This is the fourth holiday season without my mother. It still feels awkward. It is especially so this year, since I have a baby now and no mother to spoil her with gifts. I still haven’t quite gotten used to not buying a gift for my mother at Christmas and I find myself thinking about what she would have done for this first Christmas to make the holiday special for my wee one.
No matter how you cut it: grief and the holiday season don’t mix well. While the first holiday season will be the worst because it is an acknowledgment of the permanence of your loss, there seems to always be something that draws you back to your loss at this time of year.
So what can you do to make it through with less pain? I don’t have all the answers, but here are this years suggestions for doing just that.
#1 Buy a small but special gift for your loved one.
When you’re shopping for everyone else on your list, you are bound to come across something that you would have liked to purchase for your lost loved one this year. As long as the item won’t put you in debt, consider buying it for them. No, you won’t get to give it to them, but you can keep the memory of their significance alive at the holiday season. Keep it and let yourself remember how much they would have enjoyed it.
#2 Continue a holiday tradition you shared with your loved one or create a new ritual.
If you had special holiday plans each year with your loved one consider keeping the tradition going, it may help you feel some sense of normalcy despite the massive change in your life. If it was something you only shared with your loved one and not extended family, think about sharing the event with other family and friends, thus keeping the spirit of the tradition alive. If the tradition is too much for you, create a new experience, one that might become a tradition, for your family and/or your friends. Doing so doesn’t omit the memory of your loved one at this time of year. You are simply saying that that tradition belonged to you and your loved one, and will continue to be a special memory for the two of you.
#3 Talk about your loved one.
Don’t be afraid to bring up your lost loved one at your holiday celebration, not in a sad way, but in a way that celebrates their life and love for the holiday you’re celebrating. There may be something humorous in your reminisce as well as some warmth that you can extend to the people around you. By mentioning your loved one in conversation you are keeping their memory tied to the holiday. Silence only covers up the glaring absence and pretends that everything is as it was, which is clearly untrue. Open discussion is a caring way to pay homage to your loved one.
#4 Gift some of your loved one’s possessions with close family and friends.
Perhaps there is something of your loved one’s that you know a close family member or friend would cherish. Consider giving it to them as a gift this holiday. This is a tangible way of passing on the legacy of your loved one and keeping their post-loss relationships alive. Before you give the gift, make sure that the recipient will keep the item and that it has some meaning for them. The last thing you want is to find out that they threw away a keepsake that was meaningful for you. That becomes the foundation of relationship drama.
#5 Write a letter or journal entry to your lost loved one in which you express your feelings this season.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Writing will help you process your feelings and explore the emotional, psychological, and spiritual reactions. No one has to see this, so be as vulnerable as you can be for the sake of self-discovery and healing. Maybe you don’t realize just why you’re so moved this season; writing may help unearth the depth of your reason.
#6 If your typical tradition is too upsetting for you this season, consider an alternative plan.
Change things up this year if the emotional weight of the holiday is too heavy. This is by no means an avoidance tactic. Instead, this is a way of detouring your emotional hurt into healing rather than into anxiety or depression, and perhaps an unhealthy coping mechanism. The alternative doesn’t have to be permanent, it could just be for this year (especially if your loss occurred immediately before a holiday). Come back to your usual celebration next year, after you’ve had a chance to reflect and heal.
#7 Allow yourself to feel your loss.
Don’t try to suppress your emotions concerning this holiday season; feel how you feel. The holidays can be tough, regardless of how long ago your loss occurred. Absence doesn’t change, the gaping hole doesn’t suddenly close. It changes over time to make room for new presences but those presences don’t replace any lost person. You had a special bond with your lost loved one, and that bond will affect your emotions around significant points on the calendar.
#8 Treat yourself kindly.
Loss is stressful. Be as kind to yourself as possible during the holiday season. Acknowledge that you can’t do everything and simplify your life as much as you can during this emotional time of year. Take time for yourself when needed and ask for help as often as possible. Request gifts that help make that self-care possible: request bath products, funds you can use toward a spa day or long weekend somewhere, movies passes, etc. . Remember to sleep and eat. Deal with your mental health in the way that best works for you.
Above all else, if the holiday season is too emotionally overwhelming for you, seek the help of a qualified therapist.
Remember to give back to those who give to you. Trust that this to shall pass. And remember that your loved one has merely changed shaped, they have not vanished from earth all together.