If you're mourning the loss of a loved one, the holiday season may be anything but happy for you. Perhaps there is no time of the year when we are more aware of the empty seat at the table or the empty space our loved one has left behind. Many people who are dealing with loss feel caught between the need to grieve and the pressure to produce warm and wonderful holiday memories for and with our families. When we're surrounded by nostalgia and traditions, even the happiest memories can hurt.
There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays. You may choose to follow family traditions or to embrace change. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Don't set expectations too high for yourself, your family or the day. It is easy to be overwhelmed with "shoulds." It is better to do what is most helpful for you and your family.
Give yourself permission to express your feelings and ask for help. When you are especially missing your loved one, call family members or dear friends and share your feelings. It's okay to ask for what you need. Accept their help. Doing a favor for you during the holidays may make them feel better, too.
Start your holiday planning with a family meeting. List all the things you ordinarily do for the holidays and decide together what's important to each of you, what you want to do this year, what you can let go of, and what you can do differently. Scale back on activities if you want to. Trying to recreate the past may remind you all the more that your loved one is missing. You don't have to discard all your old traditions forever, but you can choose to observe the holidays on a smaller or different scale this year.
Don't isolate yourself. Although you may not feel much like celebrating, accept a few invitations. Choose the ones that sound most appealing at the time and avoid the ones that feel more like obligation.
Take good care of yourself. Grief, by its very nature, robs us of the energy we need to do good and healthy things. Accept that it's often very hard to do what's good for us - then do it anyway. Build time in your day to relax, even if you're having trouble sleeping. Get some daily exercise, even if it's just a walk around the block.
Eat regular, nourishing and healthy meals. If you're having trouble finding your appetite, eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day. Christmas treats are everywhere, but too much sugar will deplete what little energy you have. Avoid drinking alcohol, which disrupts normal sleep. Any holiday excesses, either sweets or alcohol, can actually worsen grief and depression.
Give to others. As alone as you may feel in your grief, one of the most healing things you can do for yourself is to be with other people, especially during the holidays. Visit someone in a nursing home or hospice. Volunteer to work at a soup kitchen. Ask someone who is alone to share the day with your family or provide help for a needy family. Donate a gift or money in your loved one's name.
Don't be afraid to have fun. Laughter and joy are not disrespectful. Give yourself and your family permission to celebrate and take pleasure in the holidays.
Remember, the anticipation of the holidays without your loved one is often harder than the actual holidays themselves.
Read more Boomerang...