The season has come and surprisingly there may be conflicting emotions when it comes to the “most wonderful time of the year” – this year may be the first year without a loved one, or it may be the 3rd or the 15th, and whether you anticipated it or not, you find yourself at grief’s doorstep once again. The holidays have a way of awakening grief. Tis the season of traditions, office parties and extra social events that often bring up the loss of a loved one in a different and new way. Perhaps it’s because the holidays act as a marker of time, they usually bring up nostalgia and remembrance. So whether this is the first season, or the 20th holiday season without a loved one, here are a few things to keep in mind to honour your grief during this time of the year.
- Give yourself permission to skip what you need to skip. The holidays can bring up a lot of nostalgia, and reminds us of past seasons and times. Especially if this is the first holiday season without a loved one, giving yourself the permission to care for yourself and not attend things if it feels too raw/painful. Surviving the first of everything once someone has died is a real thing, and sometimes surviving through it is all that you need to do that first year. This can become a challenge if we constantly skip and do not face our grief, but for the first year, give yourself permission to just make it through caring for yourself, and if that means doing things differently than others/what you have done previous years, go for it.
- Give yourself grace to be present and allow yourself to grieve. On the flip side to the above, allow this season to be a time of turning towards your grief. Our grief is as individual as our lives. Who that person was to you was unique, and how you will grieve them especially in the holiday season will be unique. Give yourself the space to think about how you want to grieve them this holiday season. Grief takes up time, and so planning for some grief moments, creating buffer for yourself to actively grieve your loved one, can help you be more present this holiday season.
- Continue the bond this season with the person who has died. Just because the person is physically not present anymore, doesn’t mean our emotional connection to them has to stop. Perhaps this season you continue a tradition that you did with the person who has died to remember them, to honour them and the impact/role they played in your life. For some this looks like lighting a candle for them Christmas eve/day. Other ideas include having a baking day in honour of them, or going to a play/event you would go to with them. To switch it up, perhaps think of whom else you would like to go with, or how you want to keep the tradition alive with a new twist. Times with them can never be replaced but doing things in honour of them can continue the bond you had with them, and remind you of the impact they had in your life.
- Think of a plan B. Even if you don’t think the season will impact you, have a back-up plan in case you find yourself surprised by grief. Our bodies have a way of remembering and experiencing the pain of a loss even if we cognitively think we will be fine. So even if you think the season won’t impact you, or you haven’t experienced a wave of grief in a while and are feeling fine, it may be beneficial to think about if you are surprised by grief how you will care for yourself.
- If you know someone who has lost someone, don’t be afraid to ask about how they are feeling about the holidays. The person is undoubtedly thinking about that person anyways, so you won’t be causing more distress, and it may be a welcomed relief to be asked how they are feeling about the holidays without that person. Inquiring doesn’t heap on the pain, for some it is a welcome relief that another acknowledges their experience and their pain. Who knows, you may become a part of someone’s plan B (point above) should they become surprised by grief.
It can always be helpful to remember that we grieve because we love, and our love comes to the forefront often in the Christmas season.