grief during the holidays

First Holidays after the Loss of a Loved One

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After someone close to us has passed, we are acutely aware of every “first” without them. This is true whether it be the first meal, first birthday, or first holiday season. The holidays can be a particularly painful time as the whole world seems to send the message that you must be full of joy. But without your loved one by your side, how can you celebrate like you once did?

The first, most important step is to realize that you do not have to be jumping with joy for the holidays to be meaningful. After a loss, grief is a healthy part of our healing. There will be triggers like old traditions, mementos and stories that will undoubtedly bring up your grief. By experiencing this roller coaster of emotions, you are being authentic with yourself – in no way are you celebrating the holidays “wrong.” Instead, focus on creating meaning for yourself this holiday season in order to make it through. Here are some helpful ideas to get you started:

Keep Some Old Traditions

There is beauty in keeping a practice alive after the loss of a loved one. It can be an opportunity to reminisce with family or friends. While bittersweet, the feeling that you are reviving their spirit and legacy through their favourite traditions can make the holidays more meaningful, and help you feel close to them.

Combine New Elements with Old Traditions

For some families, making a few changes to traditional festivities helps everyone cope better with the absence.

For example, if dinner was always at your house, rethink holding it again this year. You might benefit from the distraction of planning and shopping for the big meal, but it can also be overwhelming and add a negative tinge to the holiday gathering for you. You might ask another family member to entertain this year. They are sure to understand. You can still help by bringing your departed loved one’s favourite dessert as a way to share in the joyful memories of their life with your family.

Another example is if your grandchildren always come over to decorate the tree. This year, prepare an ornament with a photo of them and their departed grandfather to include as well. A fun alternative could be crafting ornaments that honour their love for their grandpa. Acknowledging the loss is healthy, and reminds us of how our loved ones are always with us when we remember, especially with others who do too.

Attend a Remembrance Service

Very often, the spiritual heart of our community – whether it be a church, mosque or temple – will hold remembrance services to support those who have lost loved ones.

Secular locations also frequently gather and say words for loved ones lost, including many of our Arbor locations across Canada that hold Candlelight Services. This safe space to remember, grieve, and hear words of hope with others going through a similar challenge can provide you with solace.

Develop New Traditions

You may be finding it difficult and lonely to celebrate the holidays when you have experienced the loss of a loved one. Things have changed and the holidays will never be the same as they once were. Making a change to your holiday traditions to mark this new phase may bring you some comfort.

You can create new traditions and memories by planning new activities. For example:

  • Volunteering can be a good way to feel connected and your help will be greatly appreciated. Volunteer at your local food bank, soup kitchen, church group, animal shelter or homeless shelter. It may become a tribute to your loved one.
  • Go out to eat or invite friends over
  • Go to the theatre or see a movie
  • If you prefer not to stay home during the holidays, a trip somewhere sunny could inject new energy into the season.
  • Treat yourself to a spa day, massage, or whatever you enjoy doing that helps you relax and feel restored.
  • Check out more new tradition ideas at the online resource What’s Your Grief.

While the holidays can be lonely, you don’t have to feel alone. Take it one day at a time. Focus on understanding what your needs are and meeting them.

It’s normal – these first holidays are going to be different. But they needn’t be endured alone. Hold your memories of loved ones close, and connect with other people during these cold winter days. There will be opportunities to make the holidays meaningful if you have your heart courageously open to it.

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