It is that time of year again. You may find yourself more sensitive, irritable, less patient, and sad right now. The first few years after your loss, you expect to feel poorly on birthdays and holidays, mainly because others have warned you. If you feel out of sorts more than usual, take a deep breath to calm yourself and focus on a happy memory. It may take lots more deep breaths and good memories, but this should help. I know it does for me. Sad times, deep breathing, and happy memories are all part of the grief process.
The end of 2023 cannot come soon enough for me. I am still mourning the loss of my home and town on Maui. I will be producing grief workshops there in January for children, teens and adults. 2024 has got to better than 2023. Praying lightning won’t strike twice in the same spot.
One of my dearest friends is anticipating her first holidays without her husband. I told her it will be rough. She already knew that because she had experienced the death of both of her parents. But, a life partner death is worse. You are suddenly alone. Your future plans shattered. Your main support person is gone. I encouraged my friend to do #14 on this list. A memory box is a wonderful way the whole family can honor folks who won’t be there at the Thanksgiving table or Christmas morning or during Hannukah. Speaking with my friend last night reminded me to re-post this list.
Here are 20 tips to help you get through the holidays. If you think of any others, please send them my way for next year’s list.
1) Take it easy. Be kind to yourself. No pressure is needed.
2) Cherish the memories of better times. Set aside the sad ones for now.
3) Remember and talk about the good times. And know that your loved one wants you to be happy.
4) Acknowledge your pain and then put your energy into honoring his or her memory.
5) Make new memories. The holidays are often complicated, stressful, and sad, even for those not grieving. It is impossible for some trying to live up to the ads in magazines or on TV. So, give yourself a break. How you feel about holidays can derive from memories of your childhood…some happy, some sad. If you are grieving, take it easy. Do what you can.
6) Continue to include your loved one in your celebrations. We always put ornaments my son made or owned on our tree. I know folks who set a place and an empty chair at the table.
7) Keep it light. Laugh often. Hug lots.
8) Eat healthy foods and be sure to get enough exercise and sleep.
9) Volunteer to help others. It will make you feel good. You might want to invite your family members to serve at a soup kitchen or give away toys at a shelter or hospital.
10) Donate to a charity in memory of your loved one. Donate to his or her favorite cause. In honor of my son Cory, we donate to childhood cancer charities and adopt families to help them have a Christmas.
11) Again, we all grieve differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve (unless one behaves in a self-destructive way). You need to face your grief. Do not try to ignore it.
12) Respect the coping style of those who are also grieving. Their style might be the opposite of yours, but they are doing what they can manage too.
13) Don’t be afraid to talk about your loved one who died. Acknowledge his or her and do not be fearful of upsetting others in the process. Take care of yourself first.
14) Create new rituals, and be sure to include your loved one. For example, at your family celebration, 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.Include the children. They will love reading the notes when they are older. It will spark memories of their loved ones who are gone.
15) Another idea I learned from a friend is to have a special place set up with little angel statues that represent each loved one who is no longer with you. Her table looked lovely with plants, flowers, and ribbon.
16) Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard. Do what you can. If your loss is very recent, your priority is to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your family. Get lots of rest.
17) 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 go shopping, or get the house decorated, or do any holiday baking, ask friends and family members for help. Or just let it go this year. Do not pressure yourself to do things for others if it is too much for you.
18) If your loved one was self-destructive, please try to let go of your anger and judgment. Addiction is a disease, like all others. You may believe he or she chose substance abuse over family and loved ones, but how can you be sure? Addiction is powerful. Focus on your good memories. If necessary, talk to a professional about your anger.
19) Suicide is hard on survivors. Many people think it is an act of total selfishness, but your loved one must have felt as if he or she could no longer cope. Try to remember that he or she was in so much pain that death seemed like the only solution left. Try to focus on the good times. (Please understand I am not saying that you are not entitled to your anger. I just don’t want it to damage your ability to enjoy yourself and your loved ones.)
20) Walk on a beach, hike in the woods, go someplace new and get out in nature. Have life experiences your loved one never had. Do it for them. I once met a young teen who lived his whole life in hospitals or in bed at home. He was thrilled to see a swan for the first time. My mother never got to Europe before she died. I think of her and my son when I travel because they didn’t get to see the beautiful and historical places.
I wish you a happy, healthy, light-filled 2024!
Thank you Vlad Panov for the great photo.