The holidays are just around the corner and they’re a time of important traditions for many families. Some grieving families find comfort in those traditions, but others may find them too painful. For example, if a parent has passed and it was his job to put the angel on top of the Christmas tree each year, the family may decide not to decorate a tree the first year after the passing.
In an article for “Experience Life” Website, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., author of The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook and associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, says “Our cultural expectation is that holidays are the time when family comes together,” but if someone you love has died, “it’s going to be harder because you have this expectation of what you want it to be. The discrepancy between how things are and how we want them to be is more salient in the holiday season.”
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, the holidays are filled with fond remembrances of loved ones who are on your mind yet absent from your traditions and rituals. For those who are grieving, this time can be unfamiliar terrain. Acknowledging the difficulties of the holidays after loss does not make a potentially difficult time any easier, but preparing for the holidays by tapping into helpful coping strategies may provide some much-needed help.
One of the most important things you can do is honor past traditions and create new ones that honor your loved one, as this will be the last holiday spent with them. Hospice Foundation of America (HFA) grief expert, Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., recommends the “three C’s” to help navigate your way through this difficult time.
You may not feel like you do, but you have choices. Decide what holiday gatherings, traditions, you want to be part of, who you want to be with, and what you want to do. Holidays are an especially keen time when you feel the person’s absence and may want to consider how to mark your loss. Finding ways to recognize and acknowledge that individual can bring a positive focus to your grief and can be done in a number of ways: lighting a candle, creating a ritual, or placing a memento on a tree. Holding a moment of silence or a holiday toast are other simple ways to acknowledge your loss.
Whatever you decide, be sure to discuss your choices with others, especially those affected by them. They have needs as well and their ways of dealing with grief may be different from yours.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve and each person deals with loss in his or her own way. Leaving space for compromise is important. Feelings can run high during the normal stress of the holiday season, but when the family is working through it amidst the loss of a loved one, it’s imperative to take time and talk through each point of view. You may find yourself creating new traditions which help to establish new bonds during the holidays which can be therapeutic
According to William Worden’s book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, he describes four tasks of mourning: accept the loss, acknowledge the pain of the loss, adjust to a new environment and reinvest in the reality of a new life. Examples of this around the holidays include creating traditions, which can include making your loved one’s favorite foods or cookies, listening to their favorite holiday songs or watching movies, hanging a memorial stocking, or lighting a candle in their honor.
If you are finding it hard to cope, consider making your loved one’s favorite cookies and donating them to a shelter or nursing home or donate a holiday present in their honor to someone in need. You can also spend time volunteering or doing something new and different this holiday season.
While you might still have your moments of grief and tears, hopefully, honoring old traditions and making new rituals will help you get through it. Remember, there is no right or wrong with grief especially during the holidays.