What’s your favorite holiday memory from childhood? Chances are, it’s bittersweet. Sweet because it conjures up happy memories of loved ones, bitter because some of those loved ones may no longer be here with us.
The holidays are all about spending time with family. And the holidays (like life in general), change in some ways and remain the same in others. As we get older and move through the stages of life, the holidays can become a mixed bag of emotions.
Getting through the holiday season, especially after the loss of a loved one, can be trying. The hardest part can often be simply accepting that it’s ok to be sad during a time when others are celebrating.
When trying to cope with grief, it’s important to understand that grief is cumulative. We don’t experience a loss, move through predetermined emotional stages, and then emerge on the other side. It’s a process we must continually work through.
This holiday season, if the first Christmas card you open or the first “Happy Hanukkah!” you hear starts to bring on sadness, use that opportunity to work through your feelings. Don’t ignore them.
While there is no one formula to erase feelings of sadness, there are ways to help us cope. Incorporating past loved ones into the holiday season can be a wonderful way to remember and honor those we love. While remembering can be hard, it’s the memories that live on and keep us together.
Here are 5 thoughtful ways you can pay tribute to the spirit of your lost loved ones this season:
1. Share your memories – Don’t be afraid to share your favorite stories of past loved ones over dinner with family and friends. It’s one of the best things you can do.
2. Decorate – If you’re close to your loved one’s final resting place, make an occasion out of decorating their memorial for the holidays. Get your children involved in creating the decorations—share your favorite memories of your loved one with your children.
3. Light a candle – Select a candle in your loved one’s favorite color. Light it during your holiday festivities to symbolize their spirit that lives on in your own heart.
4. Change traditions – Was there something your lost loved one particularly cherished or despised about the holidays? Making small changes to your family’s traditions in their honor may help you feel more in control of your grief. Doing things a little bit differently can recognize a change, while preserving your ties with the memory of your loved one.
5. Make a donation in their honor – Adopt a family in need, make a financial gift to a special cause, or donate some food to a local food bank in honor of your loved one. Consider it your gift to both your loved one and those in need this season.
If a particular decoration or photograph makes you weepy, let yourself cry. Your sadness is a normal reaction to grief and can help you in the healing process. But remember: don’t be afraid to celebrate. Even though you may be missing your loved one, laughter and joy during the season is possible and is not disrespectful to the person you’re grieving. Chances are, they would be happy to see you celebrating.
To anyone having a difficult time this holiday season, keep in mind that your loved one would want you to do whatever it takes to get yourself through the days as well as possible. Take a second to imagine what you would want that person to do if he or she had survived you. Let that be your guide.
How have you dealt with feelings of sadness and grief around the holidays?