“Sometimes I could feel myself getting down about a month before special dates. Try to stay busy and focus on good memories. Just know that it is normal to experience down times for the first few years around the holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.”
This is tip #96 of my 100 lessons to help you and your loved ones deal with loss in my latest book, Six Word Lessons on Coping with Grief.
I no longer feel that sensation of ‘sliding down the rabbit hole’ when approaching the holidays, but it was definitely hard the first few years. It isn’t the same for everyone because we all grieve differently. Sometimes the grief smacks you in the face so you cannot ignore it, while for others, it’s as if your body and subconscious mind anticipate what is coming and you have no idea why you are feeling anxious, irritable, down or sleepless. When you get to the date that the subconscious is dreading, your conscious mind clicks in, and then those feelings evaporate like magic. Or you might fall somewhere in the middle. It is “normal” to struggle with the holidays especially after a loved one passes.
Here are some things to think about as the holidays approach.
- Remember that your loved one wants you to be happy. Acknowledge your pain and then put your energy into honoring his or her memory.
- Make your own memories. The holidays are often difficult, stressful, and sad even for those not grieving. It isn’t about the ads you see in magazines or on TV. The way you feel about holidays comes from memories of your own childhood…some happy some sad. If you are grieving don’t try to live up to the Madison Avenue version of the holidays. Do what you can.
- Continue to include your loved one in your celebrations. I still to this day put ornaments my son made or that were given to him on our tree. I did eventually decide not to hang his stocking, but he is not forgotten.
- Spend family time reminiscing about holidays or occasions when your loved one was still alive.
- On the holiday take some time to watch family videos or go through photos together.
- Laugh often.
- Eat healthy foods and make sure that you are getting enough exercise and sleep.
- Volunteer to help others. It will make you feel good. You might want to invite your family members to join you in serving at a soup kitchen or giving away toys at a shelter or hospital.
- Donate to a charity in memory of your loved one. Give to his or her favorite cause. My brother and sister-in-law donated to charity in my son’s name for the first few years and gave me a card with that information on it. So, while my nieces, nephews and my daughter were opening their gifts it touched me to know that my son was included in the gift giving. In honor of my son Cory, my family always supplies the altar flowers at church on his birthday and at least once during the holidays.
- Again, we all grieve differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve unless one is behaving in a self-destructive way. Do what you can.
- Respect the coping style of those who are also grieving. Their style might be the opposite of your but they are doing what they can manage too.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your loved one who died. Acknowledge his or her and do not afraid of upsetting others in the process.
- Create new rituals that include the celebration of your loved one. For example, at your family celebration (or add another group or family gathering such as a lunch or dinner during the holidays) ask each family member or friend to bring an item for a memory box. They could write a favorite memory, share a photo, write a poem or letter and then spend some time sharing each item. Place the items in the box that you all decorated or selected together. Each year add new items.
- Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard. Do what you can. If the death is very recent your first priority is to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your family.
- Surround yourself with supportive, loving, caring people and then, if needed don’t be shy about asking for help. If you don’t have the energy or desire to get your shopping, the house decorated or your holiday baking or cooking done ask those supportive friends and family members for help. Do what you can.
As the holidays approach, I would like to encourage everyone to live with gratitude and the knowledge that you are doing your best to cope with what life has thrown in your path. Do what you can and LIVE ALOHA.