning the house and preparing guest rooms and cooking four courses is likely too much to handle. Perhaps you’re in the opposite situation and you have to travel to see your family. That in and of itself can be a mentally taxing scenario, and you might not be up to it.
Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to do certain things or play certain roles. If it’s too much it’s too much, and feeling overburdened is never something to apologize for.
Alone time is okay.
Some people grieve best surrounded by friends and family, but others need alone time to process through their feelings and to grieve in peace without the input of others.
Leaving your family get-together after a few hours is okay. Not attending at all is okay. At the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for you, and if that means spending the day by yourself, do it.
To find a GriefShare Surviving the Holidays seminar near you, go to: http://www.griefshare.org/holidays