When you experience a loss, the holidays can be tough.
Joyful memories often become centering moments in your life. You remember the Christmas you received that special gift, the Chanukah when your spouse proposed or when the Thanksgiving turkey was ruined.
As families gather in the coming weeks, it is easy to grieve those who are no longer here.
Reminders of your loss are everywhere. TV shows and movies acknowledge and celebrate families, focusing on reunions and reconciliations.
Holiday cards from businesses or distant acquaintances may still be addressed to the person who died.
Shopping may remind you of a past gift from the one who died or an ideal gift if the person were still alive.
While the holidays can be difficult, they will be easier if you make decisions on how you will spend them rather than drifting into painful situations. Here are tips to remember if you struggle with the holidays:
▪ Acknowledge the uniqueness of your grief. Your grief is simply that — your grief.
If you are dreading the holidays, it is OK to acknowledge that. Yet realize that others may welcome the diversion and activity the holidays offer. The social activity offers a needed respite.
Children, even in the midst of loss, may still long for their traditional holiday rituals. Each person grieves differently.
▪ Recognize that the holidays will not be the same. You may wish to keep the holidays just as they always were. The loss means it will never be the same.
Sometimes it helps to do things a little differently, such as changing the place where you celebrate or going to a different church or temple.
▪ You cannot escape the holidays. You may wish to ignore the holidays — pretending they do not exist. This simply does not work. You need to deal with the holidays on your terms.
▪ Assess your strengths. If you have dealt with loss before, what helped you then? What strengths do you have that can help you get through difficult periods?
▪ Choose, communicate and compromise. Do not drift in the holiday season. Choose where you wish to be and with whom you want to spend the holidays.
▪ Acknowledge your loss in the holidays. Your loss will remain the elephant in the room — something everyone knows but few wish to acknowledge.
Name the elephant! Select a time in your holiday where you recognize your loss. It may be a simple as a holiday toast or lighting a candle in memory.
▪ Be gentle with yourself. The holidays are stressful even when you are not grieving.
Do you really need to send cards this year? Do things for yourself — whether a walk in the woods, a massage or even a quiet evening.
▪ Be gentle with others. Even as you struggle with loss, you may find some comments insensitive. Someone may wish you to have the best Christmas ever.
Remember that such insensitive comments are rarely made of malice. Others just do not know what to say.
Sometimes a simple acknowledgment like “Thank you, but it is a difficult time after the death” can suffice.
Grief is a journey — full of ups and downs, good days and bad days.
While the holidays can present difficult moments along the way, you can survive them and perhaps discover a different but renewed joy in the holidays.
Kenneth J. Doka is a professor at The College of New Rochelle and senior consultant for The Hospice Foundation of America.